Rumors about head transplants have run rampant for years. While this may seem like the stuff of nightmares, scientists have been working toward a future where an ill or dying person could get a second chance at life—with a new body. In fact, an international research duo from Italy and China claim to have done just that. They successfully transplanted the head—and brain—of a smaller rat onto the body of another live rat.
The resulting Frankenstein is a rat with two heads, but it’s really two separate organisms—one just happens to be missing its body. This operation is a test in advance of plans to attempt the same surgery on a human later this year. The study, published inCNS Neuroscience is co-authored by Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero and Chinese doctor Xiaoping Ren from the Harbin Medical University, China.
Though pictures reveal the two-headed result, the operation actually required three rats: a donor rat, a recipient rat, and a third one used to maintain the blood supply to the transplanted head. The researchers connected a pump from the third rat to the donor head to transfer blood so that the brain did not lose precious oxygen, which can lead to brain damage. The authors write that the transplanted rat head could see and also could feel pain, which demonstrated that the brain was functioning even after having been severed from its body. The rat head transplant study set out to explore issues that can arise around blood flow to the brain in such a delicate surgery, as well as issues of immune rejection, before they attempt a human head transplant, according toFuturism.
While this might sound groundbreaking, the first head transplant was achieved in 1970 by a team under the leadership of Robert White at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. They transplanted one monkey’s head onto another monkey’s body. However, they didn’t join the two spinal cords so the monkey was unable to move and could only breathe through artificial assistance. The monkey, or its head, at least, lived nine days until the head was rejected. Canavero toldNew Scientist, “I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible.”
Surprisingly, this is not the first head transplant Canavero and Ren have undertaken; in September 2016 they claimed to show successful head transplants on dogs, monkeys and
Jordan Rosenfeld is author of 7 books and has published in: The Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the New York Times, Pacific Standard, Quartz, Salon, the Washington Post and many more. Her writing can be found on www.jordanrosenfeld.net, and you can follow her on Twitter @JordanRosenfeld.