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Secrets of Eternal Youth

Chandak Sengoopta looks at how the discovery of hormones, the body’s chemical messengers, revolutionized ideas of human nature and human potential in the twentieth century.

On June 1st, 1889, the distinguished seventy-two-year-old French-American-Mauritian physiologist Charles-Edouard Brown-Séquard made a sensational an­nounce­ment at a scientific meeting in Paris. For the last few years, he told his august audience, he had been feeling increasingly frail and decrepit but instead of accepting it as natural for his age, he had tried to ‘rejuvenate’ himself by injections of testicular extracts from dogs and guinea-pigs. His experiments had been resoundingly successful – he now felt many years younger and could work with the full vigour of youth, he claimed. Although Brown-Séquard attracted more than his fair share of derision (and his death within a few years of his supposed rejuvenation certainly did not help his cause) the idea of treating human ailments with organ extracts was to prove enormously fruitful.

 

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