A disabled man with a fatal muscle-wasting disease is set to become the first person to undergo a head transplant and hopes it could be as soon as next year.
Computer scientist Valery Spiridonov, from Vladimir, Russia, hopes that controversial Italian surgeon Dr Sergio Canavero can cut off his head and attach it to a healthy donor body. As a lifelong sufferer of the rare genetic Werdnig-Hoffman muscle wasting disease, he says he wants the chance of a new body before he dies.
"My decision is final and I do not plan to change my mind. Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. But it is not just very scary, but also very interesting. But you have to understand that I don't really have many choices. If I don't try this chance my fate will be very sad. With every year my state is getting worse. I can hardly control my body now. I need help every day, every minute. I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease.
My muscles stopped any development in childhood. Because of this, they do not grow and the skeleton gets deformed. I do understand the risks of such surgery. They are multiple. We can't even imagine what exactly can go wrong. The idea to transplant not only organs but the head has been studied for a long time but an actual transplantation of the human head was never conducted"
Dr Canavero has named the procedure HEAVEN, which is an acronym for head anastomosis venture. Anastomosis involves the surgical connecting of two parts. He insists all the necessary techniques already exist to transplant a head onto a donor body. The new body would come from a transplant donor who is brain dead but otherwise healthy. But critics say Dr Canavero's plans are 'pure fantasy' and he himself is 'nuts'.
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 $11million. The Italian doctor has also so far failed to secure funding for the staff of 150 doctors and nurses he believes are required to complete the procedure.