There are few things that cause me to feel visceral horror the way head transplants do, specifically the potential of the body to reject the transplant. I lose it. Now, the questionable neurosurgeon involved says he has a VR system that will prepare patients for the shock of looking down and seeing someone else's body.
Screenshot: Inventum Bioengineering Technologies
Inventum Bioengineering Technologies, a Chicago-based firm, is behind the project. "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," Alexander Pavlovcik, chief executive of Inventum tells the Daily Mail.
If Dr. Sergio Canavero's unbelievable procedure for transplanting a human head actually works, there is still a high likelihood that the patient would experience "unexpected psychological reactions." The purpose of the virtual reality system is to acclimate the patient with the feeling of being in a new body and being able to walk. The patient will spend months training before a surgery occurs. Like Canavero's surgical techniques, the details of this VR experience are unclear. But here is an equally mysterious and ominous promo video:
Valery Spiridonov, who suffers from Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, has volunteered to be the first to receive a head transplant. By day, Spiridonov runs an educational software company in Russia. "As a computer scientist I am extremely certain that it is an essential technology for the Heaven project," he says. The Heaven project is the deeply unsettling name for this initiative — it stands for Head Anastomosis Venture.
So far, Dr. Canavero claims that he has had success with various animals, including a dog that was able to walk again after having its spinal cord reattached.
The medical community has been sceptical of the controversial project. It doesn't help that Canavero has shared very little information with his colleagues. The first procedure is planned to take place in 2017, in China.
When Canavero showed The Atlantic's Sam Kean video of a monkey having its head "successfully" transplanted, Kean wrote that the monkey "blinked when someone prodded his eyes with forceps ... but otherwise he looked catatonic."
Speaking with iNews, Michael Sarr, editor-in-chief of American medical journal Surgery said that he thinks the procedure is possible but is still sceptical. "When you transplant a head to a body, you connect a spinal chord, bones, muscles, oesophagus, arteries, veins, also several other nerves along the swallowing tube. Each has its own complications and they're not insignificant. The complications are also greater altogether."