By Kellie Moore
Valery Spiridonov, 30, is planning to become the guinea pig for the world’s first head transplant.
Spiridonov suffers from a rare genetic muscle wasting disease called Werdnig-Hoffman disease, also referred to as Type 1 Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), which causes a loss of motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain stem which will cause his muscles to gradually waste away and has left him wheelchair bound. The disease could also lead to his death. Spiridonov, in hope to conquer his disease and become a healthier individual, has come to Italian doctor, Sergio Canavero, who claims that he can perform the transplant.
The surgery will take 36 hours to complete and will require a team of 150 doctors. Both Spiridonov’s and the donor’s bodies will be cooled and Spiridonov’s head will be severed from his body, after which the blood vessels and tissue will be attached to the donor body. A chemical called polyethylene glycol will then be injected into the spinal cord to fuse the fat cells together and electrodes will then be used to stimulate the nerve endings between Spiridonov’s head and new body, a process that will require him to be in an induced coma for up to four weeks. Canavero says that with proper physical therapy after the procedure, Spiridonov will be able to walk within a year.
The surgery was introduced by Canavero in 2013 on the website Surgical Neurology International, and has successfully been completed on laboratory mice. It has been met with doubts from many scientists who say that the surgery is too dangerous and Spiridonov could suffer from paralysis and the inability to breathe and that the anti-rejection drugs in Spiridonov’s system could cause bodily malfunction. Hunt Batjer of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons even stated that he would not wish the procedure upon anyone nor would he want it done to him. Despite this, Canavero insists that it can be done with today’s technology.
We asked around the school for opinions on the procedure, and how they feel about such a thing being done.
“This could potentially be revolutionary,” said Danny Suing, grade 12. “It would be breaking boundaries, but it could save lives. I would like to see it succeed.”
Ms Chylek, one of the science teachers, commented, “I have strange feelings about this radical procedure. I understand wanting to do everything possible to prolong one’s life, but a head transplant is not something I would do personally. And what of the body? Did they know their body would be used for such a purpose?”
“Here is a very brave person willing to risk death in hopes to have relief,” said Mr. Frankel, another science teacher.
Spiridonov is expected to receive the transplant as early as next year.