The technology is here, but is humanity ready for it?
Image by skeeze
It all started in the year 2015 with a man by the name of Valery Spiridonov, a very intelligent person from Russia who had used his intelligence to develop his own IT company working on different devices using AI. Sadly, Valery was diagnosed with a very rare condition by the name of muscle wasting Werdnig-Hoffmann disease.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, this disease manifests by slowly paralyzing the patient from neck to toe. At the same time the disease develops a spinal muscular atrophy type 1, this means that with time the disease is destroying nerves and muscle tissues throughout the body to a point where vital organs will be disconnected from the nerves, cutting down their ability to function.
Valery was not left with much of a choice as his doctors assumed that he would be able to live for around 5 years until the disease would reach the next stage where it starts affecting the nervous system towards the brain. This is where Dr. Sergio Canavero comes into play. A world-renown neurosurgeon with more than 30 years of experience who approached Valery with the crazy idea of a head transplant surgery. Young desperation has pushed Valery to accept the ambitious project.
?A step forward to the evolution of humanity, I will do it for science.?
These were the aspiring words of Valery Spiridonov in his first public interview after he accepted to take part in the surgery. The main resource needed as this point was financing, such a procedure would cost around 15 million US dollars. What made this cost so high was two special requirements that are specific for this surgery.
A diamond blade which would be so sharp it would require an insignificant amount of pressure to cut. The spinal cord is extremely sensitive and a normal scalpel (no matter how sharp) would require some pressure applied in order to make an incision, this could destroy the nerves as they are very sensitive. With this special diamond blade, a cut could be achieved without damaging the nerves.
A normal scalpel required 27 newtons of force applied in order to make an incision, this diamond blade only required 1 newton of force. The blade also had to be extremely precise in order to achieve a clean cut.
Image by Lindsay Brown
In the image above we can see Dr. Canavero exemplifying the procedure of cutting the spinal cord and why such a blade is required with a banana and some spaghetti. The banana representing the soft tissue of the spinal cord and the spaghetti representing the nerves within the spinal cord. Failure in rejoining the severed spinal cord with leave the patient fully paralyzed.
A much better representation can be seen from the Tedx talk he conducted in 2015 about the whole procedure and what this would mean for humanity.
The second requirement was a special fusion sealant (biological adhesive) know as polyethylene glycol peg created in order to glue the head to the donor?s spinal cord. The solution would allow for quicker regeneration of the spinal cord as it has the uncanny ability to reconstitute damaged biomembranes.
Dr. Canavero has justified that the technology is here but, the main problem that he would face was society as he knows that some members of our society are not ready for such an evolutionary leap.
By 2016 the financial resources were gathered from diverse millionaires with a high interest in science and in the medical field. The main contributor was a Russian billionaire, the founder of the Orbiter Initiative, a plan to transplant a human brain into a robotic body, creating the first cyborg, with a goal in mind of cybernetic immortality. Within this project, he saw potential towards the next step in human evolution, immortality.
What did the WNA(World Medicine Association) think of all this?
After Dr. Canavero making his plans public, the WNA (World Medicine Association), as well as most neurosurgeons around the world, burst into flames saying that his plan is senile and it would never work for various reasons. The Medical school kept threatening him that if he were to go through with the Head Transplant surgery and it would prove to be a failure, he would lose the right to perform brain surgeries or any surgeries for that matter.
The difficult or risky part of this operation was not the surgery itself, after the surgery the patient has to be placed in a medically induced coma for a month to allow time for the patient to recover as well as time for the head to accept the donor?s body. Even if it is a medically induced coma it is still a dangerous procedure from which he may never wake up. With this said, the only factor which Dr. Canavero is not able to confirm is if the head will accept the donor’s body.
The cells in our body are very clever as they are able to tell the difference between a foreign cell and a friendly cell. When the healing process begins the cells from the head will either see the donor?s body cells as the same human cells or a virus in which case the head will decline the donor?s body by not healing the operated area.
The WNA had stated in many different public articles that Dr. Sergio Canavero?s idea was crazy (to say the least) as it has not even been tested on animals to see if the reattachment of the head onto the original body is possible. However, little did the world know that a Chinese orthopedic surgeon would come into play to prove the WNA wrong.
Professor Ren Xiaoping from Harbin Medical University had been testing the potential and plausibility of this procedure for years on mice. His first successful head transplant on mice took place in 2015 and in two months the mouse had fully recovered all body movement. He had previously attempted the same surgery but the mouse would live only for five to seven months.
This was because, during the failed surgeries, the brain of the head being transplanted would not receive enough oxygen, therefore brain damage was unavoidable. Therefore, Professor Ren would make a small incision and connect a tube that would allow oxygen to reach the brain of the mouse until he would reattach the spinal cord of the donor mice to the head. This would make sure that the blood circulation isn?t cut.
?We dreamt one day that we would go into space, didn?t we end up doing so? We even went onto the moon. What may seem impossible today can be possible tomorrow.? (Professor Ren Xiaoping)
The Professor realized that a human organism is much more complex than the one of a mouse, therefore his next challenge would be to carry out the same procedure on monkeys as they are the most similar animal to a human organism. This procedure would be done with the help of Professor C-Yoon Kim from Konkuk University School of Medicine in South Korea.
Interestingly enough, from the research done by Dr. Sergio Canavero, this procedure had been attempted in 1970 by Doctor Robert Joseph White from Harvard Medical School. It was the first successful head transplant on a monkey and from records, the world’s ever head transplant on an organism. After the surgery, the monkey recovered all of his senses.
Doctor White noted two important things from his experiment. The first was that despite a complete disconnection of the head the monkey managed to keep his or her consciousness even if (in medical terms) the monkey was clinically dead. The second discovery was that the head must be maintained under 15 degrees Celcius whilst disconnected in order to not cause any brain damage.
Professor Xiaoping found out about the plan that Dr. Sergio Canavero had in mind and to help him prove the world and the WNA wrong, he wanted to try a head transplant between two monkeys as Doctor White only disconnected and connected the head to the same body. Professor Xiaoping conducted the procedure to the best of his abilities and it was no surprise that it was a great success.
Following all the research done by Doctor White, the monkey managed in only 3 weeks to regain the full function of the monkey donor?s body. The main concern (just as the one Dr. Canavero had) is that the monkey wouldn’t wake up from the medically induced coma. Professor Xiaoping saw a lot of potential in the procedure planed by Dr. Canavero and hoped for a leap in human evolution that would bring a solution to patients that suffer from muscle wasting diseases.
Why didn’t the surgery take place? or did it?
The surgery was meant to happen in October of 2018 however, it never took place as Valery Spiridonov did not want to go through with the procedure anymore because his child was born?An interesting twist of events as many people did not expect a man with his condition to have a child of his own. Valery?s last public appearance was on the 9th of April 2019 on the Good Morning Britain show discussing the main reason why he did not want to go through with the surgery anymore.
Valery Spiridonov holding his baby and his alleged wife Anastasia Spidironov/ Image by East2west Media group
This is the picture that has exploded on most major media outlets, stating that Valery backed out of the operation as he fell in love, and most importantly he now had a child.
I have been following this story and the whole head transplant project since it had been announced and I do not know a person who has done more research on this issue than myself. Valery was very determined to go through with the operation and out of nowhere, a lady comes in his life and more surprisingly a child in 2018. I have searched the whole internet and could not find another picture of him with his child.
First of all, from the research I have done, Valery should not be able to have children because of his condition, and secondly, if that is truly a real child and not just a doll, why would you have a child when you know you only have 3 years to live at best? Since the last interview on Good Morning Britain, there has been no sign of Valery nor of Dr. Sergio Canavero.
This has raised many questions throughout the internet, many questions that have developed into different theories such as the operation taking place later on in 2019 but it has been kept a secret as humanity is not yet ready for this evolutionary leap.
Nothing adds up in this whole story. Valery does not seem like the kind of person to just quit after so many years of preparation and knowing that his life is in danger with only a maximum of 3 years left to live until his muscle wasting Werdnig-Hoffmann disease destroys vital tissue from his body.
The technology is here and if it won?t happen today it will surely happen tomorrow. In my opinion, humanity was never prepared for the technological evolution, but it still happened, therefore there is no reason to delay the inevitable.