Monday, 7 February 2011

Fame and infamy in the search of lost youth

Fig.1 A century after his death Dr. Brown-Séquard
proves madness and disrepute will still get you
on a stamp. In Mauritius.

I have just been entertainingly distracted from my studies by a bizzare curiosity paragraph in the Oxford Handbook Of Clinical Medicine, 8th edition (2010), pg. 711:

"After his neurological experiments, Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-94), the most visionary of all neuroanatomists and the grandfather of HRT (hormone replacement therapy), proclaimed he had found the secret of perpetual youth after injecting himself with a concoction of testicular blood, semen, and testicular extracts from dogs and guinea pigs. In the 1880's over 12,000 doctors were queuing up for his special extracts, which they used on their patients in various ways. He gave the extracts away free, provided results were reported back to him. 314 out of 405 cases of spinal syphilis improved, and his own urinary flow rate rose by 25%. Endocrinologists never forgave him for bringing their science into disrepute. To this day, no one really knows if his (literally) seminal work has given us anything of any practical value. But he might be pleased to know that testosterone is now known to have the urodynamic benefits he anticipated, at least in men with hypogonadism.
Like many brilliant men, he had a cruel streak, backing clitorectomy for preventing blindness and other imaginary complications of 'masturbatory melancholia'. Had he not been blinded by the 19th-century ideas about female sexuality, could he have found a marvellous use for his concoctions, for 21st century 'hypoactive sexual desire disorder'? Possibly, but only if he relied on placebo responses."

Fabulous. I wish we had more (any) classes on history of medicine...

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That's pretty rad! I think that Mary Roach talks about him in either _Bonk_ or _Stiff_, I'm not sure which. But, either way? AWESOME.