Star Trek is a worldwide phenomenon. StarTrek.com frequently presents excerpts from the latest issue of Star Trek Magazine, which is published out of England and available internationally. And, as readers know, we’re now running occasional theme pieces and interviews as they appeared in Inside Star Trek Magazine, the official Star Trek magazine of Italy. Today’s piece is a feature by Maria Lipartiti that examines implants and transplants as depicted in Star Trek. The story below had been translated from Italian into English by the magazine’s editors, and we’ve lightly edited it further with an eye toward retaining its original tone and rhythm.
An implant is an artificial part inserted in a human body, while a transplant consists of a surgical substitution of an affected organ or tissue in a receiver from a donor. Implants and transplants are fairly common in the science-fiction universe of Star Trek and are part of the medical instruments of many of its species. Among humans, the most common implants are visual and neural implants -- and Geordi La Forge can boast both. In fact he wears a VISOR (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement), which is a sensory organ and visual aid, made to receive electromagnetic signals that are transmitted to the brain by neural implants located onto his temples. The device allows Geordi to see wavelengths well beyond the visible spectrum, and this is an advantage compared to organic eyes. But it also represents a Trojan horse for ill-intentioned Romulans who uses it to send secret commands to the visual cortex of the chief engineer. Later on, Geordi will substitute his VISOR with more sophisticated eye implants, parading his bright blue irises crossed by mechanical elements. Seven of Nine too receives a bionic eye during the process that brings her back to humanity. The implant is recognizable because it has a metallic eyebrow above it. If artificial eyes are welcomed among humans, we cannot say the same for Klingons: when Bashir suggests Martok have the eye he lost during a battle replaced with a cybernetic one, the general firmly opposes to it.
Back to neural implants, Travis Mayweather too has one, but we don’t know its function. We just know that the ensign received it on a repair station and it has been removed by Doctor Phlox. On the other hand, Captain Picard has an artificial heart, which he received after his organic one had been stabbed by a Nausicaan during a brawl at a bar. The artificial organ needs maintenance and Picard, who doesn’t want to let his crew know about his medical problems, goes to Starbase 515 to undergo the intervention. Despite the captain’s qualms, in the end it will be Doctor Pulaski who saves his life. We thus discover that the doctor, besides curing her patients with chicken soup, is the only qualified heart surgeon within several light-years.
Not all implants have a medical purpose: Garak’s was destined at first to release endorphins in case he underwent torture, thus mitigating the pain. Ironically, the implant causes him to have atrocious headaches, because it’s been in place too long. Ishara Yar has a magnetic device used to control her position and it cannot be removed: the proximity sensor has a micro-explosive inside set to blast off when exposed to air.
Talking about implants we cannot forget the species that use them as their philosophy of life: the Borg. For the Borg, implants are a way to improve their physical and mental abilities in order to achieve perfection. Their basic physiology is humanoid, but the artificial and organic elements are mixed seamlessly: both the individuals born as Borg and those who had been assimilated from other life forms in the galaxy, all Borg have parts of the original anatomy superimposed with external cybernetic implants, added surgically or grown internally thanks to nanoprobes injections into the blood. Implants vary from drone to drone, depending on the task that each drone has inside the collective, but every drone has motor control systems and communications nodes with the collective. So the Borg prefer technology to the point they cut off organic parts in order to make room for mechanical ones.
But for every rule exists an exception, so among the Borg we know at least one case of transplant: the skin grafting that the Queen gives Data to convince him to side with them. The sensations felt by the android thanks to the grafting are of such intensity that he actually takes into consideration siding with the Borg... for zero point sixty-eight seconds. While for Data transplants are a way to become more human, others use them as the Fountain of Youth, like Rao Vantika, the Kobliad criminal so obsessed with the idea of prolonging his own life he used experimental organ transplants.
As for implants, transplants can be used for military purposes: to Reptilian Xindi soldiers a special suicidal gland is implanted: it releases a neurotoxin when they are captured. Borg may be the professionals of implants, while Vidiians are pros in transplants. These humanoids living in the Delta Quadrant are devastated by the Phage, a disease which destroys their organs’ DNA, so they can live only by the extensive use of surgical transplant techniques. Vidiians have no hesitation to get the needed organs from other compatible
species using a device that incorporates the characteristics of a weapon, a medical scanner and a surgical instrument. The device identifies the victim as possessing a healthy and compatible organ or tissue for Vidiians, extracts it and moves it into a harvesting container where it’s stored until the transplant to the receiver. This is the unfortunate procedure that Neelix falls victim to, when he finds himself deprived of his lungs during a Voyager visit to an asteroid that Vidiians use as organ bank. After attempting to substitute his lost organs with two holographic lungs, the Talaxian’s life is saved by his sweet Kes, who donates one of her lungs to him. The Emergency Medical Hologram performs the surgical operation, helped by the Vidiian themselves. During the next encounter with this predatory species, Voyager‘s EMH transplants part of B’Elanna Torres' frontal cortex to the Vidiian Denara Pel, so that the Klingon DNA can stabilize her bioneural implant.
Apart from the EMH, other doctors in other series have performed some transplants... When Ishka has a seizure after a quarrel with Quark, Bashir transplants a new heart in her. Moogie‘s temporary illness has unforeseen consequences, and forces Quark to disguise as a female in order to impress Nilva and have him give back the title of Grand Nagus to Zek. Bashir is again the one who has to transplant the Dax symbiont in Verad and then back to Jadzia. Beverly Crusher meeting with the Trill is no less problematic: the doctor starts a relationship with Ambassador Odan and, when the host body becomes weak, she transplants the symbiont in Commander Riker’s abdomen. The surgical operation goes smoothly, but Beverly's feelings are shaken when she meets the next Trill’s host, who is a woman. Doctor Phlox is even able to perform a xenotransplant, when he puts a Calrissian chameleon pituitary gland in Porthos to cure the dog from an infection destroying its immune system. The only one doctor in Star Trek who can do without performing transplants is McCoy, who simply gave a pill to a patient under dialysis to have her kidney grown back. In doing so, the doctor lamented that the 20th century medicine was still in the dark ages.
Despite what Bones might think, today’s medicine is taking long strides toward the future depicted in Star Trek. We are already able to perform state of the art transplants and to design sophisticated implants like artificial retinas, carbon fiber limbs and even an oddity: an aortal prosthesis picturesquely named the O’Brien valve.
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