Monkey-Head Transplant

September 20, 2009 at 8:25 am (med, school, randoms)

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When Vladimir Demikhov unveiled his two-headed dogs in 1954, it inspired a strange kind of surgical arms race (or rather, head race) between the two superpowers. Eager to prove that its surgeons were actually the best in the world, the American government began funding the work of Robert White, who then embarked on a series of experimental surgeries, performed at his brain research center in Cleveland, Ohio, resulting in the world’s first successful monkey-head transplant.

The head transplant occurred on March 14, 1970. It took White and his assistants hours to perform the carefully choreographed operation, separating a monkey’s head from its body and reattaching it to a new body. When the monkey woke and found that its body had been switched for a new one, it angrily tracked White with its eyes and snapped at him with its teeth. The monkey survived a day and a half before succumbing to complications from the surgery. As bad as it was for the monkey, it could have been worse. White noted that, from a surgical point of view, it would have been easier to put the monkey’s head on backwards.

White thought he should have been treated like a hero, but instead the public was appalled by what he had done. Nevertheless, White soldiered on, campaigning to raise support for a human head transplant. He toured with Craig Vetovitz, a near-quadriplegic, who volunteered to be the first to undergo the procedure. The public is still a long way from accepting the idea of human head transplants, but if White has his way, one day it will happen.

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