10 Real Life Frankensteins from the Annals of Medical History

10 Real Life Frankensteins from the Annals of Medical History


Italian surgeon Sergio Canavero made headlines
recently for claiming he has the ability, right now, to transplant a live human head
onto a corpse and successfully reanimate both. Of course, experts dismiss him as a quack
(giving a TED talk doesn’t necessarily make you reliable), but few seriously doubt that
what he says is theoretically possible. Whether or not Canavero gets there first,
we’ll almost certainly be able to do it one day—and when that day comes, we’ll
definitely go ahead and do it. Because regardless of the controversy and
ethical concerns that inevitably surround such a procedure, human head transplantation
would only be the latest development in a long history of grisly, Frankensteinian, but
nevertheless life-saving, science. From the golden age of alchemy to some of
the more bizarre mix-and-match transplants of late, here are some of the highlights. 10. Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (721-815) Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan (or Geber, as he
became known in Europe) is one of history’s most notable alchemists, having written dozens
of treatises on the subject—including the seminal Kitab al-Kymya, from which we derived
the word ’alchemy’. He also laid the foundations for the periodic
table and introduced basic equipment (such as the alembic and retort), processes (such
as crystallization and distillation), and terminology (such as ’alkali’) that are
still used by chemists today. Some historians actually credit Jabir ibn
Hayyan with the founding of modern chemistry, having transformed the mystical, largely theoretical
focus of alchemy with his own more practical, experiments-based approach. Still, many associate his name with the so-called
takwin, a little homunculus-type creature that he claimed could be made in a lab. This was a common belief in the Middle Ages,
that artificial life might be possible, but Jabir ibn Hayyan actually gave instructions. To give life to a takwin, he wrote, one must
combine blood, semen, and various body parts in a glass vessel shaped like the creature
to be made. It’s unclear (but, let’s face it, doubtful)
that he ever actually made one. However, given his strong emphasis upon empiricism,
it’s also hard to believe that he would have just made it up. Unless of course, as he implied himself in
the Book of Stones, the purpose was “to baffle and lead into error” mad scientists
more sinful than he. 9. Johann Dippel (1673-1734) Born at Frankenstein Castle, south of Darmstadt,
southern Germany, Johann Dippel’s childhood education was deeply religious, led for the
most part by his own pastor father. By the age of 9, however, he began to express
his doubts about the Church, and by the age of 14 he was accused of keeping the company
of familiar spirits or demonic helpers. Although he went on to study theology, he
was continually questioning the Church and changing his position, ultimately turning
his attention to science and alchemy instead. He dabbled in transmuting base metals into
gold, for instance, and distilling animal parts for medicinal oils—the most notable
of which was the black, foul-smelling Dippel’s Animal Oil made from leather, blood, and ivory
and marketed as an elixir of life. He also claimed the oil could be used to exorcise
demons, which he mentioned in his work alongside transferring souls between corpses using a
funnel. Dippel’s Animal Oil enjoyed only brief and
modest popularity as a diaphoretic (or sweat-inducer, perhaps understandably) and anti-spasmodic. Despite Dippel’s claims that it was capable
of curing pretty much anything, including death, it fell out of favour before long. The fact that Dippel himself died early, having
predicted he’d live to 135, can’t have helped. The fetid black oil did make a comeback during
the Second World War, though. It was used to coat the insides of enemies’
wells and make the water undrinkable. 8. Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) Many real-life Frankensteins, as well as Mary
Shelley herself, were inspired (you might even say galvanized) by the work of Luigi
Galvani, the electrophysiologist who came up with the concept of galvanism and the use
of electricity to stimulate life. Back when Galvani was conducting his experiments
in the second half of the 18th century, electricity was still a fairly new and exciting development. Most scientists barely understood it. But Galvani saw in it great potential for
the advancement of medical science. In 1786, having made a dead frog twitch merely
by touching its nerves with scissors during a lightning storm, he theorized that animals
produce electricity of their own. He tested and confirmed his suspicions on
countless other frogs and suggested this animal electricity was secreted as a kind of electrified
substance from the brain. Although his work was contentious at the time,
it did lead one of his most vocal critics, Alessandro Volta, to invent the voltaic pile—an
early electrical battery. Unfortunately, when Galvani refused to swear
allegiance to Napoleon, he lost his professorship and salary and died a little while later,
right on the cusp of the electrical revolution that he helped bring about. 7. Giovanni Aldini (1762-1834) Galvani’s nephew, Giovanni Aldini, was fascinated
by his uncle’s experiments and eager to carry the torch. But not by experimenting on frogs. Aldini had his sights set on larger animals
like cows and pigs, whose cold, dead bodies, tongues, and eyeballs he caused to shake and
move about by applying electrical current. Later, perhaps inevitably, he turned his attention
to humans, using a massive voltaic pile with hundreds of metal discs to apply electricity
to headless corpses. And as Frankensteinian as all this sounds,
none of it took place in a ruined Gothic castle in the middle of a violent thunderstorm; in
fact, Aldini performed most of his gruesome experiments in broad daylight before a horrified
crowd on the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna—right outside the Palace of Justice that donated
all of his corpses. Although he was able to produce some of the
same contractions and twitches that he’d already seen in animals, he was disappointed
to find that hearts didn’t seem to respond. There was also a mere three hour window after
death in which any effects could be observed. Deciding he needed a corpse that hadn’t
lost so much blood, Aldini travelled to London in search of a hanged, not decapitated, criminal. It didn’t take long to find his test subject—the
corpse of a man named George Foster—to which he immediately set about applying electricity. According to Aldini’s report, “the jaw
began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually
opened.” When he stimulated the rectum with his rods,
the whole body convulsed so much “as to give the appearance of reanimation.” Eventually, however, the battery died and
Foster along with it (for the second time that day). But the interest and awe that Aldini evoked
within both the scientific community and the public at large almost certainly inspired
Mary Shelley. And Aldini, who is said to have shared some
of Victor Frankenstein’s mannerisms, was actually alive for the book’s publication. 6. Andrew Ure (1778-1857) A professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy
at Glasgow, Scotland (following a stint as an army surgeon), Andrew Ure was eager to
further the work of his groundbreaking Italian peers. And he jumped at the chance to experiment
on the corpse of one Matthew Clydesdale, the first person to be publicly hanged in the
city for years. Right after the execution, the man’s body
was sped by horse and cart to the university’s anatomy theater—where the good doctor was
patiently waiting with his battery already charged. He made no secret of his intentions. He wanted to resurrect the dead. And according to an (alleged) eyewitness report,
the experiment was such a success that Ure was forced to slit Clydesdale’s throat with
a scalpel to make sure he died for good. That probably didn’t happen, of course,
but the established facts are just as grisly. First, the corpse was sliced open to reveal
the sites for stimulation. Then Ure attached electrical rods to the heel
and spinal cord, causing Clydesdale’s bent leg to straighten and kick out, almost toppling
one of Ure’s assistants. They also applied electricity to the left
phrenic nerve and diaphragm and were delighted to see the corpse start “breathing.” When they applied electricity to the supraorbital
nerve and heel, however, the “most horrible grimaces were exhibited …. Rage, horror,
despair, anguish and ghastly smiles united their hideous expression in the murderer’s
face, surpassing far the wildest representations of Fuseli…” In fact, this horrified spectators so much
that many left in disgust, throwing up or even fainting on their way out. Ure’s experiments might seem frivolous today,
but he effectively invented the defibrillators still used around the world to jolt cardiac
arrest patients back to life. On the basis of his experiments, he rightly
claimed that, instead of direct stimulation, two moistened brass knobs connected to a battery
and placed against the skin over the phrenic nerve and diaphragm could restore life to
the clinically dead. 5. Andrew Crosse (1784-1855) Tinkering around on his inherited estate in
the countryside, Andrew Crosse was, unlike most on this list, an amateur scientist as
opposed to a respected professor. However, his eccentrically obsessive fascination
with electricity more than earns him a place on this list. Indeed, Mary Shelley once attended one of
his lectures and was undoubtedly impressed by his work. To his country bumpkin neighbors, meanwhile,
Crosse became known as the “Wizard of the Quantocks,” or the “Thunder and Lightning
Man,” for wiring up his grounds in such a way that during thunderstorms his music
room would come alive with fiery sparks and loud, crashing noises. According to one local, it was actually dangerous
to go anywhere near his house at night because of the “devils, all surrounded by lightning,
dancing on the wires.” Crosse himself saw electricity as a kind of
mystical force, a divine creative power that could be harnessed by man. He is best known, perhaps, for apparently
creating spontaneous organic life in the lab. It wasn’t deliberate; he’d actually been
attempting to generate crystals by passing electrical current through a piece of volcanic
stone submerged in acid, but was astounded to see little mites emerging and wriggling
their legs after 26 days as white bumps. Although he was just as mystified by this
as anyone else, including other scientists who managed to replicate his results, Crosse
was denounced as a blasphemer and inundated with death threats. Naturally, the publication of Frankenstein
only made matters worse. And, as if knocking God off his pedestal wasn’t
bad enough, local farmers complained the mites (which Crosse named Acarus crossii after himself)
were running amok and blighting their crops. In all likelihood, as Crosse himself suggested,
his apparatus was merely contaminated with eggs. 4. Sergei Bryukhonenko (1890-1960) Sergei Bryukhonenko stepped things up a notch
on the Frankenstein front by demonstrating that organs could be kept alive and actually
functioning even after their removal from the body. He was able to do this by circulating oxygenated
blood, as well as air when necessary, to keep lungs “breathing,” hearts beating, and
even brains semi-cognizant. When he hooked a severed dog’s head up to
his ’autojektor’ pump, for instance, it reacted to external stimuli just as though
it were living. It blinked when its eyes were prodded, licked
its lips when citric acid was applied, and pricked its ears to loud noises nearby. Organs hooked up in this way only stopped
working when the blood in the autojektor coagulated—after 100 minutes or so—due to it not being hermetically
sealed. When rumors of this mad commie scientist “resurrecting
the dead” reached America, Bryukhonenko became a sensation. The implications were huge. As George Bernard Shaw remarked when he heard
the news, he’d happily have his head removed and kept artificially alive if it meant he
could go on working without getting ill. Obviously, it wasn’t that simple. While Bryukhonenko did experiment on humans
next, he wasn’t all that pleased with the results. Having sourced a fresh, relatively unscathed
corpse from a man who’d hanged himself three hours earlier, Bryukhonenko had hooked up
a vein and an artery to the autojektor and waited for the blood to re-oxygenate. Within hours he and his assistants had detected
a heartbeat. But then there came a terrifying gargling
sound, or death rattle, from the throat and the eyes snapped open, staring at the surgeons
and scaring them all so much that they stopped the autojektor and let the corpse rest in
peace. 3. Robert E. Cornish (1903-1963) American mad scientist Robert Cornish was
so confident in his ability to bring back the dead that he actually suffocated dogs
to resuscitate them. This usually involved rocking them back and
forth on a teeter board to get the blood flowing. And unfortunately it rarely worked; even when
it did, the dogs (all named Lazarus) wound up with brain damage. Eventually, in response to bad press, Cornish
was fired from his position at UCLA. But he continued his experiments at home. He even played himself in a movie about his
work and, in 1947, petitioned the State of California for permission to resurrect a death
row inmate. The condemned man—who’d been sentenced
to death in a gas chamber for kidnapping and murdering a 14-year-old girl—had actually
volunteered his own body to Cornish, but their request was ultimately denied. According to the State, it would be far too
dangerous to allow Cornish access to the body before fully venting the gas chamber and,
since this could take up to an hour, the body would be useless to the doctor. According to lawyers, however, the State was
likely more concerned that Cornish might actually succeed. After all, if the murderer was brought back
to life having served out his death sentence in full, they would have no choice but to
let him walk free. 2. Vladimir Demikhov (1916-1998) So far on this list, we’ve been missing
a vital Frankensteinian trope: the mixing and matching of body parts. Enter Vladimir Demikhov, who, in 1959, was
featured in LIFE magazine for creating a two-headed dog. To do so, he and his team got hold of two
healthy (but apparently unloved) specimens—a big dog and a small dog—from dogcatchers. They cut the larger dog’s neck to expose
the jugular, aorta, and part of the spinal column. Then they prepared the smaller dog by tying
off the main blood vessels and severing the spinal column while keeping both the head
and forepaws intact and connected to the heart and lungs. Finally, they connected the blood vessels
of the smaller, now partial dog to the corresponding blood vessels of the larger dog and voila. Remarkably, the experiment was a success. Both dogs survived the procedure and were
able to see and move independently. The fact that they died just four days later
should not detract in any way from Demikhov’s horrible achievement. His work contributed a great deal to the development
of life-saving heart surgery and organ transplantation. Indeed, Christiaan Neethling Barnard, the
first surgeon to successfully transplant a heart from one human to another, credited
Demikhov with having pioneered the field. 1. Robert J. White (1926-2010) Demikhov also inspired the neurosurgeon Robert
White to carry out head transplants on live monkeys (although, as an observant Catholic
and believer in the brain as the seat of the soul, White preferred to call this procedure
a ’full body transplant’). After attaching the entire head of one monkey
to the decapitated body of another, with all of the nerves intact, White found the animal
could see, hear, taste, and smell. He hoped this might one day be translatable
to humans, potentially helping patients with multiple organ failure or terminal illnesses
to turn their ailing bodies in for fresh and healthy (albeit until recently dead) replacements. But even one of White’s own colleagues believed
he was being naive. There were, for example, serious ethical concerns;
although the monkey survived the procedure, it looked confused and panicked, not to mention
in pain, when it woke up. White had little time for animal welfare when
it came to the advancement of science and vehemently opposed organizations like PETA
standing in his way, but his colleague undeniably had a point when it came to humans. After all, regardless of what Catholics might
say about the brain as the seat of the soul, human identity is inextricably linked up to
our bodies. Can we really just stick a head from one body
onto another and pretend it’s essentially the same person? Nevertheless, White defended his work by pointing
out that every new development in the Frankensteinian history of organ transplantation has been
met with serious controversy. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein itself is a
fine example of just this kind of soul-searching at the nexus of science and morality. And if Sergio Canavero is to be believed,
if we really are on the verge of human head transplantation, then Shelley’s classic
tale is about to become more relevant than ever.

81 thoughts on “10 Real Life Frankensteins from the Annals of Medical History

  1. "Look! It's moving. It's sha — it's… it's alive. It's alive… It's alive, it's moving, it's alive! It's alive, it's alive, it's alive! It's ALIVE!" – Frankenstein (1931)

  2. Trump should be on this list cause he's half a orange and half a sexual preadator / child molester

  3. Am I the only one, who is aware of the fact, that the only woman in this feature, Mary Shelley, took on the topic via an elaborate thought experiment, whereas men did those cruel experiments in real life? Just think about it for five minutes.

  4. #6: Defibrillators are NOT used "to jolt cardiac arrest patients back to life." They are used to stabilize an erratic heartbeat. Only.

    You've been watching too much poorly written television.

  5. They say that the Roman Emperor Vespasian during a Jewish Rebellion had Jewish prisoners of war drowned so you can see if they're spirits could be seen ascending into heaven.

  6. Galvini the frog killer. 🐸🐸🐸. If these scientists/ butchers succeeded in bringing an executed criminal back to life they could be held in contempt of court. According to English law back then.

  7. Head transplants for “medical science” shouldn’t be legal. There’s not one way to justify this practice.

  8. We've already seen cases of cell memory in people who have gotten hearts, lungs & other organs from strangers. Can you imagine how a head transfer could change a person? Sometimes science runs too far ahead of the serious questions that should be answered first. I hope I never become so desperate or self-important that I would be willing to consider something like a head transfer. When it is my time, I want to sink into the Sea of Quiddity & be finished with all this grief.

  9. Head transplants or fully body transplant?

    Lots and lots of steps between here and there. Probably will be helped along by robotic surgeons. The procedure is going to need a crap-ton of steps, all flawlessly, all while keeping a close eye on loads of vital signs. A bit too much even for a team of doctors but just a technical hurdle for a suite of robo-doctors.

  10. Wouldn't the different DNA reject the head? Plus, how would the body move? To my knowledge we haven't fixed a fully severed spine and gotten movent.

  11. Wow! Just wow there not only have been but still are many creepy people out there……….When I say creepy I mean people who aren't afraid to try anything with other species and peoples bodies. The whole idea just doesn't' seem right not even close to right. It seems so far from right that it has to be the most opposite think on the planet from right you can get. Seriously Not right at all! At least not to me anyway.

  12. Why is it that many of these people lived into their 70s? This was before “big pharma” here to “keep us healthy to grow old”. Sounds like a bunch of BS, the only reason we need all these drugs is because we keep taking them. We don’t all need to live to 90.

  13. It is inaccurate to pronounce the 'j' in Jabir as an 'h'. The Arabic letter we represent as 'j' in that name is the same one that we see in the word 'algebra', which we also borrowed from Arabic, and is always pronounced either as a 'j' or 'g', depending on the local dialect.

  14. I genuinely and fervently hope Medical Ethics will forever prohibit this. It's bad enough we've inflicted this on blameless and innocent creatures who can't rationalise what's happened to them. The mere idea this is, or the idea, even remotely could be permissible ethically within the medical profession is unthinkable.

  15. It's "Bernard" Shaw.

    Not "Bernaaaard" Shaw.

    You're English for heaven's sake. Do you say "Tamayto" to instead of "Tomato"?

  16. An electrical charge to the anus? WTFH? Is that how they created the alien theory? What' is the obsession with the rectum? If these doctors where little boys, they would be hauled off to a psychiatrist. But, they are grown up, animal and human maulers and defilers. Science is full of psychopaths.

  17. I wonder if science will be able to figure out how flesh grows back in hell, only to regrow and burn again? Wishing for death, but it will flee from them. They wanted eternity on earth, and stopped at nothing to find the secret. They will find an eternal existence alright. I have a new project for science!!!

  18. Choking animals..I'm so sick of science. Disgusting. They have no idea about phantom pain!!!! I'm going to say it……Assholes!!!

  19. My question is- if they do a head transplant, where are they going to get the body? My body is crap- the warranty has apparently worn out. But I want to keep my brain. But where to get a body? I don't think we can get Merv Griffin (he's dead) to inject pretty girls in the butt with window cleaner (movie reference 😉 ) and so get new bodies. Besides, I want Christina Hendricks' body! (She appears to be using it though…)

  20. i can't remember his name off hand. but there is an american count. who claimed he could reanimate a girl whom he had a crush on by filling her vains with mercury.

  21. Although he was a vile disgusting piece
    of $#!T, I am surprised “Doctor Death” Josef Mengele and his
    “experiments” were not listed here.
    Perhaps just too
    disgusting?

  22. How is Josef Mengele not on the list? One of his experiments was to chop up one twin and put the pieces into the other.

  23. If the dead person from death row was seemingly brought back to life and they got so scared they slit his throat, (if that actually happened) or turned off the blood machine in the other case… are the doctors murderers, or not? Kind of a riddle

  24. I know it's been said already, but difubrulators do not restart a heart. It literally de-fibrulates a heart.

  25. Please list your favorite head/body mash up. Like Donald Trump’s head on Mini Me’s body. Or elephant man’s head on Beyonce’s body.

  26. Screw PETA, they're a joke and zealots. No one should take their concerns seriously, they just want to force their ethics onto others, just like most religious groups.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *