Successful inter-human allotransplants have a relatively long history, the operative skills were present long before the necessities for post-operative survival were discovered. Rejection and the side effects of preventing rejection (especially infection and nephropathy) were, are, and may always be the key problem.
Several apocryphal accounts of transplants exist well prior to the scientific understanding and advancements that would be necessary for them to have actually occurred. The Chinese physician Pien Ch-iao reportedly exchanged hearts between a man of strong spirit but weak will with one of a man of weak spirit but strong will in an attempt to achieve balance in each man. Roman Catholic mythology reports the third-century saints Damian and Cosmas as replacing the gangrenous leg of the Roman deacon Justinian with the leg of a recently deceased Ethiopian. Most accounts have the saints performing the transplant in the fourth century A.D., decades after their death; some accounts have them only instructing living surgeons who performed the procedure.
More likely accounts exist in the area of skin transplantation. The first reasonable account is of the Indian surgeon Sushruta in the second century B.C., who used autografted skin transplantation in nose reconstruction rhinoplasty. Success or failure of these procedures is not well documented. Centuries later, the Italian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi performed successful skin autografts; he also failed consistently with allografts, offering the first suggestion of rejection centuries before that mechanism could possibly be understood. He attributed it to the "force and power of individuality" in his 1596 work De Curtorum Chirurgia per Insitionem.
The first successful corneal allograft transplant was performed in 1837 in a gazelle model; the first successful human corneal transplant, a keratoplastic operation, was performed by Eduard Zirm in Austria in 1905. Pioneering work in the surgical...