Italian physician Dr. Sergio Canavero is collecting funds to conduct the first human head transplant. He has a volunteer: Valery Spiridonov, 30, who suffers from a rare genetic disease causing his spinal muscles to atrophy.
Other researchers call Canavero "nuts."
Canavero points to Dr. Robert White, who transplanted the head of one monkey to the body of another at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1970. The monkey died after eight days, because the body rejected the new head. Before ithe monkey died, it could not move because the spinal cord of the head and body were not connected. The monkey also was unable to breathe on its own. The paper in which Canavero outlined his procedure references a different 1971 experiment White conducted with six monkey heads, none of which survived more than 24 hours. But Canavero says advances in science and medicine since then eliminate the problems White faced.
Dr. Hunt Batjer, chairman of neurological surgery at UT Southwestern and president-elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons, says White's research is not validation for a human head transplant. "[It's] a 45-year-old reference in a primate and there is no evidence that the spinal cord was anastomosed functionally," he says. Batjer further explains that it's a great leap to go from brain survival of the surgery to restoring body function, which White did not look at.