Vladimir Demikhov, The Man Who Made A Two-Head Dog
Published in Aug 2021 / Updated in Sep 2021
Vladimir Demikhov started as a trained mechanic and repairman. Eventually, he enrolled at Moscow State University’s biology department and went on to earn notoriety as the mad scientist who made the famous two-headed dog.
Demikhov was born in 1916 to peasant parents, and unfortunately, his father died during the Russian Civil War when he was just three. Therefore, he was raised and educated by his mother along with this brother and sister.
As a teenager, he was inspired by Pavlov’s experiments with dogs, which gave him an interest in the mammalian circulatory system.
From 1941 to 1945, he took part in the Second World War, where he served as a forensic expert and pathologist. When he returned home from the war, he had won several medals. The global conflict disrupted his research, but not for long.
However, when Demikhov got back to his experiments, his work stirred a lot of controversies. To begin with, just two years into his training at the university, he surprised everyone after creating an artificial heart and sticking it into a dog. The poor animal survived for two hours on its artificial heart.
This was a promising attempt at transplantology, and it was published in the university’s student newspaper. He is the man who actually coined the term transplantology, and he is rightly the pioneer of this medical development.
Nevertheless, he was not about to let criticism interrupt his quest for answers, especially not his attempts to create a two-headed dog.
The Two Headed Dog Was Real
Some people might find it hard to believe that a two-headed dog made by a scientist ever existed. If you needed proof, these shocking photos of Vladimir Demikhov’s handiwork prove that this mad scientist actually achieved his goal.
Although Demikhov was crazy by many standards, his work on this project made major contributions to the world of medicine.
The reason he chose dogs was that these were his favorite test subjects. The surprising thing is that he managed to achieve this scientific feat in the 50s.
At the time, scientists around the world strongly believed that transplants were not possible because they thought the recipient’s immune system would reject the new organ. Additionally, even back then, these kinds of experiments were highly controversial.
Otherwise, Demikhov’s goal was to transplant major organs, and the climax of his research was an attempt to graft another dog’s head onto another fully intact dog. He tried the procedure 23 times, and the 24th time was a success that got him a lot of public attention. The photos of his two-headed dog were published in LIFE Magazine.
The Two-Headed Dog Could Swallow, See, Hear, And Smell
During the surgery, Demikhov grafted the head of a smaller dog onto the head of a stray German Shepherd. He used the smaller dog’s head and neck.
The lower body of the smaller dog was amputated below the front legs, and the lungs and heart were kept operational until it was time for the transplant. At this point, an incision was also made on the host dog to allow the attachment of the smaller dog’s head and neck.
The vertebrae of the dogs were attached using plastic rings. Demikhov also conducted vascular reconstruction.
The entire operation took three and a half hours. Upon resuscitation, both heads could swallow, see, hear, and smell.
However, whatever the small dog ate could not get into the stomach of the big dog, as it was not connected to the host dog’s stomach. Instead, what the smaller dog swallowed flowed through a pipe to the floor.
The Dog Survived For Four Days
Unfortunately, the two-headed dog survived for four days, and he only succumbed after a vein in the neck was accidentally damaged. However, before its death, it had gained popularity after Associated Press reported the incident. The media establishment explained that Demikhov’s two-headed dog was in great health.
Later, shocking photos of the strange creature were shared with the world.
His relative success stirred the medical community. American doctors traveled to the Soviet Union to learn more about these transplant techniques. Among the things they learned was the use of staples to compress veins and arteries during surgical procedures. This trick helped lower surgery time dramatically.
More importantly, by the early 60s, thanks to Demikhov’s work, American doctors considered human transplants a possibility.
On his part, Demikhov went on to create another two-headed dog that lived for 29 days. At this time, he had already been doing transplants on dogs for five years, and none of his past subjects had survived for more than six days.
His experiments on dogs were very controversial because head transplants had no real-life applications, although they resulted in many dogs losing their lives.
The Experiment Had Started Much Earlier, But Demikhov Perfected It
Demikhov was not the first scientist to try this experiment. Back in 1908, a French surgeon, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and American physiologist Dr. Charles Guthrie had tried the very same experiment but had to euthanize the two-headed creature a few hours later after its condition worsened.
In the 1920s, Sergei Brukhonenko, a Soviet physician, managed to keep the severed head of a dog alive using a heart-lung machine he named an “auto-injector.” The head could respond to stimuli and even feed on bits of cheese.
In the same decade, Dr. Il’ya Ivanov wanted to try a human-ape hybrid. Still, he could only do such an experiment in a lot of secrecy, considering the level of outrage it would generate. He settled for inseminating chimpanzees with human sperm. Eventually, he was sent to prison after he tried to inseminate women with orangutan sperm.
Demikhov Was Credited With The First Successful Human Heart Transplant
Initially, there was a lot of resistance to Demikhov’s ideas. Yet, his work managed to convince Christiaan Barnard, a South African cardiac surgeon, that human heart transplants were a possibility.
Christiaan went on to perform the world’s first successful heart transplant in 1967, and he attributed his success to Demikhov, whom he called “the father of heart and lung transplantation.”
The surgeon visited Demikhov twice to learn more about transplants.
Without a doubt, Demikhov was an inventive pioneer.
However, when he proposed in 1965 that there be a bank where human organs could be stored to be used by surgeons when necessary, his life as a bold researcher changed.
At the time, this proposal sounded outrageous. Soviet scholars were so angered by the idea that they suggested the closure of his lab. That took its toll, and his transplantation experiments went down as he was criticized around the world.
From there, he worked at the Sklifosovsky Institute of Emergency Medicine until he retired in 1986. Nonetheless, he successfully encouraged the use of organ transplants in humans using living organs instead of artificial organs.
The Experiment Started A Race
Demikhov’s successful experiments on dogs started a kind of arms race in the medical world. For instance, his success inspired Dr. Robert White to conduct head transplants on monkeys.
The 1970 surgery was a surprising success.
Unfortunately, the monkey was not as happy with its new body as Dr. White and his team was. Filled with indignation, the monkey snapped at him with its teeth angrily before it succumbed to complications a day and a half later.
People were appalled when they learned of the experiment.
Demikhov Died A Pioneer In His Field
Demikhov died aged 82 in a small apartment outside Moscow in 1998. At the time, his experiments were finally acknowledged in the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Order for Services for the Fatherland in the year he died.
Without a doubt, a lot of lives have been saved through organ transplants due to his efforts.
For instance, he helped prove the viability of organ transplants when he did a heart transplant on a dog in 1953. The dog survived for 7 years.
Demikhov’s dream was that, eventually, his research would result in organ transplants being conducted on humans. That dream is now a reality.
Unfortunately, he did not enjoy this recognition when he was alive. The world decided to put the greatest focus on the fact that he had created a dog with two heads rather than the fact that he had also performed pioneering thoracic transplants, which have made organ failures a lot less deadly today.
Head Transplants Might Be A Reality In The Future
Although Demikhov’s head transplant experiment seems crazy to even today, it may be a reality in the future, according to Sergio Canavero, an Italian neurosurgeon.
Currently, there are attempts to conduct human head transplants. However, Valery Spiridonov, who was scheduled to undergo a head transplant in 2017 due to a muscle-wasting condition, backed out of the procedure after he found love and became a dad.
Nonetheless, experts think that head transplants will have taken place by around 2030.
However, this medical procedure is not without its critics. Many see it as nothing more than a sci-fi fiction gimmick.