A terminally ill man has actually volunteered to go under the knife, have his head lopped off, and then attached to another person’s healthy body.
The world’s first head transplant surgery is slated for next year after a volunteer has given the nod to the radical procedure.
Thirty-year-old computer scientist Valery Spiridonov from Russia is suffering from a fatal muscle-wasting disorder called Werdnig-Hoffman disease.
If the operation goes ahead, Spiridonov’s entire head – including his brain – will be transplanted onto the body of a braindead patient.
Spiridonov says the operation is his best chance of survival.
“Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am,” he told The Daily Mail.
“But it is not just very scary but also very interesting … you have to understand that I don’t really have many choices.”
“I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease.”
The body would be a donor who was brain dead but otherwise healthy.
The Italian surgeon who will perform the surgery, Sergio Canavero, claims that medicine is technically ready for the feat, and one day people could get new, healthy bodies at will, extending their lives indefinitely.
He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. He claims hurdles such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head, are possible.
The other major hurdle both doctor and patient face is the expected cost of the operation, which has been estimated at $14.5 million.
The first attempt at a head transplant was carried out on a dog by Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov in 1954. He attempted several times to transplant a puppy’s head onto a larger dog, but the dogs only survived between two and six days.
Sixteen years later, there was an attempt by US scientists to transplant the head of one monkey onto the body of another. They didn’t attempt to join the spinal cords, though, so the monkey couldn’t move its body, but it was able to breathe with artificial assistance. The monkey lived for nine days until its immune system rejected the head.
Although few head transplants have been carried out since, Canavero says many of the surgical procedures involved have progressed.
If it all goes to plan, if the immune system of the body doesn’t reject the alien head on it, when the recipient wakes up, they would be able to move, feel their face and speak with the same voice. Physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year.
The case has drawn a range of reactions from skepticism to outright horror with the surgeon being compared to Dr Frankenstein.