You've Probably Heard About The Scientist Who Created A Two-Headed Dog

If you have heard the name Vladimir Demikhov, it's probably for the science fiction-sounding experiments he conducted, in which he transplanted the head of one dog to another, in effect, creating a two-headed dog. According to Russia Beyond, by the time the Associated Press released the news of the Soviet doctor's experiments to the world in 1959, he had already been experimenting with these transplants for five years ... with mixed results. 

The most famous of these, at least in the West, is Demikhov's twenty-fourth attempt, which Life covered, appropriately enough, as "Russia's Two-Headed Dog." The article followed an operation in which Demikhov's team attached the head and forelegs of one dog to the neck of another. When the operation was completed "[both] heads could see, hear, smell, and swallow."

Unfortunately, the two dogs — Brodyaga and Shavka — only survived for four days, due to a vein in the neck receiving accidental damage. Most of Demikhov's dogs, in fact, barely made it to six days. The longest surviving canines managed to live for twenty-nine days after the operation, thus proving the concept that such transplants were possible. When explaining the failures of the transplants, Demikhov pointed out that it was always the transplant that gave out first: "[Even in our best case] it was the small head, not the host dog, that sickened first. Had we acted in time, we could have saved the host dog."

The real reason why you should've heard of him

The image of Demikhov adding transplanted dog heads does give the impression of an eccentric pursuing a pointless path. However, Vladimir Demikhov was actually blazing a genuine path of scientific inquiry, not science fiction, which he called "transplantology," or the study of organ transplants.

In an article for The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, Dr. Harris Schumacker lauds Demikhov as being the first person to "transplant an auxillary heart into the thorax of a warm-blooded animal, first to replace the heart with a homograft organ, first to carry out a pulmonary transplantation, and first to perform a complete heart and lung replacement." Even in the case of the two-headed dogs, there was an actual point to them, as Demikhov explained in the Life article: His tests revealed that the failure lies with the transplanted part, so a woman who was bothering him for a leg transplant, for instance, could now receive one with minimal risk: "The main problem will be joining the nerves so the woman can control her movements... But I am sure we can lick that problem too." 

While attaching human heads to new bodies still seems out of reach, according to Popular Science, the fact that we can take a beating heart and put it inside another person's body would have struck an early twentieth century scientist as fanciful. Now, it's perfectly possible.