I spent my evening doing Internet research on cellular memory after Amy texted me about a book she was reading that involved a woman receiving a heart transplant, only to start getting flashes of the donors life. Then it turned out the donor was murdered and now the woman has to solve the mystery before she herself becomes the target. Dun dun dun....oh the drama!
Amy texted to inform me that if I started getting flashes of a murder post-transplant and had to solve the crime, that I shouldn't go looking for the murder myself. Thank you for the concern big sister. It's all very dramatic and sounds perfect for a fiction novel, but I started looking online and there is actually a name for the phenomena (the recieving memory from an organ part, it doesn't have to involve murder).
It's called cellular memory and the theory is that memories are not just made in the brain but that they can be made in other organs. Therefore, when those organs are transplanted, the 'memory' of that organ gets transplanted to that person. That person can then undergoes a personality change or diet chance because of experiences 'remembered' from the initial organ.
While the medical community doesn't support any of the personal claims of individual, there are news articles about this apparent phenomena documenting cases of this effect. The problem is that after reading more than two news stories 'reporting cases', I realized they are all repeating variants of the same three stories:
1) A woman who received the heart from an 18-year-old male who died in a
motorcycle accident, reported having a craving for beer and chicken
nuggets after the surgery. The heart transplant recipient also began to
have reoccurring dreams about a man named 'Tim L.' Upon searching the
obituaries, the woman found out her donor's name was Tim and that he loved
all of the food that she craved.
2) An eight-year-old girl received the heart of a
murdered ten-year-old and began having terrifying dreams about a man
murdering her donor. Until then, the murderer had not been caught, but recollections from
the girl's dream were so precise that police were able to track down
the killer and he was convicted. (This is the one that everyone loves to share and is exactly like the book Amy was reading. Perhaps the author read the same news article)
Graham received the heart of Terry Cottle who had shot himself in
the head. After the transplant in 1995 Mr Graham met Mr Cottle's widow Cheryl, falling in love and marrying her (I find that weirdest thing, apparently donor confidentiality wasn't a thing in 1995). Twelve years later, Mr Graham shot himself, leaving Cheryl a widow for the second time grieving for
husbands who had shared a heart.
However interesting those stories may be, I don't think that three unverified stories on the Internet means that a phenomena is real. Some reports says there have been '70 cases' of this cellular memory effect but when you match that up against the number of transplants happening every year, 70 examples is not very many.
My Internet research did not come up with any scientific studies, it seems that any attempt to study the phenomenon (I found this on Wikipedia so not the best source) has been more about teaching worms or mice a trick and then feeding that animal to another worm or mouse and seeing if they can perform the same trick. They could not. It isn't quite the same as a organ transplant but it is interesting.
Personally, I side with the medical community (skeptic.com had some actual information) and think most of the changes post-transplant can be attributed to stress of major surgery, side effects from medication, or sheer coincidence. Major surgery is stressful, as is the stress of imminent death so it shouldn't be surprising if peoples personalities change post-transplant.
I think that it's also normal for people to want to feel a connection to their donor and if the anti-rejection meds happen to make someone crave more sweets, I can understand how that could easily be attributed to developing a personality trait of the donor. However, it's just a side-effect of the prednisone. I doubt it would pass a double-blind randomized control study.
So while I think cellular memory is an interesting theory and a fun idea for a murder mystery, when it comes to my list of transplant concerns, getting memories from the donor and having to solve their murder is not one of them.