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Chimera - The Magical History of Tissue Transplantation

 Dr Sampurna Roy MD                     


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The idea of replacing defective parts with parts from another person, particularly one who has died, is an ancient one.

The legends of Saints Cosmoas and Damien, who in the fourth century AD. are said to have miraculously transplanted the limb from a dead man to one who had lost his limb (see image A), illustrates the antiquity of this concept.

(Image A) 

Württembergisches Landesmuseum Stuttgart -  Photographed by Andreas Praefcke, 2006 (wikimedia-commons)


The idea that tissues of different individual could live together in one individual is even more ancient, as illustrated by Chimera, the mingled monster of Homer's Iliad.

The Chimera, a Greek mythical monster resided in Lycia in Asia Minor, and was the terror of the neighbourhood. (Image B)

She was killed by the Greek hero Bellerophon who mounted on his winged horse, Pegasus. (Image C)


    (Image B)                                                         (Image C)  

Archives of  Pearson Scott Foresman (wikimedia-commons)    Bellerophon slaying the Chimera Wellcome Images


"A mingled monster of no mortal kind,

Behind, a dragon's fiery tail, was spread,

A goat's rough body bore a lion's head,

Her pitchy nostril flaky flames expire,

Her gaping throat throat emits infernal fire."

(Iliad, VI 180)

Quoted in Precope J 1954 Medicine, Magic and Mythology. Heineman, london p 160)

The term Chimera is now used in medicine to describe an animal which for long periods contains living cells belonging to another individual who is genetically different.

The condition may arise naturally, as in case of binovular twins sharing a common placenta, or artificially by immunological tolerance technique or by induction of irradiation chimerism.



I wrote this short fascinating story of "tissue transplantation" only for the pathologists who enjoy reporting transplant biopsies.

Have a lovely evening.  



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A story with images: Clues to 4 pathological conditions hidden in the images.



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Dr  Sampurna Roy  MD

Consultant  Histopathologist (Kolkata - India)







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