Head transplant

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Not to be confused with brain transplant.

A head transplant is a surgical operation involving the grafting of one organism's head onto the body of another. Head transplantation involves decapitating the patient. Head transplants have been successfully performed on dogs and monkeys by surgeons, although all the animals were unable to move and died shortly afterwards.


Transplantation of a dog-head performed in the GDR by Vladimir Demikhov on January 13, 1959

Charles Claude Guthrie succeeded in grafting one dog's head onto the side of another's neck on May 21, 1908.[1]

Vladimir Demikhov experimented with dog head transplantation in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. His transplant subjects typically died due to immune reactions.[1]

In 1959, China claimed that they had succeeded in transplanting the head of one dog to the body of another twice.[2]

Dr. Vladimir Demikhov's work, among others, was deeply influential for the future science of organ transplant,[3] as he pioneered many different forms of transplant in the 1940s and 1950s, including the use of immuno-suppressants.[1] His work was well known by other scientists and during the 1950s and 1960s, numerous heart transplants were performed on dogs in the United States by Dr. Norman Shumway of Stanford University and Dr. Richard Lower of the Medical College of Virginia. The first human heart transplant was performed by Christiaan Barnard in South Africa, in 1967; however, as they did not have the chemical agents to utilize immuno-suppressants, the patient receiving the transplant died.[4]

On March 14, 1970,[5] a group of scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio,[4] led by Robert J. White, a neurosurgeon and a professor of neurological surgery who was inspired by the work of Vladimir Demikhov, performed a highly controversial operation to transplant the head of one monkey onto another's body. The procedure was a success to some extent, with the animal being able to smell, taste, hear, and see the world around it. The operation involved cauterizing arteries and veins carefully while the head was being severed to prevent hypovolemia. Because the nerves were left entirely intact, connecting the brain to a blood supply kept it chemically alive. The animal survived for some time after the operation, even at times attempting to bite some of the staff.[6] In 2001, Dr. White successfully repeated the operation on a monkey.[7]

White later wrote:

What has been accomplished in the animal model – prolonged hypothermic preservation and cephalic transplantation, is fully accomplishable in the human sphere. Whether such dramatic procedures will ever be justified in the human area must wait not only upon the continued advance of medical science but more appropriately the moral and social justification of such procedural undertakings.[8]

In 2002, other head transplants were also conducted in Japan in rats. Unlike the head transplants performed by Dr. White, however, these head transplants involved grafting one rat's head onto the body of another rat that kept its head. Thus, the rat ended up with two heads.[9] The scientists said that the key to successful head transplants was to use low temperatures.[10]

The ability of fusogens like PEG and chitosan to rebridge a transected spinal cord has been confirmed by a 2014 German study: paraplegic rats recovered motricity within 1 month.[11]

In 2015, Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero has said the procedure (head anastomosis venture) might be feasible – with improved technology and more accurate ability to keep neural tissue perfused – before the end of 2017, when he intends to perform the procedure in either the United States or China.[12][13] A 30-year-old Russian programmer Valery Spiridonov with Werdnig–Hoffmann disease (type I spinal muscular atrophy) and rapidly declining health has volunteered to offer his head for the study.[14]

Popular opinion[edit]

Popular opinion about potential head transplantation has been generally negative, despite Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero's claims in early 2015 that he will be able to perform a successful head transplant, complete with a functional patient,[clarification needed][15] by 2017. These claims against Canavero do not take a moral or ethical stance, but rather focus on the state of technology and the timeframe in which Canavero says he will be able to successfully conduct the procedure.[16][17]

Robert J. White, the scientist who transplanted the monkey's head, became a leading target for protestors. One interrupted a banquet in his honor by offering him a bloody replica of a human head. Others called his house asking for "Dr. Butcher". When White testified in a civil hearing about Dr. Sam Sheppard's murder case, lawyer Terry Gilbert compared Dr. White to Dr. Frankenstein.[18] The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals described White's experiments as "epitomizing the crude, cruel vivisection industry".[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Roach, Mary (2004). Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. W. W. Norton & Co. pp. 206–210. ISBN 0393324826. 
  2. ^ "Dog-Head Transplant Claimed by Chinese". The Washington Post. December 9, 1959. 
  3. ^ Anna Claybourne, What Are the Limits of Organ Transplants?
  4. ^ a b Pace, Eric (November 25, 1998). "Vladimir P. Demikhov, 82, Pioneer in Transplants, Dies". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ Bennun, David. "Dr Robert White". The Sunday Telegraph Magazine. Retrieved March 20, 2013. 
  6. ^ Laura, Putre (December 9, 1999). "The Frankenstein Factor Cleveland brain surgeon Robert J. White has a head for transplanting". Cleveland Scene. 
  7. ^ "Frankenstein fears after head transplant". BBC News. April 6, 2001. 
  8. ^ Sergio Canavero, HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI),2013. Canavero, S. (2013). "HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI)". Surgical Neurology International. 4 (2): 335. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.113444. PMC 3821155free to read. PMID 24244881. 
  9. ^ Young, Emma (December 3, 2002). "Infant rat heads grafted onto adults' thighs". New Scientist. 
  10. ^ "Head transplant possible at low temperatures". Chemistry and Industry. December 16, 2002. 
  11. ^ Estrada V.; Brazda N.; Schmitz C.; Heller S.; Blazyca H.; Martini R.; Müller H.W. (July 2014). "Long-lasting significant functional improvement in chronic severe spinal cord injury following scar resection and polyethylene glycol implantation". Neurobiology of Disease. 67: 165–79. doi:10.1016/j.nbd.2014.03.018. PMID 24713436. 
  12. ^ "Welcome to the body shop". New Scientist. 225: 10–11. doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(15)60382-7.  (subscription required)
  13. ^ Canavero, S (2013). "HEAVEN: The head anastomosis venture Project outline for the first human head transplantation with spinal linkage (GEMINI).". Surgical neurology international. 4 (Suppl 1): S335–42. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.113444. PMC 3821155free to read. PMID 24244881. 
  14. ^ "World's first head transplant volunteer could experience something "worse than death"". Science Alert. 
  15. ^ Helen Thomson. "First human head transplant could happen in two years". New Scientist. (registration required (help)). 
  16. ^ Fecht, Sarah (February 27, 2015). "BNo, human head transplants will not be possible by 2017". Popular Science. Retrieved March 6, 2015. 
  17. ^ "Man volunteers for world first head transplant operation". 
  18. ^ Grant Segall, Dr. Robert J. White, famous neurosurgeron and ethicist, dies at 84, The Plain Dealer, (September 16, 2010).
  19. ^ Carla Bennett, Cruel and Unneeded, The New York Times, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (August 21, 1995).

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