A head transplant is a surgical operation which involves the grafting of one organism's head onto the body of another. It should not be confused with another, hypothetical, surgical operation, the brain transplant. Head transplantation involves decapitating the patient.
In 1959, China announced they had succeeded in transplanting the head of one dog to the body of another twice.
Dr. Vladimir Demikhov's work, among others, was deeply influential for the future science of organ transplant, as he pioneered many different forms of transplant in the 1940s and 1950s, including the use of immuno-suppressants. 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 did not do very well.
On March 14, 1970, a group of scientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, 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. In 2001, Dr. White successfully repeated the operation on a monkey.
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.
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. The scientists said that the key to successful head transplants was to use low temperatures.
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, which is when he intends to perform the procedure in either the United States or China. 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.
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] 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.
Robert J. White, the scientist who transplanted a 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 a surgeon testified in a civil hearing about Dr. Sam Sheppard's murder case, lawyer Terry Gilbert compared Dr. White to Dr. Frankenstein. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals described White's experiments as "epitomizing the crude, cruel vivisection industry."
Dr. Jerry Silver, an expert in regrowing severed nerves, stated "I think [head transplants are] fairly barbaric at this point. I do not even see that 100 years from now it is a possibility. If anybody did that today, it would be absolutely horrible. Can you imagine looking around the room, and you're just a head?"
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- The 1925 Soviet novel Professor Dowell's Head by Alexander Belyaev.
- The 1972 movie The Thing with Two Heads featured a head transplant.
- This Perfect Day, a 1970 dystopian novel by author Ira Levin, contains head transplanting as a method of prolonging human life.
- In the 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe, head transplants are being carried out illegally in West Virginia by a Russian medical team in order to save the life of a man suffering from cancer.
- In the Punisher comics, The Russian villain underwent a similar procedure.
- The book The Day After Tomorrow by Allan Folsom (ISBN 0-446-60041-5) is about a Neo-Nazi plot to transplant Adolf Hitler's head onto a younger body.
- The Futurama episode "Put Your Head on My Shoulders" revolves around the emergency grafting of Fry's head onto Amy's body until Fry's body can be repaired.
- In the 1996 movie Mars Attacks! television hostess Nathalie Lake is decapitated and has her head swapped with her pet dog.
- The The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror II" ends with Mr. Burns' head being grafted on to Homer's body after Mr. Burns' body is crushed.
- The German narrative Die vertauschten Köpfe by Thomas Mann is about the moral and ethical difficulty of the transposition of a head.
- In the Gotham episode "Everyone Has a Cobblepot" the Dollmaker transplants his sub-manager head into a female body as a punishment for failing to control Fish Mooney.
- In the episode "Donor" of The Outer Limits Dr. Renee Stuyvesant murders Timothy Laird in order to transplant the head of Dr. Peter Halstead on his body.
- Experiments in the Revival of Organisms
- Organ transplant
- Isolated brain
- Frankenstein's monster
- Hemicorporectomy - in which the body below the waist is amputated.
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