- Surgeon Sergio Canavero sees ‘no problem’ with wealthy tycoons using the procedure to get a young body in their quest for eternal life
- Hopes his first patient will be Russian with genetic muscle wasting disease
- Valery Spiridonov, 30, has volunteered to be a guinea pig, despite the risks
- Dr Canavero has been called ‘nuts’ by critics who think his plans a fantasy
An Italian doctor has vowed to confound his medical doubters by proving that he can conduct the world’s first head transplant – in less than an hour.
Surgeon Sergio Canavero, who has no problem with anyone branding him Dr Frankenstein, also has not got any qualms with wealthy tycoons using the procedure to get a young body in their quest for eternal life.
He confirmed that he hopes to operate on his first patient, a Russian with a rare genetic muscle wasting disease, and said he will carry out the procedure in China if he is banned from doing so in the EU or former Soviet Union.
Valery Spiridonov wants to be the first person to undergo a head transplant despite the massive risks so he can have a shot at having a healthy body having suffered from Werdnig-Hoffman disease
Dr Canavero says he is ready to be branded a Dr Frankenstein in his attempts to perform the first head transplant. Pictured here is Boris Karolv playing Dr Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 film
Potentially he accepts he could be jailed for conducting such an operation in a country where it does not have approval.
‘It’s not a problem. If Europe and Russia say “no”, the surgery will be done in China,’ he said.
‘I’m ready for that. I’ve been studying Chinese for a few years.
‘You should understand that it’s not simply a medical procedure. This surgery has a political meaning.
‘The Soviet Union was the first one to send Yuri Gagarin to space, America was the first on the Moon. The country that hosts head transplant surgery for the first time will become a leader like this.’
But critics say Dr Canavero’s plans are a fantasy. Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Centre, has described Dr Canavero as ‘nuts’.
And Dr Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, has said: ‘I would not wish this on anyone. I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death.’
Nevertheless severely disabled Valery Spiridonov, 30, a sufferer of Werdnig-Hoffman disease, has volunteered to be a guinea pig, knowing the risks.
He told MailOnline in an exclusive interview earlier this month: ‘My decision is final and I do not plan to change my mind.’
‘Am I afraid? Yes, of course I am. But it is not just very scary, but also very interesting. ‘
This risks appear huge but Dr Canavero insists it would take him less than an hour to put Spiridonov’s head on the body of a donor body.
‘Valery’s head will be cooled to 10-15 degrees Celsius,’ the Italian medic said.
‘That is done in cases of surgery on deep areas of the brain.
‘We will have an hour to ‘switch’ the head to a different body. You need a few minutes to join blood vessels.
‘Valery’s head will be detached from his body and transferred to another one in a matter of seconds, and the brain’s blood flow will start in about 15 minutes.
Dr Canavero giving a presentation on his plans. He claims he has been ‘studying Chinese for the past few years’ in case he has to perform the operation in China should Europe and Russia say no
‘I will be explaining all the technical peculiarities on June 12 in Annapolis at an international neurosurgeons’ conference.’
This Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons will hear that such surgery is not only possible but imminent, he said.
‘I’ll prove it is totally possible to all the sceptics there.’
He admitted that attaching the head was only the start.
‘The surgery will take a lot of time, the joining process may take up to 18-24 hours,’ he said. ‘Doctors will be taking turns not to get tired.’
He added: ‘Believe me, I receive a lot of queries from surgeons, volunteers from across the globe who’d like to participate in the surgery.
‘If I wanted, I’d be able to have an international team of 150 highly-skilled professionals.’
Asked by newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda on the cost of the first surgery, he replied: ‘Do you love football? I hate it. Nonetheless, you have slackers who meaninglessly stroll around the pitch and are paid $20-30 million a year.
‘I need $15 million. It’s the price for happiness and health for a lot of people. But sponsors prefer spending money on healthy boneheads who can’t kick a ball.’
Asked if such surgery could be used for ‘elderly billionaires to get a young body’, he claimed he had interest from tycoons seeking to extend their lives.
‘You bet – there are a few funds working on prolonging life expectancy, and they are well-funded.
‘These people came to me and said, “here is the money, but we want our participation to stay secret”.
‘However, I want everything to be transparent. Doing the surgery in a secret place on a secret island is not my cup of tea, to be honest.’
He was ready to be branded Dr Frankenstein.
Dr Canavero has said his new body swap technique could help paralysed people such as Christopher Reeve
‘I am prepared for any nicknames, because it sounds cool and will help to sell more newspapers.
‘But I am very conservative when it comes to funding.
‘When Bill Gates or Dmitry Itskov (a Russian millionaire supporting the research in artificial intelligence) fund my project, I’ll come to the cameras with the receipt and say, “this person supported my initiative”.’
He went on: ‘I know what I’m for and am prepared for it. I already have an entire army of enemies.
‘But even if I fail with the project, it’ll be a lot easier for those who carry on after me.’
He admitted that ‘the final goal is immortality’ and brushed aside objections from churches.
‘I’m not a Catholic and not even a Christian. But I respect other points of view. And I will listen to what the Orthodox church has to say. But this church has one point of view, and the Catholic – another.’
He claims a senior Catholic figure has said he sees no objections to the surgery, he said, adding: ‘In Asia and China, the religious authorities also haven’t shown any discontent about that. I don’t think the religious aspect will play a huge role.
Dr Canavero, who currently undertakes experimental surgery near Turin, said that he had had ‘many’ offers to be his guinea pig in such surgery.
‘My secretary receives queries from all over the world,’ he said.
‘I won’t disclose the names of other candidates because they have not allowed me to do so.
‘I chose Valery for two reasons. First, he’s brave enough and ready to go till the end.
‘Second, his bravery is based on knowledge, he studied everything the scientists have discovered in the area.
‘This way, I decided, he will be the first one to make history.
‘Other lucky people will get a chance to change their lives after him.’
In his remarkable interview with MailOnline, the would-be patient explained that he had agreed to the surgery because ‘I don’t really have many choices.
‘If I don’t try this chance my fate will be very sad. With every year my state is getting worse.’
He confirmed: ‘I read many scientific articles on this topic.
‘The idea to transplant not only organs but the head has been studied for a long time even by Russian specialists.
‘But an actual transplantation of the human head was never conducted.
‘I contacted Professor Canavero two years ago after reading about his works. I offered myself to him to make this operation possible.
‘We have never met, and we just communicate via emails.
‘And for the last two years we’ve been talking this idea through and planning the operation.
‘He’s a very experienced neurosurgeon and conducted many serious operations. Of course he has never done anything like this and we have to think carefully all the possible risks.
‘But in the end it is like with astronauts. Before the first man we sent into space, 300 different scenarios of something going wrong were thought through but when he actually did it, it was the 301st scenario that happened.’
He denied his pledge to be a guinea pig is a stunt, and insisted he goes into it with his eyes open.
Severely physically handicapped, he made clear: ‘I do understand the risks of such surgery. Yhey are multiple. We can’t even imagine what exactly can go wrong.
‘I’m afraid that I wouldn’t live long enough to see it happen to someone else.
‘If I want this kind of surgery to happen, I shouldn’t put the responsibility onto someone else but should try it on myself.
‘My family fully supports me. They also understand all the risks, and even if they think that it’s too dangerous, they still support me in my decision.’