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“Not canceled, but paused”: Valery Spiridonov, participant in the head transplant experiment, talks about the fate of the project

2019-12-16T05:31:15.044Z

Valery Spiridonov hails from the USSR - this is how he speaks of himself. He has spinal muscular atrophy, a congenital disease that prevented his body from developing. Valery has been in a wheelchair since childhood. In 2015, the whole world started talking about him - Spiridonov agreed to participate in an experiment proposed by the Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero. According to the physician, he developed a technique that allows for a head transplant. While the method was being tested, Valery, an engineer by training, did not lose time. He continued his studies in the United States, married, became a father, and now conducts research in the field of artificial intelligence. RT correspondents talked to Valery Spiridonov and found out that he had not abandoned the idea of ​​Dr. Canavero, was working with him and believed that replacing the body could become a reality.



- How did you end up in the USA, how is your life here, what are you doing?

- I’m an engineer, I came to the USA to get a master’s degree. He studied at the University of Boca Raton with a degree in computer science. This is an engineering discipline, computer science. In addition, we are carrying out scientific activities aimed at knowing better how a person feels, how he reasones. For this, I created software that is able to recognize emotions, predict the course of the dialogue.

I came here under a program that supports young scientists, allows them to receive a master's degree. For this, universities have special grants. Today I have already finished my education and started to work - I put my knowledge into practice. This knowledge is in the field of developing artificial intelligence, software, fail-safe clusters, systems, servers. We also make a very interesting startup related to drones, quadrocopters. And I think he will be successful. It will be a truly global project.

- Tell us about your research.

- My research is related to finding out how much we can use artificial intelligence to help people, to make their lives easier, more comfortable, safer, calmer, so that people better understand each other. That is, it is not just a machine translation of words, as it is today, for example, with Google. And this is a system that allows you to conduct a dialogue, to keep attention.

    - Give an example of how this can be used in practice?

    - For example, a doctor and a patient. Such systems will make it possible in the future to better conduct treatment courses, to better interact with services that help people in difficult situations. This can be used for business to conduct a dialogue with a client, better understand him and know how he feels. It will help everyone. Another system that I talked about and which is related to drones, will allow people to get a picture and sound in real time from anywhere in the world and at the same time control the camera remotely from anywhere in the world.

    “What are your and your family's future plans?” What is the prognosis given by doctors here in the USA?

    - My plans are not related to any particular place. My specialty allows me to work remotely for more than 15 years. Today I am in the USA, because it is more convenient for my family and for my son: without flights, stress and in a comfortable climate. As for the doctors, I don’t think that they can somehow help me radically. Traditional medicine does not have in its hands an arsenal for the treatment of such diseases.

    The only drug that has come out in recent years in the United States and has recently been approved for use worldwide is Spinraza . It stops the degradation of muscle fibers, improves the quality of life. Its course is quite expensive, but nevertheless it is a huge step forward. And we hope that in the near future it will be available everywhere.

    - Do you plan to return to your homeland? Is there any work in Russia that might interest you?

    - I definitely do not exclude the possibility for myself of returning to Russia. And this is not connected with any working projects, but simply because it is my homeland and all my friends are there, my brother is there. But today I have no such plans and no cooperation with anyone from Russia. Although I believe that my experience and knowledge of Dr. Canavero is something that can take Russian medicine several steps forward. This knowledge is unique. But they can be applied only with the support of the state. I will explain why so.

    The fact is that today, when it comes to cooperation with Dr. Canavero, many scientists, including in Russia, understand that they are walking on fairly thin ice. This is due to the reputation, to the risks that cooperation with a person like Dr. Canavero carries.

    He has already managed to declare that he is ready to transplant his head, works in China with rats, with monkeys, is about to begin experiments with people.

    But in fact, all this technology is about something else. It is aimed at helping people with other diseases: it is needed in order to treat spinal injuries, so that people who have been immobilized for a long time, regain their ability to feel, move, and live a full life. And we are talking about this technology. We are ready to help the Russian government to bring this technology to the country, we are ready to cooperate directly. And of course, if they give us support in this, give us green light, I will come to Russia and will do everything in my power to make this happen.

      - Have you received any offers from Russia?

      - I constantly get offers, they are quite interesting and relate to software development, my experience in project management, startup management. They relate to artificial intelligence, working with cloud storage systems. Companies in Russia, such as Sberbank, Yandex, they are really looking for employees to replenish their staff with experienced professionals. But at the moment, I think it's better for me to be here. Because, as I said, I would like my son, who is now one year old, to spend time in a calm climate, without the need to adapt to the weather, to new conditions. But this does not prevent me from working remotely with any companies.

      “Do you receive proposals for an operation similar to that planned by Dr. Canavero?” Perhaps there are other doctors working in this direction?

      - Various proposals for the introduction of innovative technologies, including in medicine, are received constantly. And especially, of course, there were many of them during the period 2015-2017, when Canavero only announced his plans. There are many offers, but you have to evaluate them very carefully. Because many of them carry rather strange solutions, others need significant improvement. There are some very interesting ones, and we would like to give them a green light and apply them also for work related to Dr. Canavero’s technology.

      But while I am not inclined to do any operations. And the only thing that can be done in my situation is supportive therapy or the installation of an implant in the spine. But this is not an urgent task, because my condition is stable and I feel great: I work eight hours in the office on an equal basis with other employees. Nothing is threatening my health at the moment, and I would like to perfect one of the technologies that I do today.

      - So you changed your mind and abandoned the operation or are you preparing for it?

      - My attitude to the transplantation of the head has not changed. I believe that there are situations when such an operation is the only possible solution to save a life. From an ethical point of view, it is no different from conventional transplantation. After all, there are no serious ethical discussions in society about organ transplants: lungs, liver, kidneys. These are planned operations that are carried out today in Russia every day. Transplants of this kind have long been familiar.

      As for the head transplant, we will come to this. We will come to the conclusion that a large number of other solutions will appear, such as, perhaps, a modification of the genome, which today has become a reality, but needs a larger marketing component. It is possible to modify the genome today, and in some places it is already being done. How much this needs to be done, I think, a person will decide for himself. And there can be no restrictions related to ethics, religion, and so on.

      Science cannot be stopped. It can be delayed in development. But why do this? All the same, their Giordano Bruno will appear, who will somehow tell how the world works and make it better.

      • Valery Spiridonov about a head transplant operation

      “What is Dr. Canavero doing now?” What do you know about his experiments in China?

      - We are in constant contact with Dr. Canavero and communicate several times a month. I know that his experiments were successful. Experiments with animals such as dogs, monkeys (that is, with large mammals, about which I spoke earlier) were more than successful.

      Today there are documents that show the feasibility of splicing fibers of the spinal cord, the restoration of motor activity. There is photo and video evidence for this.

      Moreover, there is an active desire to cooperate with representatives of medical institutions and government agencies in order to transfer this technology to people. But in order to do this, there must be a step on the part of the state when a specialized grant is allocated, a specialized room, a laboratory are allocated to study, carry out all the checks and say whether the Canavero technology works or not. Because Sergio Canavero and Dr. Ren Xiaoping are ready to come to Moscow, ready to come to any other state to tell all the details, share materials on this subject. But this cannot be their initiative, they cannot personally say: "Invite us, please, we will explain everything and show you." No, there should be an interest on the part of the authorities. If it is, we, of course, will help hundreds and thousands of people.

      - How did the appearance of a child change your life?

      - The birth of a son, of course, very much changed my life. I began to be attentive to my actions, I began to take my activities and my health much more seriously. Because I need to be with him, I need to help him grow. And I really like it, I spend a lot of time with him.

      Did this affect my decision not to have surgery? Not. This is due to the fact that we want to bring technology to perfection. To do it publicly, openly, in concert with society.

      But the birth of my son gave me the strength to do research, to look for ways to apply my knowledge, talents, so that everything was fine with him.

      • Valery Spiridonov about the birth of a son

      “How does your wife feel about your plans and Canavero’s experiments?”

      - You know, my wife met me to dissuade me from this. But, when she was convinced that I was very adequate to the experiment and make sober decisions, she calmed down and we began to talk on other topics.

      It's like giving up flying to Mars: you can't give up what still cannot happen. There wasn’t such that I was offered to lie on the operating table, and I said: “No, no, now I have a different situation.”

      It was different with me. It so happened that I collaborated with Dr. Canavero for a long time. I waited for the situation to change, until we gain support from the government, maybe some other structures. But we understand that I can’t wait for this forever, and I must take care of my own life, my own health, my own projects. Therefore, for some time this work was paused - for my part. But she, of course, was not paused by Canavero. And he has already advanced far enough in absolutely fantastic things. I think that he will tell about it himself if desired.

      But you will be very surprised when you find out that today there are technologies that allow not only transplanting the whole body, but also much more fantastic things.

      I’ll even reveal a secret - it’s just a brain transplant. This will solve a large number of problems, including those related to immune rejection, experts will understand me. But, of course, there will be other nuances.

      But in general, my wife and I, of course, are very happy. We spend every day together: we go to the beach, work, raise a son together. We feel happy, and of course, the lack of the need to prepare for the operation has a very positive effect on the general condition and pep.

      • Valery Spiridonov about his wife

      - How do you spend your free time?

      - Unfortunately, I have very little free time. Because I'm trying to deal with a large number of projects that are related to technology, medicine, science, software development, and so on. I am happy that I have time for my son. But we hope that soon we will be able to travel a little, we want to see other states. We love to be in different places. And when they invite us somewhere, we come with pleasure, talk about what we do, about how we are able to help people, what we are doing for this, what technologies have already become today.

      Source: russiart

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