Happy Brain Transplant Day!

Let’s welcome our guest blogger today – our very own Quality Coordinator, Suzanne (otherwise known as Zanbabe or Z)!

April: the month when the tax bunny comes. Oh wait… maybe I’m confused.

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? It is! And it is so many other things that it is mind-blowing. Some April events include National Humor Month, National Pecan Month, and Stress Awareness Month. Additionally, there are various days dedicated to other cool things: April 11th is Eight-Track Tape Day (a little outdated, if you ask me), April 13th is Scrabble Day, April 25th is World Penguin Day, and April 27th is Tell a Story Day.

Out of all the mentally stimulating things going on in April, I want to focus on one item that I saw on the news this morning (at like 2am… I couldn’t sleep; some special on the French channel. Good thing they have subtitles.). Anyway, after almost 36 hours of different surgeries, with doctors working in shifts, “Patient X” (name not released) has undergone the first successful human brain transplant (because it is the entire brain, it is technically called a whole-body transplant by some). That just boggles my mind. Apparently, Doctor Davril Poisson was hoping to gain access to Albert Einstein’s brain to use for this historic surgery, but unfortunately the brain was not stored properly, and the formaldehyde preserving the brain had expired.

I felt a little brain-dead after hearing that, because even though a lot of this stuff has been in the news and online for a while (see below for several related articles), it seems totally like Science Fiction to me (I should read scientific news more often). So, to make up for the brain lapse, I’ve been reading all morning (did you know that there was a Colorado chicken that lived for over a year without a head?). Here are some of the interesting questions other people have asked:

Can you have a brain transplant?

Just the possibility of a brain transplant seems so out there to me. The fact that people have even thought about this seriously is amazing. The idea goes back to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and Abby Normal, but in real life, it looks like there had been some Soviet-American cold war head transplant experimentation in the past. I found information about a Doctor Robert White who transplanted the head of a Rhesus monkey onto a different monkey (BBC article and interview). CNN has an article about more recent human brain cell transplants.

Will we ever grow replacement brains or do whole-brain transplants?

This is obviously an older NOVA article, but I liked the fact that it actually addressed GROWING a new brain in addition to just transplanting one. That would be so cool! I used to tell my little brother to grow a brain. I never knew it might actually be possible. Even re-growing or replacing tiny portions of a brain might be able to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. I won’t link to it here, since it is in French, but if you know the language, look up the Google Scholar article “Faithful fashion: survival status of the brain transplant cure for Parkinsonism.” Great stuff.

When a brain transplant is performed, does the patient lose his or her memories?

I think this is one of the most fascinating questions to me… how does it even work? Do you have to transfer the entire brain, or just one part (the part with memories), or just one hemisphere, or what? I assume it would depend on the person and the damage they are trying to repair, but I remember watching a PBS show where people were functioning with just one hemisphere of a brain. What if you gave them another hemisphere to work with? Could you have two people in one head? It totally brings a new twist to the meaning of togetherness.

Patient X’s surgery wouldn’t have been allowed in the US. Brain transplants open up so many possibilities, but they open up a lot of ethical questions as well. If you failed a class, but took it over again after getting a brain transplant (hopefully smarter), is that cheating? Would you miss your old body? It might be like driving a new car, just getting used to the newer model, but will it be a struggle for X to readjust? Especially if X is (was?) a guy and the new body is a girl. They didn’t give those details, but that would be weird, waking up and suddenly wanting to go shoe shopping.

And what if X committed a crime before the transplant? Now he (or she) has new fingerprints AND retinas… really, anything that could tie the person to the crime, even if he was a high-powered government spy. And for those of us who are religious, what does it mean for the soul? Is that something that goes with the body, or the mind?

All of these brain-switching possibilities were giving me a headache, so I decided to compose a poem:

My National Poetry Month and Brain Transplant Day Poem:

There once was a man with no brain
Who wanted to dance in the rain
They offered him life
Changed his mind with his wife
They danced, then they both went insane

For people who want to dig further into the issue, we’ve made a new Brain Transplants Q&A category on Answers.com. Please visit the category and find the truth behind this fascinating development.

Other links:

I wonder if someday we’ll look back on April Fools’ Day 2011 as the day that changed everything. What do you guys think? Would you get a brain transplant?

One thought on “Happy Brain Transplant Day!”

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