Not a Single Snicker

THE CONQUEST OF LIFE. By Mr. Serge Voronoff. (Brentano).

WHATEVER may be the permanent value of Serge Voronoff’s contribution to human welfare through surgical science, he has certainly added to the birth of the world, considering the sly wisecracks and facetious stories that have grown up about the expression “monkey glands.” In the popular mind the subject of gland-grafting seems to have taken on a rather smutty connotation, quite in keeping with the adolescent obsession of the moment, and it seems to be assumed pretty generally that Voronoff has found or claims to have found, merely a surgical means of producing aphrodisiac effects.

Until now, Dr. Voronoff himself has been content to work quietly on his discovery, and what the world in general has known of his achievement has been learned at secondhand through occasional interviews and popular versions of addresses delivered before learned bodies in Europe. Now, in “The Conquest of Life,” he has at last undertaken to explain to laymen the purpose, method and results of his many years of labor; and lo! there isn’t a single snicker in the book. Neither, alas, are there any passages over which the morbidly serious may slobber with repressed emotion.

In the opening chapter the causes of old age and death, as we know them, are considered, and it is affirmed that “natural physiological death” must be extremely rare — so rare that the author does not know that it has ever been observed beyond doubt. “The most elementary kind of living matter,” we are told, “takes the form of cells composed of protoplasm, a soft tiny mass enveloping a nucleus.” These cells reproduce rapidly by division, “generations succeeding each other with great rapidity, without a single death occurring. “One seeks in vain,” says the author, “among the innumerable swarm for a dead organism. The protozoan knows nothing of old age, and it never dies.” Thus the human body is a complex organism formed by the integration of deathless cells, and yet the organism disintegrates — “dies,” as we say.

In explaining why this disintegration takes place, Dr. Voronoff likens the human organism to “a society, a state” in which each member “fills a special role destined to insure the life of the whole.” Certain cells become perfected and highly specialized for a particular function, and these are likened to “industrious citizens, each following a special craft” in the interest of the whole society. But in addition to these, there are “the conjunctive tissue cells which are little differentiated. They creep in everywhere, and are found in greater or less numbers between the elements of all the organs without exception. These conjunctive cells from the plebeians, a hardy and vigorous race which reproduce with great facility. Sturdier than any of the other cells, they continually encroach upon the places occupied by the noble cells which, sooner or later,” are unable to cope with the invasion. “When the brain contains too great a number of conjunctive cells it becomes incapable of insuring the functional harmony of all the organs. Death strikes the body which has been deprived of guidance.” The same, we are told, is true in the breakdown of any of the organs.

Death, then, according to Dr. Voronoff, is due to “the atrophy of the functional element and its replacement by the connective tissue.” The highly specialized, the “noble” cells, can no longer resist the “plebeian” invasion of the conjunctive cells. The rabble triumphs and “the society” dies.

Death is merely the disintegration of the organism through anarchy, “a reign of inferior elements” incapable of organic control.

It would appear, from Dr. Voronoff’s description of cellular function in living organism, that na-ture is still a bit old-fashioned, having failed as yet to adopt the doctrine of universal equality. She would seem, rather, to favor a hierarchy based upon ability to function. Doubtless there is constant agitation among conjunctive cells in the matter of inalienable cellular rights, with little said about duties.

How then, asks Dr. Voronoff, may the “noble cells” — those whose ability and function it is to control the organism — be reinforced and kept vigorous, that they may resist the Bolshevistic encroachment of the conjunctive cells, and thus stave off the anarchy that is death? Such a reinforcing agent he has found in the secretions of various glands — especially the interstitial. By many experiments, here interestingly recorded, he has been able to show that while these glands are vigorous they highly specialized cells retain their power of control: and that when these glands have become feeble, the general well-being of the organism may be restored by the substitution of healthy glands from other organisms. Though one often hears gland-grafting mentioned as merely another faddist notion, the present volume seems to give conclusive evidence of its success, not only in the matter of prolonging life and intensifying the mental and physical powers of human beings, but also in the matter of improving the quality of domestic animals.

Being of necessity commercial minded, we can readily understand the possible cash value of grafting for the improvement of herds but, on the whole it is not so easy to see why human life should be lengthened without any reference to its quality. Seventy years seems a long time for mussing around with no purpose in particular, especially since the cost in suffering to ourselves and others is likely to be considerable. Perhaps some day our better minds, now engaged in physical science and in money-making, may attack the problem suggested. In the meanwhile we may agree that Dr. Voronoff has seen beyond the immediate doings of his scalpel, as the following indicates: “To give new energy to the men whose value has grown with age, whose minds have become rich in accumulated knowledge: whose souls have become mellowed by contact with all the sufferings felt or witnessed during their long existences, to render them apt for productive labor is accomplishing a work of social usefulness; it is contributing to the progress of humanity.”