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First human head transplant could take place in the UK next year, maverick surgeon says

Professor Sergio Canavero has also unveiled a virtual reality system that will get his patient ready for his new body

Andrew Griffin
Monday 21 November 2016 15:33 GMT
First human head transplant - interview with Professor Sergio Canavero

The neurosurgeon who intends to attempt the first ever human head transplant says he may do so in the UK.

Maverick and often criticised Professor Sergio Canavero made the announcement while also revealing a virtual reality project that he hopes will be used to have his patient get ready for the experience of gaining a new body. That patient – Russian Valery Spiridinov - has already been chosen and the two hope to attach his head to a donor body next year.

The operation will involve freezing Mr Spiridinov’s head and cutting it from his body. It would then be fused onto a donor body and the tubes and skin would be attached together.

Professor Canavero said that the UK looks to be the “most promising place” in Europe to conduct the procedure, in part because of the huge amount of support that he has received from people in the country.

He also chose to reveal the new virtual reality system in Glasgow, promising that it would be used to “prepare patients for life in a new body”. The operation could lead to “unexpected psychological reactions” from the patient – with one expert saying the experience could be “worse than death” – and so the VR system is intended to avoid those.

First human head transplant: VR system 'prepares patients for life in a new body'

Professor Canavero said: "This virtual reality system prepares the patient in the best possible way for a new world that he will be facing with his new body.

"A world in which he will be able to walk again."

The neurosurgeon hopes to carry out the operation next year but has not finalised a location.

He said: "So many countries are willing to follow me outside of Europe or the US. I'm now trying to bring this to the west and I will try my best to make this happen here in the UK.

"Why? Because I had so much good feedback from Britain, from surgeons, that I do believe that it could get real traction if we push it hard here, so it is time for you here in Britain to start discussing all the ethical implications and if you are willing to see this happen here, because if the UK says no then it will be somewhere else.

"But in Europe the UK really looks like the most promising place."

In the system created by US firm Inventum Bioengineering Technologies, patients would take part in sessions for months before an operation.

Inventum chief executive Alexander Pavlovcik said: "In preparing the patient of Heaven (Head Anastomosis Venture) to transition into a new body, virtual reality training will be used before the surgical procedure to prevent the occurrence of unexpected psychological reactions.

"We are combining the latest advancements in virtual reality to develop the world's first protocol for preparing the patient for bodily freedom after the transplantation procedure."

Prospective patient Mr Spiridonov said: "Virtual reality simulations are extremely important as this kind of systems allow to get involved into action and learn fast and efficiently.

"As a computer scientist I am extremely certain that it is an essential technology for the Heaven project."

The procedure for cutting the spinal cord is said to be so delicate with the need to avoid nerves that a knife that can control cuts to a micrometre (one millionth of a metre) has been developed by Farid Amirouche at the University of Illinois.

Prof Canavero said: "Prof Amirouche has developed probably the sharpest and most precise blade in the world which will allow a clear cut of the spinal cord with a minimal impact on the nerves, a cutting system that is innovative and very inventive.

"It is another milestone on the journey to make the first human head transplant possible."

Additional reporting by agencies

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