IN BRIEF

In a rather shocking experiment, Chinese researchers grafted the head of a smaller rat onto a bigger one while keeping the brain safe from possible damage due to blood loss. Their technique could one day be useful for human head transplants.

No Brain-Damaging Blood Loss

Okay, so it’s not every day you hear about a real life head transplant, but there is such a thing. In fact, research into transplanting heads has been around for a while now, with the first known two-headed animal experiments dating as far back as the 1900s and the 1950s.

Now, scientists from China have made a remarkable breakthrough in transplanting the head of one organism onto that of another.

For their work, they took the head of a smaller rat and attached it to a bigger one, creating what is effectively a two-headed rat. It is important to note that the rat did not survive long-term, but that was never the goal. The team knew the rat would not live long, as there are still a lot of technical and scientific issues that need to be resolved before we can successfully perform head transplants on living organisms and have them survive.

It also provides the possibility of long-term survival.However, this is an astonishing step forward in performing viable head transplants in that the doctors were able to avoid any brain-damaging blood loss while the donor’s head was being attached.

The goal of this particular experiment was simple: the scientists wanted to know if they could successfully transplant a head without damaging the brain due to excessive blood loss. And they did. To do this, they had to keep the blood circulation going during the transplant by attaching the donor rat’s blood vessels to the other rat.

“We developed a bicephalic model of head transplantation to study these aspects,” the scientists report in the paper that they published in the journal CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics.

A Real Head Turner

While the idea is a real head turner — and maybe a head shaker, for some — scientists assert that head transplants are worth exploring, as it could help millions of people worldwide who are suffering from muscle or nerve problems. It could also allow us to take the head of a person suffering from fatal cancer and transplant it onto a healthy human body.

Understandably, there are a number of issues that have to be resolved before it would be possible to transplant human heads. For example, apart from making sure the brain isn’t damaged by blood loss during the transplant process, there are a number of other concerns, such as rejection by the immune system.

Image credit: CNS
Image credit: CNS

Still, grafting a head onto another while keeping the brain safe from the damage associated with blood loss is certainly a positive step forward as far as developing a viable means of conducting human head transplants.

However, some experts assert that the problems associated with transplanting human heads extend beyond scientific and technical concerns and touch upon the fundamental nature of human psychology.

Arthur Caplan, founding director of NYULMC’s Division of Medical Ethics, previously told Futurism that, in such a procedure, a person could suffer from unprecedented levels of insanity. He ultimately stated that this would likely result from things such as “novel chemistry flooding the brain, unfamiliar input coming in from the nervous system of the body, etc.”

While some claim to have already successfully performed the procedure, there’s no clear evidence to support such claims.

In any case, if we are to ever successfully complete such a procedure in the future, this most recent study provides an important piece of the puzzle. As the researchers note in their abstract, “The application of vascular grafting can also provide the possibility of long-term survival of the model.”

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