A controversial operation to transplant the entire head of a monkey onto a different body has been a partial success, as the monkey lived for some time after the operation. The scientist who performed the operation, Professor Robert White of Cleveland, wants to try the same thing on humans, but other members of the scientific community have called the experiment ?grotesque.?
White says that the operation could be used to treat people who are paralyzed or whose bodies are severely diseased, while their brains are still healthy. ?People are dying today who, if they had body transplants, in the spinal injury community would remain alive,? he says.
The monkey could see, hear, taste and smell after the operation because the nerves were left intact in the head.
There is a long history of attempts at head transplants. During the French Revolution, French scientists attached the heads of freshly guillotined prisoners onto the bodies of large dogs, but the heads did not respond.
In 1912, Russian scientists managed to keep a severed dog?s head alive for several hours on an artificial circulation machine. Later, Russian scientist Fladimir Demikhov transplanted the front half of one dog onto the body of a German shepherd. In 1964, Dr. David Gilboe of the University of Wisconsin decapitated 15 dogs and kept the heads alive mechanically. In 1965, Dr. White removed the brain of a dog and implanted it in the neck of another dog, where it lived for a period of time.
During the 1960?s, Dr. White removed the brains from several monkeys, keeping them alive with machines. The brains exhibited electrical activity and absorbed oxygen and glucose, indicating they were still alive. ?This is medical technology run completely mad and out of all proportion to what?s needed,? says Dr. Stephen Rose, director of brain and behavioral research at the Open University. ?It?s entirely misleading to suggest that a head transplant is actually really still connected to anything except in terms of blood stream to the body to which it has been transplanted. It?s not controlling or relating to that body in any other sort of way.? ?All you?re doing,? says Dr. Rose, ?is keeping a severed head alive in terms of the circulation from another animal.?
Dr. White also feels that brain transplants are not far off. For more information click here.
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