World’s First Head Transplant Surgery: Here Are All The Details

Kudos to you, Dr. Sergio Canavero!

The concept of a head transplant is literally straight out of a movie – who can forget the undeniably hilarious moment in sci-fi parody, ‘Mars Attacks!’, when Sarah Jessica Parker’s head is attached to the body of her pet Chihuahua! However, an Italian neurosurgeon has set out to prove that fact is indeed stranger than fiction as he attempts the world’s first human head transplant surgery. Dr. Sergio Canavero believes that with improved technology, he will be able to perform the procedure as early as Dec 2017, on 30-year-old Russian programmer Valery Spiridonov who has volunteered his head for this ground-breaking operation.
Here’s a look at how the world’s first head transplant operation will proceed.

The Head Transplant Procedure

Before the surgery begins, the anesthetized Valery Spiridonov and the body of the brain-dead donor will be clamped tight in a special frame as the operation requires a multitude of very precise procedures. Spiridonov’s body will then be cooled until it is 10 degrees Centigrade as the low temperature is key to a successful head transplant. Dr. Canavero will use a specially fashioned diamond blade or a nanoknife made of a thin layer of silicon nitride to sever the bodies at the neck – at the C5-C6 spinal segment. Once this is done, the frame with the heads will be rotated until Valery Spiridonov’s head is aligned with the donor’s body. This is when the most crucial part of the surgery begins.

The team of surgeons will first join the head-body arteries so that the blood can recirculate around the brain. After that the windpipe, gullet and muscles will be linked. Dr. Canavero will then be tasked with the delicate procedure of attaching both ends of the spinal cord.  There are millions of nerves inside the spinal cord and Dr. Canavero will deliver small electric shocks to the spinal cord at the point of fusion to kick-start the connection between the nerves. He says that if even 10-20 percent of the nerves in the spine join and regrow Valery Spiridonov will regain movement and his prognosis will improve in time. Valery Spiridonov will have to be kept in a drug-induced coma for 3 weeks to give “his” body time to heal!

Location & Cost Of The Head Transplant Operation

Russia and America would have been Dr. Canavero’s first options but these countries have complex legislation and a head transplant surgery raises several ethical arguments regarding doctors “playing God”. While the location has not been confirmed, it is likely to take place in China as the Chinese government has poured vast sums of money into this line of medical research in the last decade.

Dr. Canavero will be joined by Dr. Xiaoping Ren who has conducted his own investigations and successfully performed 1,000 animal head transplants. These 2 surgeons will be assisted by a medical crew that will consist of 150 medical staff of which 80 will be surgeons. The head transplant surgery cost is expected to be in the vicinity of 14 million USD and it is expected to take between 36 and 72 hours

The head transplant surgery has been the subject of much discussion and debate on the ethical as well as the medical fronts but Dr. Canavero is very confident and says that the transplant has a “90 percent plus” chance of success. Despite the controversy that roils around the feasibility of the head transplant operation and even if the surgery is not a success, there is no arguing that this ambitious attempt will have a lasting impact on medical history.

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