Weird Science: It’s all About the Brains


We have a few years to go until brain or head transplants are carried out, and long before they’re common, if ever. However, serious research was done on transplanting heads in the 50s. Bizarre to think of but then heart transplants were once unheard of. This fascinating article (below) opened my eyes.

The article asks near the end, but would we want to do this? Earlier it raises the possibility of such science being used for someone whose body is dying but the brain is alive. Would it be beneficial to paraplegics who cannot use their bodies because of spinal cord injuries? In theory, with enough scientific research, head transplants could become possible.

Would the the person pick up phantom memories from his/her host body or have phantom pains from the old one? Would there be a disembodied or disassociated feeling? Since phantom pain is a very real phenomenon and there is some indication of people with heart transplants having memories that belonged to the host’s heart, it’s an interesting realm of the unexplored.

Vladimir Demikhov was one of the pioneers, in Russia, where Stalin was trying to beat the West in medical science. A no-holds barred approach ensued where Russian doctors dreamed the unthinkable. Demikhov, in the height of the 50s, believed any organ could be transplanted, like hearts and lungs. We have now seen many of those and in the last few years, people getting heart, lungs and stomachs transplanted all at once. Now that a face transplant has been done, who knows how close we could be, but sometime just maybe, your head could end up on another body.

Transplanting a head is probably easier than transplanting a brain, since there are less very touchy nerves and such to reattach. Still it’s a formidable thing, to put a head on another body. However, Robert White, in the US, then took up the challenge and transplanted a brain into the neck of a dog. The brain lived for several days but no one could ask it if it still thought. The freakish Frankenstein dog with the puppy’s head attached lived for six days, both dogs panting if hot, drinking and retaining individual personalities.

White went further and replaced one rhesus monkey’s head with another. It could drink, bite and watch what was going on. But it couldn’t move its body. Since there are still a phenomenal number of nerve threads that would have to be reconnected, it was beyond the doctors’ abilities. White argued that a paraplegic whose body was dying could at least have another body to keep the head alive, even if they still couldn’t move.

Dr. Frankenstein may have been a bizarre imagining of Mary Shelley, but only time will tell if science can transplant our heads. I joke about having my brain put into a new body and someday it could be true. However, I do have to say the whole two-headed dog head thing is kinda gross and creepy, to say the least. Shades of Mars Attacks.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/technology/technology.html?in_article_id=426765

or: http://static.scribd.com/docs/kewb70kz1183c.pdf

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Filed under Culture, health care, history, life, news, people, pets, science, science fiction

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