Published By Monica Stokes.
The International College of Surgeons and International Museum of Surgical Science’s founder, Dr. Max Thorek, was well known for his pioneering spirit in the field. Of his many advancements, the museum has maintained a curiosity towards some of his more controversial undertakings. One of which was his deep interest and research into grafting the testicles of healthy animals onto aging men.
This procedure, called Testicular Transplantation or Grafting, was established to help cure a number of ailments but particularly a “lack of virility.” Although this operation was fairly popular in the early 20th century, little information is accessible on the subject. The information that is available stretches between fairly credible and unquestionably quack sources. Fortunately, included among IMSS’ Thorek Medical Manuscript and Rare Book Collection is Thorek’s own original 1924 manuscript titled The Human Testis: It’s Gross Anatomy, Histology, Physiology, Pathology, With Particular Reference to its Endocrinology, Aberrations of Function and Correlation to other Endocrines, as well as studies on Testicular Transplantation and the effects of the Testicular Secretions on the Organism. This thorough manuscript gives insight to the ever-present questions that the museum has about Thorek and Testicular Transplantation.
The manuscript includes multiple chapters on the testes, but almost a quarter of the text is dedicated to the transplantation of testicles. They begin with an unnumbered chapter titled, “Experimental Testicular Transplantation in Animals, Results of Such Transplants” and proceeds to include chapters titled “Steinach’s Vasoligation Experiments and So-Called Rejuvenation Operation,” “Homo- and Hetero- Testicular Transplants in Man,” and “The Therapeutic and Other Effects if Testicular Extracts (Opotherapy).”
The first chapter dedicated to transplantation, “Experimental Testicular Transplantation in Animals,” is a comprehensive analysis of surgeons experimenting with testicular transplantations in animals. Thorek details key figures around the turn of the century who either castrated or exchanged the testis of much younger animals onto those of much older animals of the same species. He traces these early, crude stages of surgical exploration of animals to the mid-to-late 19th century. A series of terms from this time period help define the surgical practice, including the distinction between: “autotransplantations” (removing tissue from somewhere on subject and placing it elsewhere on the body), “homotransplantations” (removing tissue from animal and placing it on the body of an animal of the same species), and “heterotransplantations” (removing tissue from animal of one species and placing it on the body of another species.)  In the manuscript, Thorek includes images of goats who have undergone homotransplantation operations. In each image, he asks the reader to note the difference in horn length and “general physical vigor,” from one specimen to another.
The extent of most procedures were primarily limited to goats, rats, and apes. However, humans, almost all men, were also the subjects of these experiments. The men included in these studies suffer from conditions such as: old age, senility, loss of testicles, cases of “hermaphroditism,” homo and bi-sexuality  and erectile dysfunction. Procedures included injecting men with the semen of virile animals , exchanging the testicular duct of virile animals onto ailing men , cutting a testicle of a virile animal and placing it within the abdominal or perineum area of a man  and complete exchange of testicles. Both positive and negative results followed; the negative including either a degeneration of the testicular matter or complete absorption of material.
Many surgeons involved in the experimentation believed that genitalia of apes was best suited for testicular transplantations.  Thorek continuously used the Latin terms for either the Yellow Baboon or Kinda Baboon  when referencing the species from which tissue was harvested. Interestingly, the latin derivative is eerily similar to the fabled dog-headed human species, Cynocephaly. The theme of segmented configurations of various species is both obvious and deeply ingrained within this Testicular Transplantation story. There seems to be no research dedicated to why apes were best suited for the operation. While the reason for using the testis of apes are nit justified in a surgical sense, the reader is left to imagine it is a possible physical or behavioral association.
A chapter titled “Steinach’s Vasoligation Experimentation and So-Called Rejuvenation Operation” discusses one process of testicular transplantation. Vasoligation is a surgical procedure referring to the duct that conveys sperm from the testicles to the urethra. When providing this homo-vasoligation, or exchanging the duct of much younger rats into older rats, Steinach includes testimony such as, “it was shown that the experimental animal became particularly virile with the most violent libido sexualia.”  and “certain changes were noted in these animals within a few weeks. They lost their apathy, became lively, their fur grew dense and shiny, they looked like young males, and noted as such toward females. These old animals, who before ligation had lost the sexual and procreative power, were now, in case that only one vas had been ligated, able to procreate strong and healthy young. Life is moreover prolonged one-fourth of its usual span.” 
Although Thorek continuously takes a stance supporting the ability for testicular transplantations to cure a plethora of ailments, the true importance of these procedures seems to lay in an extension of sexual prowess. In this statement, Thorek reacts to Steinach’s claim that it prolongs life one-fourth of its usual span, “the visions raised in the popular press by the unfortunate denomination of ‘rejuvenation’ must be dropped; and the work directed to more modest claims and ends which are still of value to the sick and suffering.” 
As a result of these crude research methods, and their underlying incentive, the connections between sexual stamina, longevity, purposefulness, and immortality seem to be deeply entangled. Instead, these practices appear cheaply and lazily coated over with a promise to cure the sick and suffering.
There are a number of results that include the curing of multiple and rather unrelated ailments. In 1914, in the case of one surgeon, Lydston, he carries out the procedure on himself. This is one year after the first documented procedure in the United States. It claims, “he noticed results such as physical exhilaration, lower blood pressure, improved eyesight, improved case of edema, and a disappearance of eczematous.”  Thorek quotes a large test study conducted on prison inmates before the turn of the century.  This includes making a “testicular substance” from the semen of animals, typically goats, and injecting them into men. The positive results included a curing of “asthenia, some vulgaris, senility, rheumatism, neurasthenia, [and] seemed to have a benefiting effect on relieving pain of obscure origins, and promoted bodily well-being.”  There is little reasoning as to why these vastly ranging ailments have a common benefit with this procedure. I have yet to find one reference to the positive effects of testicular grafting without the focus being increased virility.
The Thorek Manuscript and Rare Book collection sits across from the museum’s “Hall of Immortals.” When I sit at the far end of library, conducting research of Max Thorek, I look directly into the hall. It is lined with various marble figures, all prominent individuals in medical history. Made from white marble, these ghost-like forms stand high above visitors. From this angle, Madame Curie, the only woman in the hall is hidden. I notice the men are strong and youthful, seemingly with an intact mental, physical and sexual vigor—and as the museum’s founder placed value on—immortal.
: Thorek, Max, M.D., “Experimental Testicular Transplantation in Animals.” The Human Testis: It’s Gross Anatomy, Histology, Physiology, Pathology, With Particular Reference to its Endocrinology, Aberrations of Function and Correlation to other Endocrines, as well as studies on Testicular Transplantation and the effects of the Testicular Secretions on the Organism, 1924. MS. Thorek Manuscript and Rare Book Collection., Chicago, IL., 4.
: Thorek, “Homo- and Hetero- Testicular Transplants in Man.”
“Mueheam ( ), in one case of bisexuality and two cases of homosexuality reports that favorable results were obtained. The results were not observed immediately after the transplantations of testicles, but in the two cases of homosexuality it took six and four months before heterosexual signs were observed.” pg 11
The testicular transplantation seems to possibly be an early experimentation into a surgically-based Conversion Therapy. Conversion Therapy is one of many instances where some individuals have been subject to treatment against their will. In this case, even subject to pseudo-science. While there are many instances in medical history should be discussed, this one is deserving of its own time and commitment.
: Thorek, “The Therapeutic and Other Effects of Testicular Extracts (Opotherapy).”
: Thorek, “Steinach’s Vasoligation Experimentation and So-Called Rejuvenation Operation.”
: Thorek, “Homo- and Hetero- Testicular Transplants in Man.”
: Thorek, “Homo- and Hetero- Testicular Transplants in Man.” 16
: Yellow Baboon, Papio Cynocephalus; Kinda Baboon, Papio Cynocephalus kindae
: Thorek, “Steinach’s vasoligation Experimentation and So-Called Rejuvenation Operation.” 2
: Thorek, “Steinach’s Vasoligation Experimentation and So-Called Rejuvenation Operation.” 3
: Thorek, “Steinach’s Vasoligation Experimentation and So-Called Rejuvenation Operation.” 9
: Thorek, “Homo- and Hetero- Testicular Transplants in Man.” 4
: In an effort to avoid glossing over the many instances of individuals subject to clinical studies against their will, I want to make note of this long and difficult history embedded in medicine. This subject is also deserving of its own time and commitment.
: Thorek, “The Therapeutic and Other Effects of Testicular Extracts (Opotherapy).” 7
Monica Stokes is a Chicago-based artist and researcher interested in archives, medicine and sympathetic systems. She is currently Collections Intern – Thorek Manuscripts and Rare Books Collection at the International Museum of Surgical Science.