Monkey glands: the secret of eternal youth?

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Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) a Russian-born French surgeon used sex glands from chimpanzees and baboons to rejuvenate vital energy in ageing persons. He considered the testicle as distributors of energy. This idea came to him while observing eunuchs during his work in Egypt.

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Serge Voronoff

After transplanting over 500 testicles from younger animals (sheep and goats) to older ones, and many experiments grafting animal organs into other animals he performed, around 1920, the first transplant of a monkey gland (testicle) on a man. Two pieces of about 2 cm by 0.5 cm and a few millimeters deep of the monkey gland were introduced in the human scrotum, attaching them with stitches. Voronoff was convinced that this would restore lost vigour. Apparently he shared this believe with a myriad of old men who couldn’t wait to get their dried-up nuts grafted. Very soon he got himself a large and rich clientele.  Voronoff even claimed that a small piece of monkey gland could cure homosexuality.

Voronoff received a lot of media attention and travelled all over the world to demonstrate his rejuvenating technique. But he wasn’t welcome in England because of the Cruelty to Animals Act. By the early thirties, more than 500 men had been ‘rejuvenated’ (grafted) in France, followed by thousands of males all over the world. One of them was his own brother, looking a lot more vigorous (?) after his family jewels had been grafted.

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Voronoff did consider making grafts from one (younger) man to another (older) man but acknowledged the moral and practical problems…

Voronoff would have liked to graft a lot more testicles but his supply ran dry. In 1922 the New York Times mentions that Voronoff had to go shopping in Rouen in order to purchase two chimpanzees, exhibited there in a street fair, for 9.000 francs.

But Voronoff’s transplants were questioned by the scientific community. Also the lack of results for his quest for longevity and vitality eventually led to ridicule. He inspired a lot of jokes and songs like the one above, illustrated by George Desains. On its cover a young female chimpanzee tells an old sad-looking male: “Va te faire greffer” which means ‘Go and get yourself a graft’.

4 thoughts on “Monkey glands: the secret of eternal youth?”

  1. Très instructif, mais ça ne donne pas envie … ! Georges Desains n’est pas mon illustrateur préféré, loin s’en faut, mais cette partition aura eu le mérite de nous apprendre que les problèmes de virilité ne datent pas d’hier. Bravo et merci pour cette recherche.

  2. ‘In cauda venenum.’

    I wonder how the female anthropoid ape (a chimp or orangutan?) got its (rather optimistic) tail…

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