With more than 5.6 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're writing a final document at the last minute, or investigating if your family's name is really Fronkensteen. We explored some rarities from Wikipedia in our series of 5,607,767 weeks, Wiki Wormhole .
Entry this week: Head Transplant
What it's about: Scientists always dreamed of cutting someone's head off and putting it on someone else's body. Yes, there are altruistic reasons to do it, ideally doctors could one day take the head of someone who is paralyzed, has lost limbs or has other serious medical problems, and grafting him into a healthy body. Or, more likely, he could finally create a plausible scientific basis for his script for Face / Off 2: Head to Head .
Major Controversy: Although no one has successfully transplanted a head, there is a long and horrible history of dog attempts. As early as 1908, the French organ transplant pioneer Alexis Carrel and the American physiologist Charles Claude Guthrie attempted to graft the head of a dog onto a second dog (with the head of the second dog still intact). The grafted head initially showed some basic reflexes, but died shortly thereafter and the intact dog was sacrificed.
In 1954, Soviet surgeon Vladimir Demikhov, who had done legitimate work to improve coronary bypass, attempted to graft not only the head of one dog, but also the upper body and forelegs on another dog. It seems that he performed several of these experiments, and one dog lived for a month after the surgery, but the rest died after a few days.
A decade later, Robert J. White grafted "only the isolated vascular system". the brains of dogs in existing dogs, "but in 1970 he had graduated from the monkeys, decapitating one and grafting the head of another monkey in four separate experiments.The grafted heads could chew, swallow and track objects with their eyes, but the success was ephemeral, the high doses of immunosuppressive drugs that he had to use, and not the transplant itself, seem to be responsible for the rapid death of monkeys.
In In recent years, Ren Xiaoping, who participated in the first successful hand transplant, has been transplanting the heads of mice, and his subjects have survived up to six months.
Thing we were happier to learn: Head Transplants have provided fodder for popular cultivation Already in the 1925 book Professor Dowell & # 39; s Head the titular physician is killed by his assistant, who keeps the head alive to reveal all your medical knowledge. The assistant then transplants a woman's head into a new body, but her unethical experiments are exposed by her assistant. Many fun night movies also involved head transplants, including The brain that would not die The two-headed thing The incredible two-headed transplant and of course "The Thing With Two Heads" by "Treehouse Of Horror II". Human-animal head transplants have also given us Gorilla-Man from Marvel Comics (not too late to put him in the MCU!), Dav Pilkey & # 39; s Dog Man series and a segment memorably unpleasant of Mars Attacks!
Thing they were not happy to learn: Transplant heads are not easy. As with any transplant, the organ must be kept alive, which is more difficult in the case of the head, since the brain needs a continuous flow of blood to survive. The risk of transplant rejection is at least as high as it would be in any type of transplant. And we can only speculate about the long-term psychological effects of spending your life with your head in a body different from the one you were born with.
But the real challenge is the nervous system. The animal experiments mentioned above managed to obtain a blood flow to the united head, but with ephemeral success. And nobody has yet tried to connect a spinal cord: each nerve would have to be put back in the right place, otherwise the subject would be completely paralyzed.
Also noteworthy: While there are obvious problems with head transplants, and especially with animal experimentation that has occurred in the field so far, virtually all forms of transplant surgery have encountered objections . When Joseph Murray performed the first kidney transplant in 1954, he was accused of playing God, and hand and face transplants have met with unnatural objections.
Better link to another place in Wikipedia: Related to head transplantation is the idea of an "isolated brain", commonly considered as a brain in a jar. Again, scientists have experimented with animals, since 1857, when Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard kept the head of a decapitated dog alive through constant infusions of oxygenated blood. This has been an even more common trope in science fiction, from Doctor Who to Star Trek to A Wrinkle in Time to Futurama ]but the isolated brain is also used as a philosophical puzzle. What would a brain without a body experience to provide stimulation? And if the brain were stimulated artificially (that is, connected to a computer that provides sensory information), would there be any way of saying that the artificially generated reality was false?
Below in Wormhole: Both head transplants and isolated brains are in the "biomedical" category of the category of emerging technologies from Wikipedia. Also in the category there are strategies for negligible designed senescence, an elegant name for the efforts of medical science to stop or reverse aging. While aging is still inevitable for everyone (apart from these 15 celebrities! What they look like now will surprise you!), Some animals experience a negligible senescence, which means they do not show the typical symptoms of aging like the loss of fertility or the increase in the probability of death. We will see these almost immortal next week.