From The Fountain of Youth to TRT: The History of Testosterone Replacement Therapy

The quest to delay the onset of age is one that human’s have been obsessing over for centuries. The cycle of birth, life and death is the one inescapable reality of existence – on this planet at least. What goes up what must come down, and no matter how healthy you are, how many miracle smoothies you imbibe, or how many excellent blogs on lifestyle choices you read; you will age and die.

While that might strike you as a slightly depressing, we can only hope that you don’t take it into your mind to find a cure for this inevitability. If you did, you certainly wouldn’t be the first person to try.

In the 15th century, just as the Americas were being ‘discovered’ by European adventurers; the fabled fountain of youth was the talk of the day. There were reports of native accounts of a magical river which could reverse ageing and ‘make old men young again’.[1] Conquistador Ponce de Leon even reportedly led covert explorations into Florida, desperate to find the fabled waters of ‘Bimini’ – the fountain of life.

The Fountain Of Youth

The historical world sought a magical solution to the conundrum of age (and we hate to tell you, but there’s no evidence it was ever found). But the past few centuries have focused on harnessing the power of science to keep anyone wealthy enough to pay for it looking young and feeling vibrant.

Before botox, Zumba and power smoothies, people were taking more extreme steps to prolong their youth. Back in the 20th century Dr Serge Voronoff, was experimenting in Xenotransplantation (the transplantation of living cells from one species to another) and another new medical trend at the time – the postulation of substances known as ‘hormones’. He believed that the transplantation of hormones from one subject to another could rejuvenate and reenergise an older host.

Voronoff began his experiments by injecting himself under the skin with the ground up testicles of various animals, hoping that the hormones in the testicles would rejuvenate his body.Eventually, he progressed to transplanting the testicles of executed criminals into millionaires. When the uncooperative American government failed to execute enough men to keep up the demand, he began grafting skin from monkey testicles onto men’s scrotums.

Believe it or not, Voronoff was extremely popular and his transplantations hotly sought after. Patients reported improved sex drives, better memory, the ability to work for longer hours and the International Congress of London even applauded and officially recognised his work in ‘rejuvenating old men’. Voronoff even suggested his experiments could prolong life.

This popularity didn’t last and the scientific community became more and more suspicious of the reported results of the transplants. Once testosterone was ‘discovered’ in 1935 and proven to have no ability to reverse the ageing process – Voronoff’s career was done[2]. Eventually he died in ignominy, some even speculating that his experiments had helped spread disease.

Although his methods were bizarre and his results almost certainly placebos – there is some redeemable logic in Voronoff’s work.

We now know that the effect of low testosterone in men can cause some of the symptoms the monkey gland experiments were trying to address. Low testosterone levels can cause a dip in libido, affect sexual function, cause memory problems and feelings of fatigue and depression.

Nowadays, thankfully, xenotransplantation is not the solution. Modern scientists worked hard throughout the 20th century, and effectively developed Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). TRT offers men who are struggling with the effects of low testosterone relief from its symptoms, and there’s no surgery (or chimpanzees) required.

If you’re worried about the symptoms of testosterone deficiency, or are interested in testosterone replacement therapy; book an appointment with the WellMan Clinic today.


The “Swiss Monkey Gland Treatment” of the late 1920’s was well-known to my parents – as my father was a surgeon.  Voronoff’s proposition was perfectly valid, but the problem was our immune system (not then recognised) which quickly destroyed the alien testicular tissue.  However, for a significant period of time, the transplants did offer symptomatic improvement – hence their popularity amongst the discerning few who could afford them.

Testosterone was synthesised from the wild yam in 1935 and the two responsible scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1939.  But, well done Voronoff who was first in the field.

Richard Petty


Subscribe to our mailing list