What is the issue with transplanting the brain instead of specific organs? Isn’t the brain an organ too? Are the brain and the body bound by a soul contract? In this article, we ponder upon these questions and much more.
How Did Organ Transplant Come into Being?
In 1954, somewhere in Boston, Dr Joseph E Murray, accompanied by his team of highly specialized doctors, undertook the first-ever successful organ transplant in the history of mankind. Even the operation which involved transferring the kidney of one individual by removing it from his healthy body and implanting it into the sick body of his twin brother. It was one of those stalwart moments in the history of medical research that seemed too good to be true.
The idea of swapping organs was still a notion found in science fiction. This was one of the times which truly serves as the manifestation of the quote ‘when modern science or technology marvels too ahead, the thin line between science and magic starts to disappear.’ Not only owing to the successful operation, but other reasons made this particular event special too.
In the team of doctors accompanying Dr Murray, there was another doctor named Robert J. White, who was to go on and harbour the ambitious dream of transplanting the brain and dedicate his life towards the same. During the operation, White was just a 28-year-old resident in general surgery, yet he did not see the merit in being content with replacing just any organ, and not the brain, so as to manifest a new life altogether.
While White set out to make brain transplant the sole purpose of his life, his contemporaries weren’t sitting idle either. Around 1982, Dr Dorothy T. Krieger, the chief of endocrinology at that point in time, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, had her eureka moment too when she successfully transplanted a partial brain in mice.
But, as we already know, there has not been a single successful brain transplant in the history of mankind, Dr White did come remarkably close to achieving it. One of what Dr. White used to call ‘White Operations’, included conducting macabre experiments on primates. During one such experiment, after he perfected the means by which a monkey’s brain could be chilled, he performed one exceptional surgery, which lasted for 18 hours, wherein he took the decapitated head of a monkey and placed it onto a different monkey’s, in place of his own. The results of the surgery did seem promising but were also distorted. The hybrid creature, though paralyzed from the neck down, lived for nine days before rejection set in.
Even though the rejection White faced was later resolved by the development of immunosuppressant drugs, which is one of the primary reasons why transplants came into being and are less risky now; but Dr. White still couldn’t live long enough to gift the world a surgical wonder magical enough to break the shackles of mortality, his contribution was very significant to the development of what transplants are even today.
Believe it or not, science fiction has almost always had segments revolving around the possibility of taking the human brain out of the body and using it to produce a subordinate race. From cyborgs in movies to Artificial Intelligence, all are but attempts at recreating figments that can replicate the way the human brain works. Even one of the most popular Science Fiction of all times- Star trek has one episode revolving around the fantasies of manifesting the survival of the brain outside of the body. In that episode, Spock’s brain is stolen and installed in a large computer-like structure.
The idea does seem a little bizarre, but technology has evolved enough to ensure that organs (apart from the brain) are capable of surviving outside the body. Depending on the organ, the time can range from a few hours to a day and a half. The exact time for which an organ can be outside the body before it is transplanted into the recipient’s body ranges between 4 to 36 hours.
The most commonly (and widely) transplanted human organ happens to the kidneys, followed by the liver, heart and lung. Storing the organs outside the body entails another huge burden on the doctors. They should be kept under the right conditions, temperature and for the right amount of time. Finding the right combination of these elements has taken years, but the end result of saving lives has definitely been worth it.