Dr Henry Leighton-Jones started out as a pharmacist in Sydney, Australia. Jump forward one dental career and “Monkey Jones”, as he would become known, found himself in Lake Macquarie, Australia, grafting monkey testicles into people in the hope of helping them live to be 100.
If you’re thinking he was one of the Mad Scientists of old, you might be right, and aspects of his practice certainly do not hold up to the standards of modern medicine and ethics. However, his controversial approach revealed insights into tissue-typing and gland transplant surgery which some believe to be significant precursors to life-saving medicines and procedures still used today.
“He became obsessed with the desire to [treat people] thought to be deficient in hormones, including those who were prematurely senile or impotent,” reads a 1977 paper published in The Medical Journal of Australia.
‘‘Between 1931 and 1941, he performed four thyroid grafts [...] one of which was regarded as at least temporarily very successful."
“He performed half a dozen ovarian grafts, once using the ovary of a pregnant monkey, and about thirty testicular grafts on patients aged between 24 and 72.’’
They say you should practice what you preach, and it seems Monkey Jones took this advice to heart, himself receiving a graft from his mentor and fellow monkey-testicle-transplant-enthusiast, French surgeon Serge Voronoff, in 1929.
Monkey Jones taught himself French so he could read the works of Voronoff, who was already knee-deep in the study of gland transplants. Not one to be pigeonholed, Voronoff had been investigating ovarian, testicular, and thyroid transplants using chimpanzees, cattle, goats, and sheep.
In case you’re wondering what testicles have to do with longevity, Voronoff’s work and Leighton-Jones’ studies tied into endocrinology: the study of hormones and their associated diseases. According to Australian Tragic, a book detailing tales from the dark side of Australia’s history, Voronoff believed that aging was the result of endocrinal secretions slowing down, particularly sex hormones. As such, he got to work on trying to rejuvenate human patients by essentially topping up their endocrinal secretions with the sex organs of other animals.
Monkey Jones traveled to Paris to assist Voronoff in grafting operations, and married Voronoff's secretary before returning to his then-home of Lake Macquarie, Australia. The trip had clearly proved inspirational, as upon his return he built his own monkey cage. It would later house specially-selected donor Rhesus monkeys (Macacus rhesus), which he had access to due to a friendship forged in Singapore with the Sultan of Johore.
Tasked with blood grouping and cross-matching patients to donor monkeys, Leighton-Jones prescribed two weeks of good eating, exercising, and abstaining from alcohol to prospective monkey testicle recipients. Monkeys were put under general anesthesia and therefore unconscious, but sometimes only local anesthesia was administered to the recipients.
A halted supply of Rhesus monkeys gave Leighton-Jones pause for thought, and he used this time to document his work and discoveries in a paper. It was accepted to be presented at a postgraduate meeting in a Newcastle Hospital – but Leighton-Jones, just short of 75, died of a heart attack before he could deliver it.
Leighton-Jones’ record-keeping was said to be impeccable, reportedly going to great lengths to always keep his patients fully informed before and after treatment, protecting their privacy with the use of a code. Unfortunately, the key to this code couldn’t be located after his death, and what legible documents remained were destroyed by his wife under her husband's strict instruction in the event of his untimely death.
As such, there’s little information of his career in public record though his work is discussed in the 2014 publication A History of Eraring and its School by author Doug Saxon, who described the doctor as ‘‘a pioneer in his field’’ to the Newcastle Herald. Collection items at the National Library of Australia even credit him with discovering the “Rhesus factor” in blood agglutination years before it was made famous by Landsteiner and Wiener in 1941, though there appears to be limited evidence to support this.
On the topic of humans and monkeys, have you heard about the Russian scientist who tried to create a human-chimp hybrid (in the worst way possible)?