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Doctor Who Performed First Successful Organ Transplant Dies At 93

Doctor Who Performed First Successful Organ Transplant Dies At 93
11/27/2012 8:24 AM ET

Dr. Joseph E Murray, who performed the world's first successful transplant of a human organ and won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work, has died at the age of 93.

Dr. Murray died on Monday at Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital - now called Brigham and Women's Hospital - where he performed the ground-breaking surgery, four days after suffering a hemorrhagic stroke at his home in Wellesley, news agencies reported.

It was in December 1954 that Dr. Murray successfully transplanted a kidney between identical twins -- Richard and Ronald Herrick -- for the first time, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 36 years later.

In 1990, he shared the coveted prize with E. Donnall Thomas "for their discoveries that have enabled the development of organ and cell transplantation into a method for the treatment of human disease."

The idea to transplant organs from one human being to another was raised already during ancient times, but it was Dr. Murray who discovered how rejection following organ transplantation in man could be mastered. Using the new surgical techniques, he took the healthy kidney of 23-year-old Ronald Herrick from Massachusetts and transplanted it into his identical twin, Richard, who was dying of chronic nephritis. The historical transplant helped young Richard extend his lifespan for another eight years.

In 1962, with the advent of cytotoxic anti-rejection drugs such as azathioprine, he completed the first successful organ transplant from an unrelated donor. He also pioneered transplantation of kidneys obtained from deceased persons and could show that patients with terminal renal insufficiency could be cured. The field was then open for transplantation of other organs such as liver, pancreas and heart, which changed the lives of tens of thousands of severely ill patients who either can be cured or be given a decent life when other treatment methods fail.

Throughout the following years, Dr. Murray became an international leader in the study of transplantation biology, the use of immunosuppressive agents, and studies on the mechanisms of rejection.

Tens of thousands of kidney transplantations are performed in the world each year, and the graft survival has gradually improved and is today about 80 percent of transplanted kidneys.

Dr. Murray served as chief plastic surgeon at Children's Hospital Boston from 1972-1985 and retired as Professor of Surgery Emeritus in 1986 from Harvard Medical School, the two medical institutions to which he donated his share of the $703,000 Nobel award.

He is survived by his wife Virginia "Bobby" Link, and six children.

Dr. Murray was a deeply religious man. "If alert, we can detect new problems to solve, new paths to investigate," Dr. Murray said on what his life taught him as a surgeon-scientist.

"I'd like to keep open the option for another lifetime as a surgeon-scientist," he concludes his autobiography titled "Surgery of the Soul."

by RTT Staff Writer

For comments and feedback: editorial@rttnews.com

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