My friend’s, 10-year-old wants to know if it could ever be possible to take the head from one person and attach it to the body of another. Now, whilst you might think that this is just the stuff of futuristic science fiction or a ghoulish Hallowe’en movie, there is a scientist who believes that a human head transplant might just work! Let’s find out more…
NHS Blood and Transplant estimates that in the UK, there are over 6,500 people on the waiting list for a transplant operation. A transplant is a type of surgical operation that involves taking part of a person and either moving it to another part of their body or putting into someone else’s body. A person who gives a body part for transplant is called a ‘donor’; a person who is given a body part for transplant is called a ‘recipient’.
Organs and body tissues like hearts, lungs, kidneys, bones, skin and parts of the eyes can be transplanted but the operations are very tricky to do: You have to remove the organ or tissue from the donor without damaging it and put it into the recipient. Then, all the blood vessels and nerves and connecting tissues that will hold it in place have to be joined up so that it can work properly. This takes a lot of time and must be done very, very carefully. The surgeons who do these operations spend a lot of time learning and practising how to do them!
Once the operation has been done, there is a risk that the transplanted organ or tissue could be rejected if the recipient’s body thinks it is being damaged or under attack. If this happens, the transplant stops working and has to be removed. Doctors will try to find a good ‘match’ between the bodies of the donor and recipient, so there is less likelihood of rejection. And the recipient will be given lots of medicine to try to prevent rejection from happening.
If you think about how complicated it is to transplant a heart or some skin, just imagine how much harder it would be to transplant a head! But this doctor thinks that a human head transplant could be possible within a couple of years. What do you think?