Tuesday, January 16, 2007

History of Head Transplants To Air

This article discusses a National Geographic show that documents secret Cold War experiments that resulted in some very bizarre head transplant experiments. Here's a teaser of what's in the show.
A Soviet hero, Vladimir Demikhov was renowned for his work in the Red Army hospitals during World War II. When peace came, he joined an elite team of Russian doctors ordered by Stalin to beat the West in the field of medicine at any cost. Labouring far from inquisitive eyes in a secret research complex outside Moscow and experimenting freely in his search for new ways of prolonging life, Demikhov was prepared to go where others did not dare.

He believed for example that it was possible to transplant organs like hearts and lungs in human beings. In those days, such a procedure seemed scarcely credible - but Demikhov proved it could be done. Often preferring to work in the dead of night, he showed that the heart and lungs could be taken from one dog and survive in the chest of another.

This laid the groundwork for such landmark operations as the first heart transplant, conducted by South African surgeon Dr Christiaan Barnard, nearly 20 years later. But Demikhov didn't stop there.

He was determined to prove that any human organ could be successfully transplanted, even the brain. To that end, he set about the challenge to create a two-headed dog.

The lights of his laboratory shone into the small hours of that February morning in 1954 as he and his team set about the intricate task of stitching the upper half of the puppy to the larger animal and connecting their blood vessels and windpipes.

As dawn approached, they waited to see if their creation would regain consciousness. Their first sign of success came when the puppy's head woke up and yawned. It was quickly joined by the larger 'natural' head of the mastiff, which gave its new addition a puzzled look and tried to shake it off.

The composite dog was ready to be revealed to the world. Though it had no body of its own, the smaller animal's head was reported to have kept its own personality, remaining as playful as any other puppy, according to Soviet propaganda.

Even the American magazine Time reported the experiment with grudging admiration, describing how the puppy's head alternately growled and snarled with mock ferocity, or licked the hand that caressed it.

"The host-dog was bored by all this but soon became reconciled to the unaccountable puppy that had sprouted out of its neck," their correspondent wrote. "When it got thirsty, the puppy also got thirsty. When the laboratory grew hot, both host-dog and puppy panted to cool off."

After six days, the bizarre hybrid died. But it had survived long enough to worry America, which was desperate to outdo the Soviets in all aspects of science and technology.
The program is called The First Head Transplant: National Geographic Channel, Sunday, January 28, 9pm.

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