It sounds like the plot of a 1950s B-movie, but Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero's desire is sincere: He wants to perform the first human head transplant. Canavero pitched the idea to potential donors and scientists at a conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons in Annapolis, Maryland, Friday, Agence France-Presse reported.
And it was at the conference that Canavero, who heads the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, met his first volunteer: Russian-born Valery Spiridonov, 30, who has a progressive and incurable wasting disease called Werdnig-Hoffmann disease.
Canavero has said in the past he needs about $100 million for his work, which he likened to the Apollo space program that put a man on the moon, and called upon "billionaires like Bill Gates to give money for this project."
Head transplants are not unprecedented -- at least on animals. In the 1970s, Robert White transplanted heads on monkeys, but because he was unable to restore the animals' spinal function, they soon died. And Chinese doctor Xiaoping Ren has had some success with mouse head transplants, the Wall Street Journal reported.
At the conference, Canavero explained to those gathered how he would mend the severed spinal cord and relayed the many advances of spinal cord restoration in animals. Success, he told them, involves the use of a certain special blade to cut the cord along with polyethylene glycol and an electrical current to quickly reconnect severed nerve fibers.
Gaps in his method include how to maintain and restore blood flow to the brain, or how to reconnect the parasympathetic nervous system, part of a person's automatic functions like heart rate, breathing, and digestion.
Not everyone is on board with the idea. “The whole idea is ridiculous,” Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University School of Medicine, told the Journal, saying it was not worth the effort or sacrifice of animals.
Marc Stevens, an orthopedic surgeon from Smithfield, North Carolina, said although he admires Canavero, more work should be done on healing spinal cord injuries before attempting something as drastic as a head transplant, AFP reported.
In spite of the skepticism, Canavero, who announced his project in 2013, said he will be able to perform a successful head transplant by 2016.
"I need your help and I need your assistance," Carnavero said. "Be Americans."