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Saturday, February 11th 2006

Head Transplants

Don’t let me sound too much like an idiot but I don’t want to write off this possibility completely. The possibility, I mean, that someday brain transplants might be possible. That term ‘brain transplant’ obviously isn’t a well defined term. In some ways, brain cell transplant is already being done, and probably close to a breakthrough in terms of effectiveness and comprehensive use.

Dr. Evan Snyder on Time’s look at the 21st Century:

Whole-brain transplants are still science fiction. “I never like to say that something’s impossible,” says Dr. Evan Snyder, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital in Boston. “I’ve been burned too many times by categorically ruling something out. And yet I can’t imagine that 20 years from now human-brain transplants will be possible. The connections required are just too complex; they number in the millions. But the future of brain-cell transplants–that’s another matter.”

There are problems beyond anything that has been faced in solid organ transplantation when considering transplanting a brain. Indeed, many of the problems, if they were overcome may undermine the basic need for brain transplants.

But these are problems being worked on. Take the Miami Project To Cure Paralysis which is dedicated to finding a process in which to encourage the regrowth and connection of neurons in severed spinal cords. Such would be a key step in making any crazy-minded Doc’s dream of a brain transplant a reality. And don’t think there aren’t physicians and scientists out there who don’t want to do this.

Professor Robert White, from Cleveland Ohio, transplanted a whole monkey’s head onto another monkey’s body, and the animal survived for some time after the operation.

The professor told the BBC’s Today programme how he believes the operation is the next step in the transplant world.

And he raised the possibility that it could be used to treat people paralysed and unable to use their limbs, and whose bodies, rather than their brains, were diseased.

“People are dying today who, if they had body transplants, in the spinal injury community would remain alive.”

He said that in the experiment, his team had been able to: “transplant the brain as a separate organ into an intact animal and maintain it in a viable, or living situation for many days.”

This is the guy who was featured in a chapter of the quite interesting book Stiff.