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Human Head Transplants Coming Soon?

CNN reports that Italian physician Dr. Sergio Canavero thinks we're almost ready to surgically connect an entire head onto a human body. The procedure has been nicknamed HEAVEN, an acronym for "head anastomosis venture." He's so sure, in fact, that he's starting to gather resources to do it himself.

Canavero said he's secured some of the funding, and will be gathering more with book sales and crowd-funding. He has a potential volunteer patient chosen as well, a Russian man named Valery Spiridonov suffering from a rare disease. He's still seeking a medical center to host the procedure, and then will need to gather approximately 150 nurses and doctors. Many of them have already expressed interest in taking part.The cost of the 36-hour operation, which could only be performed in the one of the world's most advanced operating theatres, has been estimated at £7.5million.
The new body would come from a transplant donor who is brain dead but otherwise healthy.

Valery Spiridonov as the first patient. The 30-year-old Russian man suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Werdnig-Hoffman disease. Canavero says the man volunteered. The two men have talked via Skype but they have yet to meet in person and Canavero has not reviewed Spiridonov's medical records.

Canavero says he has part of the funding secured, although he says he can't yet disclose where the money is coming from as a condition of the funding. He's also taking the 2015 layman's approach with crowd funding and book sales.

Canavero says he has a stack of emails and letters from people who want this procedure. Many of them are transsexuals who want a new body, he says. But he insists the first patients will be people who are suffering from a muscle wasting disease.

He plans to present his idea to the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons (AANOS) in June. If all goes well he hopes to perform the procedure by 2017. If that doesn't work out he may start looking to China for hosting, which may delay his plans. He expects the operation to take 36 hours.

The idea sounds like science-fiction, but it has already been attempted. Dr. Robert White transplanted a new head onto laboratory monkeys in the 1970s. Each of them died shortly after, but Canavero believes medicine has advanced to the point that he can avoid those medical issues.

Canavero has his share of detractors. Dr. Hunt Batjer, chairman of neurological surgery at UT Southwestern and president-elect for the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, says that the spinal cord would not be able to connect, which would prevent restoration of movement or even the ability to breathe.

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