Voronoff to virion: 1920s testis transplantation and AIDS

Xenotransplantation. 2012 Nov-Dec;19(6):337-41. doi: 10.1111/xen.12004. Epub 2012 Oct 25.


Background: We address accusations linking AIDS with testis transplantation performed by a French surgeon, Serge Voronoff (1866-1951), and their implications in the future of animal-to-human organ transplantation.

Methods: Biographical literature on Voronoff and scientific literature on xenotransplantation and the origin of HIV were reviewed.

Results: IN the 1920s, Serge Voronoff transplanted testes from primates into humans to revitalize them sexually and physically, making him one of the first surgeons to perform xenotransplantation-transplanting live tissues between species. In recent years, some have postulated that Voronoff's transplants may have caused or contributed to the AIDS epidemic. However, consensus among virologists holds that HIV most likely originated from a chimpanzee virus known as simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV) which many agree was transmitted to humans during the hunting of primates in the early 1900s. As these accusations have never been addressed, evidence is reviewed which refutes the claims. HIV isolate studies are summarized, which show that SIV was most likely transferred to humans from a chimpanzee species different from those used by Voronoff. Furthermore, literature suggests that Voronoff's experiments were performed in Europe and the United States, not central Africa.

Conclusions: Over 100,000 people await organ transplants, making the prospect of using animal organs to meet demand increasingly favorable. The accusations against Voronoff and others have led to increased concern over cross-species disease transfer. The evidence presented refutes those claims and is used to explain the need for further research into xenotransplantation.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / history*
  • Animals
  • France
  • HIV Seropositivity / immunology
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Simian Immunodeficiency Virus / immunology*
  • Testis / transplantation*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous / history*
  • Transplants / history*

Personal name as subject

  • Serge Voronoff