First Head Transplant Has a Patient and a Date

A 30-year-old Russian computer scientist has volunteered to be the first in 2017
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2015 7:44 AM CDT
First Head Transplant Has a Patient and a Date
In this Aug. 6, 2014 photo, Dr. Faran Bokhari performs surgery in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero made headlines in 2013 when he said the first human head transplant is just years away, and again earlier this year when he said the surgery could happen as soon as 2017. Now he is announcing that, if everything goes "smoothly," he will be performing said surgery on a Russian patient in China in December 2017, reports Gizmodo. Thirty-year-old Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from the progressive and incurable Werdnig-Hoffmann wasting disease, has volunteered to be the guinea pig, though it remains to be seen who will be the donor. AFP reports that China, with 1.37 billion people, many of whom do not donate organs due to a belief in reincarnation, has reached something of an impasse with its simultaneously high demand for and chronic shortage of organs—a void that death row inmates have controversially filled.

The $11 million procedure is likely to take 36 hours, reports RT, and will require that the donor's and the patient's heads be severed at the same time with, if it needs saying, an extra sharp blade. "China wants to do it because they want to win the Nobel prize," Canavero says. "They want to prove themselves [as] a scientific powerhouse. So it’s the new space race." To the many critics who say it cannot yet be done, largely because of the problem of spinal cord fusion and organ rejection, Canavero does not mince his words: "All the critics who spoke are ignorant." The marathon procedure is set to take place with Chinese surgeon Ren Xiaoping at Harbin Medical University in China's northeast Heilongjiang province, and if and when Spiridonov awakes from a month-long medically-induced coma, he will take powerful immuno-suppressants to prevent the donated body from rejecting his head. (Some neurologists are suggesting his fate could be worse than death.)

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