Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Human Head Transplant

Apparently National Geographic is going to have a special telling us we're well on the way to the first human head transplant. Gross:

Blinking unhappily in the daylight as Demikhov paraded it on its lead, this unfortunate beast had been created by grafting the head and upper body of a small puppy on to the head and body of a fully-grown mastiff, to form one grotesque creature with two heads. The visitors watched in horror and fascination as both of the beast's mouths lapped greedily at a bowl of milk proffered by Demikhov's assistants.

Resembling something dreamed up by Mary Shelley's Dr Frankenstein, it seemed literally incredible. But as the Soviet propaganda machine informed the world, this canine curiosity was both very real - and a scientific triumph.

As revealed in a National Geographic documentary to be screened later this month, the creation of the two-headed dog was the first step in an astonishing race by Cold War scientists to achieve the seemingly impossible - the first ever human head transplant. In pursuing this medical goal, Vladimir Demikhov - and his American rival, Robert White - may seem to be the epitome of immoral scientists who ignored all ethical considerations in their pursuit of scientific advance. But in their own minds, they were brilliant pioneers prepared to think the unthinkable for the greater good of mankind.

Reminds me of this video I saw on Youtube a while back, supposedly of an amputated dog head that is still kept alive by Soviet scientists (I doubt it's real, by the way, but I'll take any shameless excuse to post a video):

***Update, 5:22***

I've read along further down the article, and it seems to confirm (to the extent that the media can be trusted) that the video is real, or at least plausible:

During his trip, White learned of new Soviet experiments, in which a severed dog's head had been kept 'alive', not by stitching it onto another dog's body, but using special life-support machinery. Most remarkable of all, the isolated head had continued to show signs of consciousness - its eyes blinking in response to light, and ears pricking at the tap of a hammer on the cases it was in.

This was also interesting:

But in the late afternoon of March 14, 1970, he went ahead with the world's first true head transplant, using two rhesus monkeys.

Decapitating both animals, the surgeon successfully managed to stitch the head of one monkey on to the body of the other. He and his team then faced a nervous wait until finally the 'hybrid' monkey regained consciousness, opened its eyes and tried to bite a surgeon who put a finger in its mouth.

The team clapped and cheered as their creation moved its facial muscles, followed their movements with its eyes and even drank from a pipette. But though White regarded the operation as a major success, he knew it had one major limitation.

Because its spinal cord had been severed as part of the operation, the monkey was paralysed from the neck down and it was impossible for the surgeons to reconnect the hundreds of millions of nerve threads necessary for it to regain any bodily movement.

Still, White insisted that such surgery might help a very particular kind of human patient - those paraplegics who faced imminent death because their heads were trapped on bodies failing due to the long-term medical complications which often accompany extensive paralysis.

Scientists are freaks...

Oh, and by the way, you know how we conservatives are always saying that adult stem cells show scientific promise, whereas embryonic ones don't:

Last year, researchers at University College, London, announced plans to inject the spinal cords of paralysed patients with stem cells taken from the human nose.

These are cells capable of regenerating themselves and adapting to many different purposes within the body and it is hoped they might create a 'bridge' between the disconnected ends of the spinal nerves, enabling paralysed patients to regain full control of their bodies.

Ask yourself why they didn't use embryonic stem cells (it's not like laws on embryonic stem cell research are very strict in the UK)...

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