Surgeon Doing First Human Head Transplant to Use Virtual Reality to Help Prepare Patient

The surgeon who will do the first human head transplant is using virtual reality to help prepare his patient for his transition.

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Last September, Italian neuroscientist Sergio Canavero announced that he plans to be the first surgeon to ever perform a human head transplant after 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov volunteered for the procedure. The Russian man, who suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease (a rare and severe form of spinal muscular atrophy), will be using a virtual reality system to prepare his body for the post-surgery transition—which is planned to happen by the end of 2017.

According to MSN, Canavero said at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow conference in Scotland on Friday that he has a new virtual reality system that will "prepare patients for life in a new body." Canavero explained: "This virtual reality system prepares the patient in the best possible way for a new world that he will be facing with his new body. A world in which he will be able to walk again."

With Prof. Sergio Canavero, neurosurgeon who wants to conduct head transplant

— James Matthews (@jamesmatthewsky) November 18, 2016

During the surgery, Spiridonov's head will be "frozen" to stop brain cells from dying and tubes will be connected to support his key arteries and veins. Then, Spiridonov's spinal cord will be cut, repaired, and then the skin will be stitched back together as Spiridonov's head will be connected to a donor body.

Given how serious this surgery is, Canavero believes that, even if the surgery is successful, it could still lead to "unexpected psychological reactions" from the patient. That's why Canavero thinks a virtual reality world could help prepare Spiridonov and others for their new post-surgery bodies.

The system will be created by Inventum Bioengineering Technologies, which is a U.S.-based firm. Their chief executive Alexander Pavlovcik said, "In preparing the patient of Heaven (Head Anastomosis Venture) to transition into a new body, virtual reality training will be used before the surgical procedure to prevent the occurrence of unexpected psychological reactions."

Spiridonov, a computer scientist himself, is optimistic: "Virtual reality simulations are extremely important as this kind of systems allow to get involved into action and learn fast and efficiently. As a computer scientist I am extremely certain that it is an essential technology for the Heaven project."

It's not clear yet where the surgery will take place. According to the Independent, Canavero said at the conference that the United Kingdom looks like the "most promising place" in Europe to perform the surgery.

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