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nebule's avatar

Has anyone ever tried to transplant parts of the brain? Can it be done?

Asked by nebule (16379 points ) February 4th, 2010

…if not…why not…? Could the brain not make new connections….

Or like… someone that has had a stroke in the left hemisphere… and the damage is irreparable..could you transplant a left hemisphere? Just wondering…

Sorry if my biological questioning and lack of knowledge sounds incredibly naive and stupid :-)

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16 Answers

talljasperman's avatar

I think only Dr. Frankenstein has tried it… with mixed results

Tropical_Willie's avatar

@lynneblundell

The neurons in the body are some of the largest cells. Some can be inches in length so “cutting here or there” would make a big difference. Not a s simple as replacing a light bulb or changing a spark plug. That would be nice.

nebule's avatar

wow… I had no idea that a cell could be that big!!! WOW!!! thank you xxx I love the brain!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

It is impossible, because there are just too many connections. We have enough trouble connecting all the nerves for hand transplants, and they are in groups distinct to the naked eye. The brain has several different types of cell, each with differing degrees of myelination, trigger thresholds and extended connections. The nerve bundles for the hand largely do the same thing, so the extended connections all serve a similar purpose. In the brain, nerve pathways are far more complex and many are still under research.

The really amazing thing in all of this is that we don’t need to transplant parts of the brain. The brain is capable of reprogramming itself so that a person with a portion of the brain removed can sometimes regain function with little apparent impairment. If you really want to blow your mind, have a look at neuroplasticity.

BoBo1946's avatar

The girls should like this one!

At a hospital the relatives gathered in the waiting room, where their family member lay gravely ill. Finally, the doctor came in looking tired and somber.

Surveying the worried faces, the doctor said: “I’m afraid I’m the bearer of bad news. The only hope left for your loved one at this time is a brain transplant. It’s an experimental procedure, very risky, a you will have to pay for the brain yourselves.”

The family members sat silent as they absorbed the news. After a great length of time, someone asked, “Well, how much does a brain cost?”

The doctor quickly responded, ”$5,000 for a male brain, and $200 for a female brain.”

The moment turned awkward. Men in the room tried not to smile, avoiding eye contact with the women, but some actually smirked. One man, unable to control his curiosity, blurted out the question everyone wanted to ask, “Why is the male brain so much more expensive?”

The doctor smiled at the childish innocence and said to the entire group, “It’s just standard pricing procedure. We have to mark down the price of the female brains, because they’ve been used.”

nebule's avatar

thank you @FireMadeFlesh I have a book on neuroplasticity but I haven’t read it yet… this article has spurred me on! thank you

@BoBo1946 nice! :-D

BoBo1946's avatar

@lynneblundell thought you would like that one!

slick44's avatar

Idk but i saw a show where a little girl had half of her brain removed and the half that was left sort of took over for the side that was missing. so like if the left half was removed the right side taught the left side of her body what to do. She was pretty normal. but i guess it has to be done when your young. True story!

westy81585's avatar

No you cannot trasnplant brain material as of yet. We don’t have the technology to reconnect separated brain material from one person even (see lobotomy), let alone to connect it from another person.

However there are research projects underway (mostly involving doing the same thing with nerves, which is ALSO impossible at the moment) that could lead the way to this some day being possible.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

If you could do such a thing, you would want to work with Parkinson’s patients first. The substantia nigra, the cells that produce dopamine, die off in Parkinson’s disease, and if you could find a way to replace or regenerate those cells, it would be an effective treatment, if not a cure, However, stem cell research shows more promise in this area than transplantation.

nikipedia's avatar

It sounds like your initial idea was that the transplanted tissue would grow new connections, not that surgeons would have to repair each and every one. (Which would be impossible, anyway: people’s brains are all connected differently. There isn’t a 1:1 correlation between cells in your brain and cells in mine.)

There are some practical problems with this. Brain cells follow the “use it or lose it” rule. During development you have an overabundance of cells and connections, and the ones that get used stick, and the ones that don’t die off. So if you transplant in some tissue, you aren’t using any of those cells. So they would almost certainly die off.

If surgeons wanted to try to connect two severed connections, I am not sure the current state of surgery would support that. Connections between cells are created by branches in cells called dendrites and axons. I have never heard of someone surgically connecting two axons from different cells together. I would guess, although I can’t be sure, a cell that underwent that degree of trauma would just die. It would be extremely difficult to get these two cells to merge together and become one, functional cell.

In the case of stroke, one major concern would be that the occluded artery that caused the stroke in the first place would still be incapable of supplying blood to the area. So if all the other problems were surmounted and you could get the brain transplant to form functional connections with surrounding tissue, you would need to graft in a working circulatory system in the region.

But I think these practical concerns are all secondary to the fact that if you put in someone else’s brain, you aren’t you anymore. Would you really want someone else’s left hemisphere?

gasman's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex Actually, cellular transplants for Parkinson’s disease have been going on for some time (recent report). Grafted cells can function at least 16 years but, curiously, they then become susceptible to the disease they’re supposed to be treating. Fetal and/or stem-cell transplants are still a possibility, I think.

dr34m3r's avatar

@lynneblundell the biggest cell in your body is an axon that reaches from the bottom of your spine to your big toe.

wiggle it.

you are using that axon ^___^

BoBo1946's avatar

if they come up with a way to install a new brain, please let me know!

someone told me the other day, “if you put your brain in a hummingbird, it would fly backwards, a suck a mule’s ass for a morning-glory!”

well, told the guy he was “dead wrong!”...it flies forward!

nebule's avatar

@nikipedia I’ve heard some people say that the essence of a person (“you”) is in the right hemisphere. Personally I’m more inclined to think that the essence is an accumulative thing…you know the emergent property type thing of consciousness…

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

@gasman , thanks for the link. That was interesting.

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