The mad scientist behind the world’s first human head transplant

Professor Sergio Canavero is a man who says he can make the crippled walk again. And more than that, he wants to pave the way to eternal life – by transplanting a human head.

“I’m asking you: are you happy with your life? Being born? Ageing? Dying?” Professor Canavero asks. “Death does not sit well with me. We are playing god. We are tampering with the order, with natural order.”

But for now he’s starting with something less ambitious; offering hope to the paralysed – but there’s a catch. First, the man who’s happy to be called Dr Frankenstein tells his patients, I’ll have to remove your head – and he’s 100 per cent confident that it will work.

Professor Canavero has found his first willing patient – Russian-born Valery Spiridonov, who is wheelchair-bound due to a muscle-wasting disease, Werdnig-Hoffmann disease.

“Someone has to [be] first,” Spiridonov told Sunday Night. “Human experiments are unavoidable because many people require this technology; their life is a nightmare. When you have a chance to live a normal life, it’s worth it it’s worth the risk.”

The procedure seems surprisingly simple – Valery would be matched with a suitable body donor, someone who is brain-dead but with a healthy body. Valery will be cooled to 10 degrees and his head will be surgically removed and attached to the new body in an 80-hour procedure, his spinal cord fused to the donor’s. Electricity would then be used to stimulate the new nerve connections. Finally, he will go into a three-month coma.


While transplanting an entire human head may seem far-fetched, the same was once true of hand and heart transplants, which are now routinely carried out around the world. Just a few years ago, the world witnessed one of the biggest medical breakthroughs of all time: a human face transplant.

Professor Canavero’s breakthrough for this treatment is a chemical known as Polyethlyne Glycol – or PEG – which is routinely found in things like sunscreen, perfumes, and even printers. He says it has the incredible ability to repair and fuse delicate cell membranes by applying it quickly to the newly severed spinal cord, and infusing it into the blood. His theory is that the nerve bundle will fuse together and heal itself, allowing the patient’s head to control the new body.

The neurosurgeon doesn’t deny there’s a risk, but would rather remain hopeful about the next big medical advance. “There is only one man or woman on earth that can decide for himself or herself, and that’s the patient.”

 


 

Valery Spiridonov has made his decision. Whether he’s the first or the tenth to undergo the procedure doesn’t matter to him – just so long as he can get out of that wheelchair and celebrate.

 

Reporter: Matt Doran

Producer: Stephen Rice