Health

Holy Shit, the World's First Human Head Transplant Is Actually Happening

Published On 11/22/2016 Published On 11/22/2016
inventum virtual reality for head transplant
Courtesy of Inventum Bioengineering Technologies

Livers, kidneys, hearts -- all organs that can fail before the rest of you, yet all organs that theoretically can be replaced. But if your entire body fails, well, you're pretty shit out of luck.

Until now! In 2016, literally anything can and will happen, so it makes sense that doctors who have been preparing to execute human history's first head transplant are training their patient for life in a functional body by using virtual reality. 

Valery Spiridonov suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a type of spinal muscular dystrophy that shows up in infancy and essentially wastes away a person's entire body. Most kids with it don't survive past age 2, but Spiridonov has survived to 31 years old, despite doctors' expectations to the contrary

But the sad fact of the matter is that the disease will kill him... unless... there were a way... to put his entire head on a new body. That's what the HEAVEN/Gemini project hopes to achieve, an ambitious goal that will in all likelihood kill the patient anyway. Since no one likes to prepare for failure, doctors are training Spiridonov for life with a functional body using virtual reality programs developed by Inventum Biotechnology Companies. 

The surgeons leading the procedure, Italian Dr. Sergio Canavero and Chinese Dr. Xiaoping Ren, believe that medical technology has advanced to the point at which they can reattach the spinal cord and preserve brain function in Spiridonov's head. The plan is to attempt the procedure in 2017.

Dr. Canavero claims to have performed the operation successfully on a monkey and a dog, which are not humans, but it's better than nothing. What you can't prepare for on monkeys and dogs, though, is the human experience of living perched atop a body not your own. Spiridonov has no memory of walking, so he'll have enormous physical and psychological hurdles to overcome should the procedure prove even moderately successful.

You don't need to be a doctor to understand that this is an extremely risky procedure. Even if they reattach the spinal cord, there's a risk of rejection, brain damage, and myriad other pitfalls that a team of 80 surgeons are trying to anticipate and avoid.

Some outside scientists have criticized Drs. Canavero and Ren for promoting bad science, but if you were Valery Spiridonov, and knew your condition would kill you, the minute chance of successful, groundbreaking surgery might be worth the risk. 

h/t Digital Trends

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Anthony Schneck is the health editor at Thrillist. Follow him @AnthonySchneck.

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