Fiction writers have been injecting cell memory plots into their stories long before transplants were even done. Austrian director Maurice Renard’s introduced the idea in his silent film in 1924 titled, Les Mains d’Orlac, where a pianist lost his hands and they were replaced with the hands of a killer. The pianist then became a killer himself.

First studied in heart transplant recipients who would show cravings for food they had never liked before, or developed a personality change after surgery, cell memory has been a controversial topic. When family members of the donor informed the recipients of similar traits in the donor, scientists and researchers began to check into the possibility that cells retained memory as well as the brain, and this would account for the strange occurrences.

There are many skeptics who believe these changes are just a coincidence, and that recipients are looking for something spiritual to bring a link between them and their donor. Michael Shermer, Ph.D., author of The Believing Brain says, “These (anti-rejection) drugs can cause nutrient deficiencies, which create intense cravings for a specific food that contains that nutrient. Plus, being given a new chance at life after months of suffering is enough to instantly transform a person’s psyche and make one more open to suggestions – especially when it comes to spiritual connections.”

Amy Tippins, from Atlanta, Georgia, was 17 when she was diagnosed with a rare liver disease. Amy received a complete liver transplant and things went well, except for one thing. Amy said she had never liked hamburgers before, “I had an intense craving for hamburgers.” She also noted changes in her personality. Instead of her usual mild and appeasing personality she took on the job as protector. “Friends joked,” commented Amy, “no one will mess with you if Tippins is around!”

Amy had not received any information about her donor, and because information was private she contacted the transplant commission and asked to get in touch with the family of the donor. She found out from them that her donor was a U.S. Marshall, and he loved hamburgers. He had devoted his life to protecting people. She felt her donor had infused some of his personality into her via his liver.

Dr. Gary E. Schwartz, director of the Laboratory for Advancements in Consciousness and Health at the University of Arizona has been studying cell memory for over 25 years. He believes that “if transplant recipients take on characteristics of their donors it is evidence that cells, and therefore organs, not just our brains – are capable of housing memories.” According to Schwartz, “Our brains create memories by using what I call ‘feedback loops,’ in which a neuron, or brain cell, fires a message, which then travels along a loop, simultaneously delivering information and gathering ‘feedback’ from other cells as it circles back to the same neuron. The feedback that’s gathered is then stored in the neuron as a memory.”

Researcher Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., author of The Heart’s Code, worked with Schwartz to study the stories of hundreds of transplant recipient cases. Their theory was, “If cells contain and transfer memories, a connection forms that allows a person’s emotions, characteristics and energy to live on after death.”

Is this connection just spiritual, or is there more to it? Why would the characteristics so closely match that of the donor, especially when the recipient had no prior knowledge of these particular traits? Shermer believes the matches stem from “the brain’s tendency to search for ‘agenda infused patterns,’ which explain and give a greater meaning to things we don’t understand.”

Science has not been able to prove or disprove either theory, so for now, says Schwartz, “anything is possible.”

This is Ron White, and I am a memory-training expert, memory keynote speaker, and two-time USA Memory Champion. I find this question of cell memory an interesting development and am eager to learn more about it in the months to come.




For Women FIRST Magazine, Sept. 19, 2011 edition, page 48

Hub Pages – Inherited Memories in Organ Transplant Recipients: