Saving lives by “conjoining” people

Saving lives by “conjoining” people

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There are many deaths which occur as a result of a cascade of organ failures triggered by a single event, for example traumatic injuries, severe burns, infections and so on.

Since blood transfusion is a well-tested and established procedure which is safe and helps millions of people every year, would it be possible to treat people by "artificially conjoining" them by merging their circulatory systems with a small group of healthy volunteers? This would of course require them to have compatible blood groups and probably also immune systems to some degree, but it should be possible, at the very least for identical siblings.

Examples of use:

  1. A patient has severe burns on >95% of their body, with severe inhalation burns as well. Their lungs are barely working and doctors give them very low chances of survival. Luckily, there are ten volunteers who are wiling to participate in an effort to save this person. Their circulatory systems are merged, so the injured person does not have to rely on their lungs working properly. They do not have to eat, drink or breathe now. The blood from volunteers helps keep the blood of the patient oxygenated and in optimal composition, their immune systems help the patient's body deal with the possible infections and since they are eating well, the blood supplies the injured body with all the nutrients needed for recovery.
  2. A patient is senescent and suffers from all sorts of aging-associated diseases. They are a very important and rich person, so they pay some people to help them fight old age. This has already been tested to some extent.
  3. A patient is suffering from a nasty case of MRSA. The prognosis is bad, but luckily there are many people from the same group of infectees who have already recovered fully. Their immune systems are still on the lookout for any stray bacteria they could kill. So they are connected, the various blood cells and antibodies find the infection in the patient's body and quickly deal with it.

Could this work? Are there any recorded cases where this has been tried? I am looking for an answer which will address the potential biological challenges this could pose. Let's leave the potential ethical problems aside, they are off topic here.

P.S.: I know what you are thinking. Yes, I know about the movie. My question is serious though.

Edit: I talked to a doctor at the transfusion center and she told me that this approach is very similar to how transfusions were performed in the past. It was problematic because they had no way of knowing just how much blood was transferred between the patient and the donor. She thinks that what I suggest would probably not cause any immediate issues if done properly. However, I think there could be some immunological problems down the line if the people's circulatory systems were joined for a prolonged period of time. I would like to see some information about that.

As mentioned in other answers, the problems with accomplishing this are manifold but primarily relate to the immune systems of the donors and recipient. While it may seem like anastomatizing the circulatory systems of ten donors to one recipient splits the load, in effect you're creating 2048 different donor-recipient relationships. This is a case where more is definitely not better.

Direct transfusion was first documented December 22nd, 1818. Initial problems with transfusion were primarily related to the treatment of all blood as the same, until in 1901 Karl Landsteiner described the first few blood groups. [1]

These groups classify blood by the antibodies present and, when the matching antigen is encountered by this blood, the antibodies attach to them causing hemolysis and signalling to the potential recipient that there is foreign material in their body. The most significant group is known in the US by its antigens A, B, and Rh (the +/- sign at the end). There are, however, at least 340 different documented antigens, 38 of which are unassigned to blood group systems. [2]

While basically matching blood types may work for a little while, the risk of sensitization and subsequent hemolytic reaction grows the more foreign antigen containing blood a body is exposed to. Sensitization occurs when the body begins to recognize an antigen in the blood and begin creating antigens for it. This is perhaps best known in pregnancy, technically changing the mother's blood group to include Rh+. [3]

Additionally, graft-versus-host disease occurs when leukocytes encounter tissue that exposes non-self antigens. Thus, blood products are typically irradiated to neutralize the immune cells responsible. [4] The complexity of exposing just one immune system to another for an extended period quickly becomes exponential, as can be seen with multiple organ transplantation. Each organ is reactive in its own way, and thus for each type we know how to transplant there are different criteria to match. [5]

The answer to these problems, it would seem, would be to

  1. Match donor and recipient blood groups.
  2. Suppress the recipient and donor immune systems.
  3. Possibly, irradiate the blood as it passes between them.

Matching immune components is already a difficult problem. Partly due to the number of variables, and partly because the number of willing donors is very limited.

In the case of severe burn trauma, victims of which are already immunosuppressed, this would be a terrible idea as the most prominent risk to survival is the ease with which pathogens can enter through wounds. [6]

The very reason to transfuse for, say, MRSA antibodies is hindered with the array of transfusions occuring. In order to prevent donors from hurting recipients and vice versa, their immune systems must be suppressed.


  1. Direct blood transfusions
  2. International society of blood transfusion working party on red cell immunogenetics and terminology: report of the Seoul and London meetings
  3. Significance of Rh-sensitization during Pregnancy: Its Relation to a Preventive Programme
  4. A systematic review of transfusion-associated graft-versus-host disease.
  5. A Review of Organ Transplantation: Heart, Lung, Kidney, Liver, and Simultaneous Liver-Kidney.
  6. Burn Wound Infections

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