Nobel-winning transplant pioneer dies at 93

Murray performed the first-ever successful kidney transplant

Topics: Surgery, Service Lines

November 27, 2012

Nobel-laureate Joseph Murray—the first surgeon to perform a successful kidney transplant—died of a stroke this week at the age of 93.

The Harvard Medical School graduate developed an interest in tissue transplants while working with military service personnel injured in World War II, but mentors advised him to abandon the field because organ transplantation seemed impossible. Nonetheless, he went on to investigate the possibility with colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital, beginning kidney transplants in dogs.

The Institute of Medicine inductee completed the first successful human organ transplant in 1954, taking a kidney from a 23-year-old man and implanting it in his sick identical twin. Murray also pioneered the first live-donor organ transplant into a non-identical recipient in 1959, and the first transplant using a cadaver kidney in 1962.

In addition, Murray spent much of his career researching additional transplant techniques and methods to suppress patients' immune responses that can cause organ rejections. In 1990, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his pioneering research and techniques.

"The world is a better place because of all Dr. Murray has given," Brigham and Women's Hospital President Elizabeth Nabel said in a statement, adding, "His legacy will forever endure in our hearts and in every patient who has received the gift of life through transplantation."

According to Brigham and Women's, more than 600,000 patients worldwide have received organ transplants since Murray's innovation (Slosson, Reuters, 11/26; Dean, New York Times, 11/27).

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