Tag Archives: Stem Cell Therapy

Lovecraftian Scientists: The Downfall of Dr. Herbert West


As the protagonist suggested in “From Beyond,” a scientist should be a “frigid and impersonal investigator…” While Crawford Tillinghast did not exhibit these traits as a scientist, this certainly described Herbert West, at least in the initial chapters of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Initially West is your typically cold scientist, closely following the rigors of the Scientific Method. However, as the story proceeds, West’s fanatical pursuit of knowledge is only exacerbated and pushed to the extreme. West started his experiments with animals and then moves to human cadavers. Each experiment with a human corpse revealed that the body must be very fresh with little or no decay.


West’s obsession with conquering death and need for a fresh body eventually led to him actually murdering someone – a salesman traveling to Bolton Worsted Mills. West killed and the preserved the salesman with an embalming fluid and waited for his friend to return to inject his reanimation serum. When the salesman was revived, it was obvious from his reaction that West murdered him.  Although West’s general philosophic perspective was consistently described as that of an absolute mechanistic materialist, this was still a major shift in his scientific endeavors.  While his extreme materialism may have fostered his general amoral attitude toward life and humanity, West was always grounded in the Scientific Method and that the ultimate goal of the reanimation serum is to bring people back to life. This jump from a scientist working with biological material that happens to come along his way, to one who actively produces the needed biological material is Lovecraft’s example of what happens when a scientist is the “frigid and impersonal investigator…” completely devoid of any humanity, compassion or empathy.


Herbert West used the embryonic cells of an exotic reptile in his experiments (illustration by Steve Maschuck)

Once West murdered to produce is needed biological material, even his foundation grounded in the Scientific Method began to erode. Toward the end of the story West goes into full “mad scientist” mode, thinking up “what if” scenarios in his mind.  While his use of some embryonic cell material from an exotic reptile had some potential promise to function as stem cells, he wasted this in his mad experiments.  The puffy reptilian cell matter sounded like it could function as undifferentiated stem cells and may have had great applications in repairing nerve damage, producing skin grafts for burn victims and possibly even re-growing lost limbs. However, playing with his discovery like a morbid little child, West experimented on body parts with no regard for the ethics or morality of such actions. It reminds one of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s quote from Jurassic Park shown below.


Obviously toward the end of “Herbert West Reanimator” all of West’s experiments catch up with him. Like Dr. Frankenstein or the Elder Things West was excited to create but did not care to deal with the responsibility of being the creator of such life. In the case of the Elder Things, the shoggoths were essentially biological tools that were created for specific functions. However, once the shoggoths began to attain consciousness, the Elder Things did not want the responsibility of coming to terms with this in a mature manner. In the case of West and Frankenstein it was the act of creation that was so exciting. The created being was merely an annoying by-product. In West’s case we see where a completely uncaring, amoral, mechanistic, materialistic attitude can result in a mad scientist. However, the mad scientist of Herbert West seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to the passionate and vengeful mad scientist of Crawford Tillinghast.


Experiments on parts

Next time we will discuss another type of scientist in Lovecraft’s tales – the group of scientists who conducted the initial investigations in “The Colour Out of Space.” Thank you – Fred.


The Science of Reanimation, Part 3

Previously I suggested that there appears to be three “phases of progress” associated with Herbert West’s reanimation serum. Phase I of the serum is described from Part I: From the Dark to Part III: Six Shots by Midnight in Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator” and the previous article focused on this phase of the serum. It could reanimate the dead but bodies had to be largely intact with a minimal amount of organ / tissue damage. Also, while it appears that the longer the individual is dead, the more brain damaged experienced once reanimated. However, to date, it has not been determined if this brain damage is due to solely to the brain receiving no oxygen and nutrients over a prolonged period of time or if the serum itself actually contributes toward this brain damage.


Herbert West by Verreaux (www.deviantart.com)

To at least partially address the issue associated with brain damage and the resulting irrational and dangerous behavior of the reanimated, Dr. West went to Phase II, which is described in Part IV: The Scream of the Dead. In this chapter a traveling salesman supposedly dies right at West’s home / lab in Bolton. Since West’s assistant is not around at the time, West decided to try his new embalming compound. Typically embalming compounds are a mix of chemicals designed to preserve bodies to prevent or minimize decomposition. In West’s case, his embalming compounds was also designed to prevent decomposition; however, it did not use toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde or methanol. Instead, West’s formula prevents decomposition and preserves the tissues and organs so they could be reanimated with his serum. However, the real purpose of these compounds was to eliminate the brain damage that occurs with the onset of death.

When Cain (West’s assistant) came back to Bolton, the experiment resumed. The first thing West did was inject another compound into the well preserved body to neutralize the embalming compound and “…release the system to a normal relaxation so that the reanimating solution might freely work when injected.” What is interesting is that after this neutralizing agent was injected the body started to twitch and West put a pillow over its face to make sure the individual was dead. This raises the question; did the embalming solution and accompanying neutralizing agent have similar but limiting reanimating properties?


The end of the chapter Part IV: Scream of the Dead

Once all movement of the corpse ceased, West then injected it with the reanimating serum. The individual began to show signs of life – body and eye movement as well as breathe fogging a mirror. This experiment was the closest to success for West and Cain. When Cain asked the reanimated salesman “Where have you been?” he observed the salesman’s lips silently reply, “only now.” This may be a reference to Lovecraft’s own mechanistic materialism – that is, nothing was seen beyond. The words “only now “may have been a reference to the salesman being cognizant and aware only at the point in time he was reanimated.

As Cain describes, the fact that the reanimated salesman responded to his question was a triumph; bringing rational and articulate thought back to the reanimated. Unfortunately the salesman re-died in a “final dissolution from which there could be no return…” However, before re-dying it was revealed to Cain that Herbert West murdered him to get a fresh corpse. Getting back to the experiment, while a temporary triumph in reanimation, it ultimately ended in a failure with the “dissolution” of the individual. No additional information is given as to if the embalming solution and neutralizing agent were responsible for the failure or if it is due to a reformulation of the reanimation serum.


Reanimation serum (www.innsmouthtradingcompany.tumblr.com)

The third phase of the reanimation serum is documented in Part V: The Horror from the Shadows. Here the modification of the serum is substantial; at this point West is talking about “…wild and original ideas on the independent vital properties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from natural physiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in the form of never-dying, artificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile.” Associated with this there were two hypotheses West wanted to test:  First, determine if any organs or tissues can produce rational action independent of direct association with the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Second, determine if there is any “ethereal, intangible relation” between separated tissues and organs including the brain.

West’s latest experiment where he injected the decapitated body of Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee with the serum appeared to support both of these hypotheses. The separated head and body both appeared to operate independently as well as actually communicate with one another in some manner. It should be noted that West stored the head in a vat with the pulpy reptile-tissue for preservation while the body was injected with the reanimation serum.


What is the source of artificially nourished tissue of the indescribable tropical reptile? (art by Steve Maschuck)

As previously described, I hypothesize that the reanimation serum is a type of Stem Cell Therapy, which involves injecting living cells into an individual as a sort of immunotherapy. However, the reanimation therapy probably involves foreign stem cells, mixed with the cells of the species being treated with the serum. The successful reanimation of a dead organism would essentially be a pathway to immortality and there is an immortal species that is very closely related to humans on both an immuno- and genetic level and that is the Deep Ones.

The Deep One hybrids are well known to be immortal once they complete their metamorphosis from human to Deep Ones. In fact, depending on if “full” Deep Ones exist, it is possible that humans and Deep Ones are essentially the same species. Even if Deep Ones and humans are separate species they are still very closely related, which means West may be using stem cells from Deep Ones to develop his reanimation serum.


Are Deep One stem cells a key component of Herbert West’s reanimation serum? (illustration by Carrick)

The “nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile” may be an added component to the reanimation serum’s formula, which allows separated body parts to operate on their own volition. Reptiles and amphibians have remarkable regenerative properties as well as utilize pheromones through glandular secretions. The pheromones are used primarily for attracting and selecting mates; however, such chemical communication over distances may be how the separate body parts, say for example a head and its body, can work with one another while separated. So what is this indescribable tropical reptile? While I have no data to support this, it may be possible that this “reptile” is the long-lost race of reptilian beings that inhabit “The Nameless City.” Perhaps a previous Miskatonic University expedition to the nameless city collected and brought back biological samples that were then used to culture the pulpy reptile-tissues that West then used for his experiments.


Reptilian Inhabitant of the Nameless City (by King Ovrats; http://www.deviantart.com)

There is obviously a considerable amount of additional research required into the West reanimation serum to identify the exact composition of the serum itself, test the hypotheses cited above, and answer additional questions that have not yet been raised, such as how do the separated yet functioning body parts survive and live without a constant supply of oxygen for respiration and nutrients for cellular operation. I’m sure the staff of the Miskatonic University Medical School is hard at work on the West serum. Next time we will discuss the science behind Stuart Gordon’s film Herbert West – Reanimator. Thank you – Fred.

The Science of Reanimation, Part 2

Last time we discussed how the brain can survive for up to six minutes after the heart stops.  Cardiac arrest can lead to death due to the fact that the heart is no longer pumping blood throughout the body supplying nutrients and oxygen, specifically to the brain.  Thus, the objective of any reanimating substance is to get the heart beating again to re-supply the brain with nutrients and oxygen.


Herbert West by Menton3 (www.deviantart.com)

There are drugs that can treat varying types of arrhythmias (irregular or abnormal heartbeats) such as epinephrine, atropine and lidocaine. However, at this time there is no medicine that actually works to re-start a stopped heart. Certain medications can make the heart more susceptible to defibrillation, which is re-starting the heart with a specific pulse of electricity. Defibrillation was first demonstrated by two Swiss physiologists in 1899, where they observed that electrical shocks could induce ventricular fibrillation in dogs.

The defibrillator device was invented by William Kouwenhoven in 1930 and was first used on a human in 1947. However, this device could only be used when the chest cavity was open during surgery. It was not until the early 1950’s that the close-chested “paddle” defibrillator was invented. Essentially these devices apply an alternating voltage greater than 1,00 volts on the individual’s chest to re-start the heart.


Paddle Defibrillator in use (www.biology-forums.com)

With this brief history of defibrillation in mind, it is easy to see that over most of Lovecraft’s life the concept of “reanimation” did not appear to be feasible. With the development and refinement of defibrillation as well as other medical procedures, such as artificial respiration, from the 1930’s through the early 21st century, the reanimation of the “dead” does not seem so strange and mysterious today. However, in the early 20th century such concepts were in the realm of science fiction or in Lovecraft’s case horror.

The role of electricity in the operation of the human heart was initially discovered in 1906 with the development of the electrocardiogram by Willem Einthoven in 1924. Again, much of this information was largely unknown to Lovecraft. Thus, with a knowledge of chemistry it made sense that Lovecraft’s mode of reanimation would be some type of therapeutic drug or treatment. The result is Dr. Herbert West’s serum.


Herbert West – Reanimator from H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society

From what we know of reanimation today, that the goal is getting the heart to start beating again as quickly as possible, it is interesting to note that Dr. West’s serum is not injected into the heart but instead, typically in the arm. This is an indication that West’s serum does not act like many of the drugs cited earlier used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. The West serum does not function by re-starting the heart; instead the serum probably kick starts or turns on all of the cells and tissues of the individual. While this does include re-starting the heart (in a number of instances West uses his stethoscope to determine if the individual is now alive), the serum operates on a more cellular yet holistic basis. I hypothesize that the serum actually increases the efficiency of the physiology of the individual’s entire body – circulation, respiration, immunity and nervous systems – all operate at a higher level of efficiency and performance. This would explain the super-human feats that all individuals injected with the serum can do. However, the only apparent limitation associated with the serum is the brain. The serum does not appear to have the ability to repair the damage incurred by the brain between the time of death and the point of reanimation. Additionally, there may be other side effects associated with the serum itself that are largely unknown and not well documented by the doctor. West may have been so obsessed with finding intact bodies that were extremely fresh, thinking that brain damage was the factor responsible for the irrational and violent reaction of the test subject that he may not even have considered that the serum itself may be causing some of the damage to the brain tissue.


Herbert West by 224umi (www.deivantart.com)

So what exactly is the serum? We know that it is species-specific; that a serum designed for humans could not be used on a dog or cat. In fact, West himself thought this high degree of specialization for the serum may have also been race-specific as well. In the chapter Part III: Six Shots by Midnight when West and Cain obtained the body of an African-American boxer who is injected with the serum, the initial lack of response is thought by West to be result of the serum being prepared for “white specimens.” As Leslie S. Klinger notes in The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) this racist sentiment is unjustified for the serum does indeed work on the boxer. This supports the hypothesis that the serum is specific-species. If the serum was based say on blood type then it would work on some individuals and not others.  This is clearly not the case; a human-specific serum should work on all Homo sapiens and not be “race” specific. Variability associated with the results of the serum is largely dependent on the size / weight of the individual as well as how long the brain has been inactive, not race.

In addition to being specific to the individual species being treated, the serum was always being refined and modified by West. In fact, there appear to be three main “phases of progress” associated with the serum. Phase I of the serum is the one described from Part I: From the Dark to Part III: Six Shots by Midnight in Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Phases II and III will be discussed in the next article. However, based on a review of the three identified Phases of the serum and other available information I hypothesize that the serum is a type of Cell Therapy, which involves injecting living cells into an individual as a sort of immunotherapy.


Potential applications for Stem Cell Therapy – is the West serum a type of cell therapy designed to reanimate dead tissue (www.howstuffworks.com)?

An example of cell therapy is injecting T cells into an individual as a means of fighting cancer cells through immunotherapy. More recently, Stem Cell Therapy has been noted as a very promising means of treating neurological or genetic diseases. In the case of West’s serum, the serum can reanimate dead tissues. While some of these cells are obviously the same as those for the individual species being treated (human carrier cells for humans being treated), some other cells are involved in the treatment. What are these “other” cells? This will be discussed, as well as how West modified the serum and treatment in Phases II and III, in the next article. Thank you – Fred.