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Friday, February 10, 2017

Head transplant: A software reprogrammed?


Features@ITRealms
… Science, volunteers, surgeons, technology


Preamble:
Lately, a Russian software programmer, Valery Spiridonov, volunteered his head for a medical technology experiment known as ‘head transplant.’ DigitalSENSE Business News reports that a head transplant, according to an online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, “is a surgical operation involving the grafting of one organism's head onto the body of another. Head transplantation involves decapitating the patient.

Also, DigitalSENSE Business News reports that head transplants have been successfully performed on animals including dogs, monkeys and rats by surgeons. Although all the animals were unable to move and died shortly afterwards, yet there are plans for the first human head transplant.

Valery, a software reprogrammed?
On the other hand, literarily speaking, to reprogramme a software technically, one needs to first and foremost programme it, thus entails a computer programme which is a collection of instructions that performs a specific task when executed by a computer. A computer requires programmes to function, and typically executes the programme's instructions in a central processing unit. A part of a computer programme that performs a well-defined task is known as an algorithm.

Conversely, to reprogramme such a software involves ordinarily the reversal of the instructions collected to that performs a specific task when executed by a computer, definitively a computer scientists; who has acquired the knowledge of computer science, the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their application and if discussing medical technology, the scientists must be grounded in the knowledge of technology for medical advantage.

Meet Valery who opted for head transplant:
As the Italian neuroscientist is making headlines after announcing plans to this year perform the world’s first head transplant on a Russian man who has volunteered for the controversial operation.

Valery Spiridonov would be 32 this year, 2017, when he anticipated to have his head transplanted by a team of some over 80 surgeons.

Spiridonov seems among other volunteers for this much talked about transplant, very popular, is a self-employed software programmer who resides in Vladimir, just about 120 miles east of Moscow, according Atlantic.com.

Although he has a terminal ailment, known as Werding-Hoffmann disease, which left him bound on a wheelchair, he also runs an educational software business.

The Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, DigitalSENSE Business News learnt is a genetic disorder that causes muscles to waste away and motor neurons to die. 

The ailment has limited his movements to feeding himself, typing and steering his wheelchair-enabled activities with a joystick.

As at the time of going to press, Spiridonov, it was gathered, has been known for beating the odds. For instance, doctors had told him that he should have died of the disease years long ago, but here he is offering death himself for this experiment

Spiridonov has come up with a novel way to help fund the surgery, estimated to cost between $10 million and $100 million. He has begun selling hats, T-shirts, mugs and iPhone covers, all with an image of his head on a new body, online as a way to raise funds for the experiment.

A year without a heart!
Just as the world is gearing up for the head transplant, DigitalSENSE Business News gathered there was a 25-year-old man who spent over a year without a heart whilst waiting for a donor heart. Stan Larkin and his brother, Dominique, were reportedly diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy which resulted in difficulty of the heart properly pumping blood, according to the IFL Science. “It was an emotional rollercoaster,” said Larkin, who waited a total of 555 days for a donor heart using an external pumping device he wore on his back. The battery powered device was implemented when Larkin had his heart removed in 2014, and it only weighs 6 kilograms. 

Here comes Canavero:
Professor Sergio Canavero is leading over 80 medical doctors including Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren to decapitate the like of Valery Spiridonov and invariably place his head on a donor body, which is as at press time unconfirmed.

But speaking to the Newsbeat programme on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently, Prof Sergio Canavero said he received lots of volunteers from the United Kingdom (UK) who wanted the trial. Stressing that the process would see the patient using a donor body and having their head fixed to it. He expressed confident that the technology is now readily available to make the head transplant a reality.

According to Prof. Canavero, he expected to have everything ready to roll by the end of 2017, noting where it will eventually happen depends on the availability of a suitable brain donor. He pointed out that the last facial transplant took several months to be brought to fruition because there was no suitable donor at the time, but the technology will be there.
The surgeon also told Correspondent, the list of willing patients is so long and several of the patients are from the UK as he declared at the last quarter, "The UK does have the possibility to do this sort of surgery and it might really take place in the UK, or in Germany or in France."

How a head transplant work?
The seemly controversial Prof. Canavero, equally claimed the transplant will take some 150 medical staff involved and within 36 hours, to carry out. As said by him, the initial step would be to freeze the head and body to stop brain cells from dying. Then, the neck would be cut and tubes connecting key relevant arteries and veins fitted.

He explained that these exercises will be followed by cutting the spinal cord, which Canavero described as “the tricky part,” emphasising it will be done with a special knife made from diamonds because of their strength. Canavero said that the head will then be moved onto the donor body and the spinal chords fused together with a special type of glue.
“Muscles, veins and organs are then reattached and the skin is stitched together,” he asserted, elucidating that there will be testing of the process first on brain dead living donors.

"We will simply cut the surgical cord, and over 6 to 12 hours, monitor their recovery and neuro-physiological conduction (electrical impulses). We now have a better substance that can renew the severed spinal cord; Something that when you put it there you work the miracle of reconnecting. The results that we got are so astounding,” he said.

Further, Canavero noted that sometimes people get to the emergency department and the surgical cord is cut 90 per cent. “We imitated this scenario with a dog. We applied this [material] and the dog made an amazing recovery in two weeks. It was running, and I mean running."

What science believed hitherto?
However, most medical experts across the world have divergent views over this proposed head transplant with the aid of technology, describing Prof. Canavero’s theories as a 'science fiction' as they insisted that a head transplant is simply impossible. Even as Prof. Canavero maintained that he's confident he can successfully carry out the procedure. 

"When everything will be set I expect a 90 per cent chance of success. 90 per cent means that the patient reawakens without damage and starts walking within one month or moving during physiotherapy. Right now we are bringing hope to people who have been let down by Western medicine. No more lies. We need this because medicine has no way to manipulate the genes, manipulate the biology," he upheld.

Summary:
Medical technology like this one being explored by Prof. Canavero and his team, has come a long way considering the first heart transplant which took place over 50 years ago. The fact that medical technology has gotten to the point that a human could live without a heart for over a year, let alone any amount of time, is astounding, such as in the case of Larkin brothers.

It is also high time that Nigerian universities make it a point of duty to share research findings, mostly out of the over 152 universities, cutting across federal - 40; states - 44 and private universities - 68. And where they live up to expectations, medical tourism, which gulps some $3 billion annually for Nigeria’s medical tourism as at February 2016, requires revisiting at this time of economic recession.

Although Nigerian medics are making their own peculiar inroads in other areas of surgery, one hopes that as matter of fact, that at some of our medical doctors with specialty in neurology and even as members of the Nigerian Academy of Neurological Surgeons (NANS), should take a very keen interest in this head transplant exercise.

As 2017 kicks-in fully, a lot of expectations await the medical profession, especially a lot of hopes hanging on the novelty of a human head transplant with the aid of technologies.


Remmy Nweke/ED, Op
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