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World's First Human Head Transplant Patient Uses Virtual Reality to Prepare for His Operation

Nov 22, 2016 04:00 AM EST
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Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero is still determined to perform the world's first human head transplant, having stated that recent advances in re-connecting spinal cords that are surgically severed has opened up the door to full human head transplants. Canavero has just announced that his patient, 30-year-old Valery Spiridonov who suffers from muscular atrophy, will spend much of his preparation time inside a virtual reality machine to get him used to his new body.

Several members of the scientific community are very skeptical of Canavero's claims, even more so of his timeline since he plans to perform the procedure within the next 12 months. But Canavero also has his supporters: Dr. Ren Xiaoping of Harbin Medical University has signed on to help Canavero with the 36-hour operation. Both doctors are widely popular for their willingness to take extreme medical risks.

Should the procedure be successful, it could still lead to "unexpected psychological reactions" from the patient as he adjusts to his new life. Canavero's solution? A virtual reality world to prepare the patient for the new body. Spiridonov will be trained to deal with the "unexpected psychological reactions" using a new VR system.

The system was unveiled during the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow conference in Scotland last Friday. "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," Canavero said. "A world in which he will be able to walk again."

The system was created by the Chicago-based tech firm, Inventum Bioengineering Technologies and was designed to help prospective head transplant patients adjust to the sensation of looking down and seeing someone else's body.

Inventum chief executive Alexander Pavlovcik advised that patients would need to take part in sessions for months before an operation. "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."

Prospective patient Mr Spiridonov, 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."

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