Human Head Transplant Update 2021 | Surgery Video

This operation may sound like something out of a horror movie, but one man is hoping it will improve his quality of life

1960s dog brain transplant was not followed by human studies

In 1908, Carrel and American physiologist, Dr. Charles Guthrie, performed the first dog head transplantation. They attached one dog’s head onto another dog’s neck, connecting arteries in such a way that blood flowed first to the decapitated head and then to the recipient head. The decapitated head was without blood flow for about 20 min, and while the dog demonstrated aural, visual, and cutaneous reflex movements early after the procedure, its condition soon deteriorated and it was euthanized after a few hours.

While their work in head transplantation was not particularly successful, Carrel and Guthrie made significant contributions to the transplant field’s understanding of vessel anastomosis. In 1912, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work on limb and organ transplantation.

Two-headed dog from Demikhov’s experiment. Reprinted from Konstantinov

Another milestone in the history of head transplantation was reached in the 1950s due to the work of Soviet scientist and surgeon Dr. Vladmir Demikhov. Like his predecessors, Carrel and Guthrie, Demikhov made notable contributions to the field of transplant surgery, especially thoracic surgery. He improved upon the methods available at the time for maintaining vascular supply during organ transplantation and was able to perform the first successful coronary bypass surgery in dogs in 1953. Four dogs survived for more than 2 years after this surgery.

In 1954, Demikhov also attempted a canine head transplant. Demikhov’s dogs demonstrated more functional capacity than Guthrie and Carrel’s dogs and were able to move, see, and lap up water. Step-by-step documentation of Demikhov’s protocol published in 1959 reveals how his team carefully preserved the blood supply to the lung and hearts of the donor dog:

First they made an incision at the base of the large dog’s neck, exposing the jugular vein, the aorta and a segment of the spinal column. Next they drilled two holes through the bony part of one vertebra and threaded two plastic strings, one red and one white, through each of the holes… Then he and Demikhov, deftly wielding the scalpel, needle and thread, proceeded with infinite pains to expose the small blood vessels, drawing a tight knot of thread around each one in turn as they carved gradually deeper into Shavka’s vitals. Finally Demikhov severed the spinal column.

The researcher who did canine work went on to transplant monkey head

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