Head transplant: team selected for controversial operation that will go ahead in 2017

Transplant will happen in China, with some worrying that the donor body could be taken from an executed prisoner

The likely date and location for the first-ever human head transplant have been set, after the controversial Italian doctor that will lead the surgery said that he has selected his team of surgeons.

Radical Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero has drawn fascination and criticism after he announced plans to cut off a man’s head and put it onto another body. Many had expected that the planned operation would probably never happen – but a team has now been appointed to lead the operation.

Canavero is hoping to complete the procedure – which will take 36-hours, and cost $11 million – by December 2017, according to Russia Today.

The transplant is likely to happen in China, with a team made up largely of doctors from the country, according to AFP. That is likely to raise worries about the already highly-controversial operation, since China has been criticised for using the organs of executed prisoners without their consent.

The procedure has already drawn widespread condemnation, from doctors who say that it is likely to kill the person undergoing it, and that if he does survive he will undergo something a "lot worse than death”.

Russian Valery Spiridonov has already been selected as the recipient of the new body. He suffers from the rare, genetic Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, which gradually wastes away his muscles.

During the procedure, the donor and patient will each have their head sliced off their body in a super-fast procedure. The transplanted parts will then be stuck together with glue and stitches.

Spiridinov will then be placed in a month-long coma and injected with drugs intended to stop the body and head from rejecting each other.

Since the procedure is unprecedented, apart from mixed results in dogs and monkeys, doctors are not sure what could happen during the surgery – or how Spiridinov is likely to be if and when he wakes up.

Ren Xiaoping, who will work with Canavero to try and attempt the procedure in the next two years, said that the team will only attempt it if research and tests show that it is likely to be successful.

The operation will probably happen in China, at the Harbin Medical University, according to reports.

 

Since Ren refused to say where the donated body might be found, some have worried that the donated body might be taken from an executed prisoner.

In China – where the huge population and a low number of donations have led to a high demand for organs – an industry of forced donations and a black market for the sale of organs have flourished.

Canavero has said that China is keen to be involved in the procedure as a way of demonstrating its keenness for scientific research to the world, likening the race to complete the transplant to the space race. The Italian doctor has recognised that he could go to jail for performing the procedure in an unfriendly country and said that he has “been studying Chinese for a few years”.

The doctor has said that the procedure is just a first step towards his ultimate aim of immortality.

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