A profound aspect of the human form is that the central nervous system (CNS) is an entity composed of brain and spinal cord which is enveloped in a protective membrane called dura mater (“tough mother”).  The extent of this protective covering can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: The Dura Mater Membrane
(reproduced from the novel Chrysalis by Michael J.Lee and Bruce Mathew)

The purpose of this exploratory essay is to discuss whether this simple fact of anatomy could inspire an advance in the science of transplants in the foreseeable future. What, in other words, are the prospects for central nervous system transplants?

A CNS transplant would dissect out the head and spinal cord of a patient, maintained in its dura mater membrane as shown above, and transfer this entity into the donor body of a brain-dead person which has been stripped of its original head and CNS.

The purpose of any radical and hazardous transplant of this nature would need to be clearly established.  Excluded at the outset would be disorders and diseases originating inside the CNS entity. However, there are a wide range of diseases whose origins lie in the bones and organs of the human body outside this “essence” of the biological human template. The aim of the CNS transplant would be to rid the patient of a seemingly incurable physical disease, or incapacity, through the removal of the body carrying the disease. A second chance at life could be provided through engraftment of the CNS into a disease-free body.

The idea of the potential for CNS transplants was raised by the co-author of Chrysalis – a surgical sci-fi story about immortal potential, brain surgeon Bruce Mathew, during the conception and development of this novel set in the near-future. In our view it is a more credible surgical plan for saving or extending lives than what is known in the media today as “head transplants”.


Figure 2: Jerry Fischer’s Head and CNS Ready for Transplantation
(reproduced from the novel Chrysalis by Michael J.Lee and Bruce Mathew)

The authors of Chrysalis believe that a full CNS transplant, such as the one described in the novel, would stand a greater chance of success than a “head only” transplant, as only peripheral nerves, rather than the spinal cord, would need to be joined.

Listed below are some possible medical conditions to be researched to determine the risk/reward equation for CNS transplants:

  • muscular dystrophies, such as Becker Muscular Dystrophy
  • amputees, including courageous ex-soldiers injured in war as well as survivors of horrific road accidents, who have been left with a profound physical disability but who still possess a healthy CNS
  • some diseases of the immune system, causing irreversible body damage (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis) where the deformity persists even when the immune problem has been controlled
  • malignancy in any part of the body that has not invaded, or metastasized to, the CNS
  • life-threatening cases of obesity
  • some severe and/or life-threatening skin conditions
  • severely disabling spinal curvature, either degenerative (e.g. osteoporosis), congenital or following a successfully treated infection (e.g. tuberculosis)

This list is not necessarily exhaustive but shows the potential benefits of introducing CNS transplants. When there is a disabling disease, or deformity, of the human body located outside of the CNS, which leaves the brain and spinal cord intact and in good health, the potential would exist in future for a CNS transplant as a radical solution, provided the medical team in charge of the patient believe it is justified by the risk/reward equation on a case-by-case basis.

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