Doctor Carnavero: The Man Who Wants to Transplant the Human Head
Written by Czech Hospital Placements on Saturday, May 7, 2016
Head Transplant Dr. Carnavero Neurology First Man
Changing the degenerated human body for another healthy one - does it sound too futuristic and unbelievable to you? For the Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, it doesn´t. He believes he is able to transplant a head onto a new body to keep the fatally ill patient alive. And he already has a candidate, who is currently reliant on a wheelchair, this world unique procedure should be performed within 2 years!
A 30-year-old man named Valery Spiridonov from Russia suffers from genetic muscle atrophy, which threatens his life more and more. Spiridonov is determined to undergo the first head transplant in the world. He says he wants to support the development of medical science and increase the chances to prolong his life due to his life expectancy, which is not high. “Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. But it is not just very scary, but is also very interesting,” he says.
His disorder is caused by the loss of motor neurons (specialized nerve cells), in the spinal cord and brainstem (part of the brain connected to the spinal cord). This makes the person unable to walk, sit without support, or even control head movements. Valery´s rare type of the muscle atrophy, called Werdnig-Hoffman disease, gradually deteriorates his muscular system, so he takes the risky procedure as the only opportunity to live in a healthy body. The most risky act is to cut the head off quickly and precisely, and to connect the two spines from different human bodies together successfully.
What is the checklist of doctor Carnavero?
1. Find a donor human body where the brain death occurred just a moment ago
2. Get the living patient with a degenerated body ready
3. Perform hypothermia to the body-giver and the patient
4. Separate both heads at the same time using an extremely sharp blade
5. Attach the healthy head onto the other body using polyethylene glycol to fuse the two ends of the spine – from the head and from the other body
6. Sew the muscles and the circulatory tissue together
7. Put the patient in a coma for 4 weeks to let the incision heal
8. Stimulate the connection of the spine and the nervous system by using small electric shocks
9. Administrate strong immunosuppressive drugs in case that the transplanted parts are rejected
10. Waking the patient up from the coma
The Economist speaks about this radical and controversial operation as of one of the big talking points of the year 2017 ahead:
If the surgery is successful, the patient will undergo a long recovery treatment – more than a year. He or she should be then able to move the new body and speak even with their own voice.
Dr. Carnavero faces so many questions about the feasibility and the ethics of the procedure. Some critics compare Dr. Carnavero to Frankenstein and describe his goal as a sheer fantasy. The reputable neurosurgeon is aware of the ethical controversy, so he has presented his goal to the public in advance to start the discussion. He says Valery is an amazing man and anyone of critics can hardly imagine the life in a wheelchair, unable to go to WC, or sleep comfortably, so the operation for the completely disabled people is at an issue.
The doctor estimates the surgery to 36 hours, 100 surgeons involved and more that 11 million dollars. To get the financial resources for the operation, Carnavero intends to fund it with sales from his book “Head Transplantation and the Quest for Immortality.”
The public and other professional surgeons are concerned not only about failing in it, but mainly about the ethics of the procedure. If such an operation will be performed successfully, what will be the consequences? In what kind of cases and for which purpose will be the head transplantation provided in the future? Has the doctor Carnavero found the way to reach the immortality while replacing old body for the new one over and over? Or is his intention truly to help to disabled people suffering from the muscle atrophy to live a better life?
First patient: the monkey
Actually the head transplantation have been already performed in 1970 - but not on a human. The American surgeon Robert J. White have transplanted the monkey´s head to another monkey´s body. After the surgery the monkey was able to breathe supported by artificial assistance, and use its senses, the sights, smell and hearing. The result of rejected transplanted parts by immune system caused the animal´s death after 9 days.
White´s experiments have been often criticized as barbaric, but the truth is, his research significantly contributed to the medical science in the area of transplantation.
But is the head transplant the real plan of Dr. Carnavero or a smart marketing move? Business insider comes with an hypotesis about this surgeon - you can find more information here.