Is a Brain Transplant Possible?

Marco Sumayao

A brain transplant, also known as a whole body transplant, is theoretically possible, but highly improbable. Although the technology to transfer a brain from one body to another exists, there are several biological hurdles that prevent a successful brain transplant. Certain moral and ethical issues also impede research on the procedure, hindering progress on its development. Alternatively, however, partial brain transplant research is less restrained and considered by some experts to be a breakthrough in correcting degenerative neurological disorders.

Biological and moral issues make performing a brain transplant highly unlikely.
Biological and moral issues make performing a brain transplant highly unlikely.

Speculation on brain transplant procedures circle around individuals whose bodies are beyond repair, such as those with progressive muscular dystrophy. While the individual's brain might be fully functional, a severely diseased body would significantly impair his ability to lead a life without any assistance. Transferring the patient's brain into a healthy body would allow him a second chance at living a normal life. A brain transplant could also potentially save the life of a person with a terminal disease.

The brain is a very delicate organ, and a transplant would face many biological hurdles.
The brain is a very delicate organ, and a transplant would face many biological hurdles.

Research has shown, however, that although hypothetical transplants are conceivable, the possibility of a brain transplant is very low. The brain is a very delicate organ, and so its removal, storage, and transfer are wracked with complications. Technological advances have made the procedure doable, but the slightest error can cause the organ irreparable damage. There is also a high risk that the new body might reject the brain, ending in clinical death. A number of experts argue that even if such a transplant were successful, there is no way to prevent brain cell degeneration, making the procedure an exercise in delaying the patient's inevitable expiration.

Brain transplant complications extend beyond biological issues. The entire procedure is a hotly-debated topic when discussing the moral and ethical implications of modern medical techniques. A number of moralists believe that the procedure dehumanizes the patients, while some argue that the need for donor bodies could lead to unethical practices in obtaining donor bodies. The intense debate has made research taboo in some communities and has slowed down its progress in general.

Alternatives to brain transplants have been met with some measures of success. Research on laboratory animals has shown that a head transplant is indeed possible, although specimens tend to expire in a relatively short amount of time. Partial brain transplants, in which healthy brain cells are surgically implanted to replace malfunctioning or dead ones, have also been found to cause favorable improvements in the mental capacities of volunteers with neurological disorders. The same ethical questions raised in full brain transplant procedures still slow research in the field, although to a lesser degree.

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Discussion Comments


Although this is science-fiction material, in the recent past, things that were considered impossible are now possible. A man who couldn't walk was given cultured nerve fibers from his nose that helped him walk. This is because olfactory nerve cells are the only ones that regenerate. Scientists are also trying to unlock the secret as to why salamanders can regenerate body parts as well.

Surely, a clone of the person can be made, like a spare tire in the back of a car. This could be a good way to overcome donor recipient barriers. The brain can be preserved through cryonic, and provided that the ice doesn't damage the cells, nanobots can be used.

The technology would also help people for cosmetic reasons, an example of that being people in the transgender community.

I'm not sure why people think this is scary or bad, since its use would be to help people live a better quality of life. I predict that this kind of practice might start progressing elsewhere, and by elsewhere, I mean places not in the Western world, since they are more progressive in natural medicine.


The whole time I was reading this, Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein," along with the movies, were running through my head. The implications are so incredible, I can't even wrap my (healthy) brain around them!

Hearts, lungs, kidneys, livers -- none of these carry any sentient qualities, but the brain is the seat of consciousness! I don't think anyone with any kind of moral or ethical center would consider a brain transplant to be anything other than unthinkable.

This is the kind of science fiction that scares people.

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