Would you ever swap your body for another? Admittedly, that would be quite hard on account of being attached to our head. But let’s be patient for a few decades and see where science goes.
As you probably know, head/body transplants have been performed before but not on humans (as far as we know). In the 1950’s there was this visionary and a bit bonkers Soviet surgeon called Vladimir Demikhov and the non-scientific community often refers to him as the “two heads, one dog” guy. His work inspired Dr. Robert White to perform the first monkey head transplant in 1970.
The specimens expired in a matter of days. It was for the best.
One could claim that these operations were only half-successful. They managed to keep the secondary heads chemically alive by connecting them to the blood supply. But in terms of neural connectivity little was done. After all, stitching back together a single neuron is difficult, let alone the billion or so that make up the spinal cord.
Medical science has come a long way in the past 40 years. So much that one neurosurgeon went ahead (sorry!) and suggested that we might see successful head transplants as early as 2017. Just in time for my class reunion!
Basically, the operation would go something like this: both the head to be transplanted and the donor body would have to be cooled to prevent cellular death. The head would then be carefully lopped off and its blood vessels connected to an artificial feed. Next, the spinal cord would be gently disjoined from the old body and the head connected to the donor body’s circulatory system.
Now for the trickiest part: reattaching the spinal column. Sergio Canavero, the neurosurgeon who came up with the idea, suggests using polyethylene glycol to glue together the adipose cell membranes of the neurons. Compared to these procedures, stitching together the neck muscles would feel like a walk in the transplant park.
After a lengthy induced coma, bucketloads of immunosuppressants and god knows how many months of physiotherapy, the patient could theoretically enjoy his or her brand new body.
But let’s not get too enamored with this procedure since there are a few ethical issues that the scientific community needs to address before head transplants get the green light. The whole “just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should” thing.
Like everything under the sun, head transplants would have a negative side. Or more. But they would definitely bring some good to the table. Think of all the people with inoperable cancer or those who suffered the kind of accident that totally mangles your body while leaving the head intact. On the other hand, we’d be seeing Paris Hilton for a lot longer than we should. So there’s that.
But if the future of head transplants rested on my shoulders, I’d definitely endorse it. In fact, bring ten grand and meet me out back. I know a guy.
Here’s the video of the two headed doggy if you absolutely want to be scarred for life: