Scientific experiments, especially those that are meant to be used in the medical field, usually raise ethical concerns. However, one experiment published in the CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics took the adage "two heads are better than one" quite literally.
Tech Times reported in August 2016 that a Russian man volunteered to become the donor for a head transplant. Now it seems that it is possible after scientists successfully grafted a small rat head onto a bigger one.
It is already a bizarre but remarkable event when the rare polycephaly condition appears, but it is rather unsettling when scientists force the condition by experimenting on animals, regardless of success rate, with the intention of expanding the procedure to humans.
Researchers from China, along with Harbin Medical University researcher Xiaoping Ren, and Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero, however, claim to have successfully transplanted a small rat's head onto a recipient rat without it suffering from blood loss or hypothermia. The key, apparently, is to use a third rat as a blood source during the procedure.
By connecting the donor rat to the third rat using a silicone tube that is connected to a pump, blood flow to the brain tissue was guaranteed. The silicone tube also regulated the temperature to ensure that the donor rat's brain tissue is protected from hypothermia.
Using the new bicephalic model the scientists developed, they concluded that there were no brain-damaging blood loss that occurred throughout the entire operation. They also found that the temperature-regulated silicone tube effectively protected brain tissue from hypothermia, allowing for a successful head transplant.
The scientists noted, however, that the donor rat — the small rat whose head was cut off to be attached to another rat — showed signs that it was in pain.
"Postoperative donor has pain reflex and corneal reflex," the study notes.
The rats only survived for a short period after the experiment. Of course, the scientists are aiming to achieve long-term survival for both host and donor but it must be noted that the experiment was done to test the effectiveness of the transplant model they developed.
While that seems cruel and unethical, the scientists were satisfied with the positive result of the model they developed. Satisfied enough, in fact, that Canavero already plans to test the procedures on humans in December 2017 — which could be either an exciting or extremely painful time for its volunteer, Valery Spiridonov.