Is This Really the Way Ahead Surgical Suite Spare a thought for Valery Spiridonov, already confined to a wheelchair by a progressive and incurable muscle wasting disease, who has been talked into this most radical of procedures. The Italian doctor, Sergio Canavero, claims he will be ready to transplant a living human head onto another body as soon as 2017. He has published the outline of his frankly gruesome sounding plan in Surgical Neurology International – it is for someone else to comment on the reputation of this publication but I have no reason to suspect it is anything other than reputable. Certainly it makes for pretty grim reading and there are critical moments where the plan seems to be beyond optimistic.  Which maybe explains why some are dismissing it as a hoax or publicity stunt. Would Those of a Weak Disposition Look Away Now Horrified Crowd Hoax or not the two protagonists, Dr. Canavero and Mr. Spiridonov, met last weekend in Annapolis, Maryland where they were due to speak to no less august a body than the American Academy of Neurological and Orthapaedic Surgeons. Even for an audience of surgeons I imagine the presentation will come as unsettling fare. Here at HIS Hair we know a few surgeons, they are a thick skinned bunch when it comes to gore but surely a line gets crossed on the slide where the presenter has to say “the head is then cut off”. In fact cutting the head off is the easy part when the procedure then requires the surgeon to re-attach the head, in stages, to it’s new body. Without getting bogged down let me focus in on just one of those stages, the one where the spinal cords are connected. The plan is to dip the two ends in a chemical which they hope will encourage them to connect and, which is more, work. Again, I will have to defer to experts in this area, but that sounds wildly optimistic. To boil down the many claims made by Dr. Canavero to a single encapsulating one liner I offer you: “he should be able to walk within a year”. No lack of confidence then. Dr. Canavero has had some extremely modest success transplanting monkey heads… unless you see it from the point of view of any of the monkeys. But I believe his current record for survival past the operation is just 9 days, achieved by assisting the monkeys breathing. No attempt was made to connect the spinal cord. Of course the fact that this story is breaking in the same week that a man had the worlds first skull and scalp transplant could fool the unwary that one is a natural progression towards the other. But it is akin to the difference in technology required to make a hot air balloon compared to a Mars lander, where the skull transplant would be the equivalent to a World War One bi-plane on that long road.   Some way to go yet then in my humble opinion.



By Ian Watson


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