The story of how the nightmarish experiments of Soviet physiologists led to brilliant discoveries and benefited all of humanity.
Friends and colleagues Sergei Sergeevich Bryukhonenko was known as an obsessed workaholic. From the 1920s until the end of the 1950s, he spent days and nights in the laboratory, and fully deserved his all-Russian, and then worldwide fame. The most famous results of his work were the discoveries in the field of blood transfusion, and later - the world's first artificial blood circulation apparatus. But this was clearly not enough for the indefatigable Sergei Sergeevich. As if possessed, he tried to get to the very edge of the possible - and work led him straight to this edge.
The incredible experiments of Bryukhonenko explored the possibilities of maintaining not only artificial circulation, but also life - with the help of sophisticated medical devices. His laboratory resembled a nightmarish freak show, and an unprepared guest could easily faint at the sight of the dissected bodies and severed heads of animals, some of which remained alive.
The main goal of Bryukhonenko was to create a fully functional heart-lung machine capable of supplying oxygenated blood to the body. And he succeeded: today such devices serve as one of the most important tools in cardiac surgery. In fact, operating on a heart that continues to contract is an almost impossible task, so doctors prefer to turn it off and keep the patient alive with the help of artificial systems. It all started back in the 1920s.
The first prototype of the "artificial heart - lungs" apparatus was demonstrated by Bryukhonenko in 1925. It was a strange, even intimidating, system, equipped with automatic pumps, a blood storage reservoir, and large tubes, one for pumping blood, the other for pumping fresh blood. In the modern opinion, the device looked ridiculous, but it did its job.
Not relieved by this early success, Sergei Sergeevich immediately took up the next project, which in the end took a rather unpleasant turn. Following the example of the great Ivan Pavlov, the physiologist began experimenting with dogs. Removing individual organs from their bodies, Bryukhonenko tried to keep them alive and functioning with the help of various modifications of his apparatus. And he succeeded: hearts in jars continued to beat, lungs in flasks exchanged oxygen for carbon dioxide …
But, perhaps, the most impressive was the severed dog's head, which physiologists managed to keep for some time not only alive, but also fully conscious. Yes, yes, this is not a fantasy of H.G. Wells: all experiments were properly documented, both photographs and film recordings of this nightmare have been preserved. And in 1940, a documentary film "Experiments to revive the body" was released in the USSR, which today can be easily found on the Web.
The scene with the dog's head in the tape has pride of place: it shows how technicians place it, freshly cut, on a table and connect it to a complex system of pumps and tubes, and then subject it to various stimuli. The head really reacted: the pupils narrowed to the light, the tongue licked the nose from the pungent smell of citrus fruits, the ears twitched from the sharp sound of the striking hammer, the mouth opened to meet the tasty candy and swallowed it, and if the technicians wanted to joke, they probably could take out the candy from the base of the cut neck - and again offer it to the poor animal.
But this Bryukhonenko, apparently, did not seem enough, and the film is crowned with an impressive scene of the revival of the dog from the dead: the physiologist's staff pump out all the blood from the dog, and for about ten minutes it remains dead - but then, after being connected to a heart-lung machine, it rises from death no worse heroes of ancient legends. The heart begins to beat again, the rolled eyes shine - and, according to the authors of the experiments, the animal subsequently calmly survives the due date, showing no side effects after its dizzying journey.
However, these experiments are not so simple. There is a widespread skepticism that the famous film was, in fact, staged, designed to show citizens - and the whole world - the amazing achievements of Soviet science, which, for the most part, did not exist.
In fact, the dogs that had risen from the dead could hardly continue to live a normal life: after 10 minutes of oxygen and glucose starvation, the voracious brain should have received very serious damage. And, judging by the real laboratory records, it was so. The resurrected animal did not live for long, long years, as it is presented in the film, but only for a few days …
Unfortunately for man's best friends, Bryukhonenko soon had a follower, and a very radical one. Vladimir Demikhov considered experiments with severed dog heads to be a half measure, and in 1954 demonstrated to the shocked world … a two-headed dog. A well-known researcher who studied the possibilities of organ transplantation, Demikhov simply cut off the heads of puppies - sometimes along with a part of the neck - and sewed them onto the body of an adult large dog.
This monster was seen by the general public: unlike Experiments to Revitalize the Body, recordings of Demikhov's experiments were often shown publicly. Apparently, she shocked someone overseas. In any case, around the same years, the work of the physiologist Robert Cornish, also a great animal lover, gained fame in the United States. He achieved artificial maintenance of blood circulation in rather strange ways: by injecting anticoagulants and adrenaline in combination with rocking the body on a stand to "shake up" the blood. Surprisingly, it worked, too, and Cornish got the unfortunate dog resurrected.
This man, apparently, was not devoid of a kind of humor: he gave all his experimental dogs the nickname Lazarus in honor of the famous biblical character who rose from the dead at the word of Jesus. After the resurrection, all the canine Lazaris showed the same sad side effects, about which the Gospel says nothing, but which were already familiar to Bryukhonenko: severe damage to the neurons of the brain. Barely dragging their feet, his dogs died pretty soon after their previous death. Unlike the USSR, in the United States, this was not welcomed by the public even then. And if Bryukhonenko became a laureate, then Cornish lost everything, including his position at the University of Berkeley.
But this does not mean that such experiments in America have stopped. In the 1960s, Robert White, who was also involved in organ transplantation, created a rather amazing chimera - a dog with two brains. This strange experiment allowed the scientist to prove that the brain is an "immunologically blind" organ: unlike the kidneys or lungs, it is practically not rejected by the body of the recipient. Unless with his own brain, which is unlikely to like such a neighborhood.
As a follow-up to this experience, already in the 1970s, White and his colleagues successfully transplanted the head of a monkey onto the body of another monkey. The operation was not brilliant: the scientists failed to connect some of the nerves, and below the neck, the animal remained completely paralyzed. Although control over the head was completely preserved: after waking up from anesthesia, the monkey tried to bite the people who were present nearby.She was capable of more peaceful activities, controlled her eyes, controlled facial muscles, and could swallow.
In the 21st century, such experiments are hardly possible. Unfortunately, numerous animal rights groups and public opinion are taking an increasingly harsh attitude towards the much less nightmarish experiments on mammals. However, those "inhuman" studies did their job.
Today, in memory of Sergei Sergeevich Bryukhonenko, in Moscow, you can find two whole memorial tablets - one on the house where he lived in recent years, the other on the house where the Institute of Experimental Physiology and Therapy headed by the scientist was then located. During his lifetime he was awarded the prestigious Lenin Prize, and after his death he continues to help humanity - even if not by raising dead patients, but by helping the living. Physicians around the world use methods and tools based on the work of this strange and fearless experimenter and his strange followers.