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Brain the only organ which can't be transplanted

Health & Science
 Human rights. [Getty Images]

From lungs to liver, penis to the pancreas, medical scientists have made great strides in organ and tissue transplants.

Breakthroughs include transplanting a genetically modified heart of a pig into 57-year-old David Bennett Sr in January. Bennett Sr lived for three months after the transplant.

Dr Ravindra Gupta, a Professor of Clinical Microbiology in London, also harvested stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that prevents HIV. He transplanted them into Adam Castillejo, who became the second person to be cured of HIV in 2016.

Dr Gupta published Castillejo's HIV-negative results in 'Nature', three years later.

In Kenya, great milestones in tissue and kidney transplants have been recorded with Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), MP Shah, Mediheal and Aga Khan performing most of the surgeries.

Dr Onyango Ayo, a liver specialist at KNH, says, "The skill-set is there, but the machines are not. We are currently restricted to performing other procedures on the liver, like unblocking ducts inside the liver and tumour removal."

We have come a long way since Prof Nelson Awori performed Kenya's first ever kidney transplant on a young Turkana girl named Kokoin at KNH in 1978.

KNH has since done over 200 kidney transplants. Mediheal, too, clocked 200 this January.

Tissue transplants, like hair for bald heads, skin grafts and cornea are available.

Dr Henry Sexton Adala says, "Ophthalmologists in Kenya perform cornea transplants. In fact, Lions Sight First Eye hospital has an eye bank for those looking to donate or for a corneal transplant procedure."

Dr John Ngigi, a kidney specialist at KNH, says only the brain can't be transplanted.

Reasons range from considerable obstacles in fusing the brain's severed nerve endings to a new spinal cord to establish normal nervous connections between the brain and the new body. Then there is overcoming the new body's inevitable immunological reaction to new tissues besides keeping the brain alive while it is deprived of blood during transplant.

"The brain is too complicated, too intricate," says Dr Ngigi.

"Medics hardly understand it that well. But it will be transplanted if we found out how."

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