30-year-old Russian man volunteers for world's first human head transplant
Dr. Sergio Canavero, of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (TANG) in Italy, first spoke of his plans to carry out the first human head transplantation in July 2013 - a project named HEAVEN-GEMINI.
At the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons' 39th Annual Conference in Annapolis, MD, in June, Dr. Canavero will present updated plans for the project, addressing some of the previously identified challenges that come with it.
Though researchers have seriously questioned the feasibility of Dr. Canavero's plans, it seems the first human head transplantation is a step closer to becoming a reality; Valery Spiridonov, a 30-year-old computer scientist from Vladimir, Russia, is the first person to volunteer for the procedure.
Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffman disease - a rare genetic muscle wasting condition, also referred to as type 1 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The condition is caused by the loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord and the brain region connected to the spinal cord. Individuals with the disease are unable to walk and are often unable to sit unaided.
Spiridonov was diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffman disease at the age of 1 and told MailOnline that he volunteered for HEAVEN-GEMINI because he wants the chance of a new body before he dies.
'"I can hardly control my body now," he said. "I need help every day, every minute. I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease."
Donor body will be attached to recipient's head through spinal cord fusion
Dr. Canavero told CNN he has received an array of emails and letters from people asking to be considered for the procedure, many of which have been from transgender individuals seeking a new body. However, the surgeon says the first people to undergo the procedure will be those with muscle wasting conditions like Spiridonov.
If this were possible, wouldn't it be possible to cure paralysis? Second, part of the problem is in the brain itself.
I guess since this disease is a death sentence anyway, ok, but it won't work.
Unsurprisingly, however, researchers worldwide are highly skeptical of the proposal. Talking to CNN, Arthur Caplan, PhD, director of medical ethics and NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY, even called Dr. Canavero "nuts."
Caplan said the procedure needs to be conducted many more times on animals before it is applied to humans, adding that if the technique is feasible then Dr. Canavero should be trying to help paralyzed patients before attempting whole body transplants.
And talking to New Scientist earlier this year, Harry Goldsmith, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at the University of California-Davis, said the project is so "overwhelming" that it is the chances of it going ahead are unlikely.
"I don't believe it will ever work," he added, "there are too many problems with the procedure. Trying to keep someone healthy in a coma for 4 weeks - it's not going to happen."