Organ transplant pioneer dies at age 93

Nov. 27, 2012 at 2:05 AM
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BOSTON, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Dr. Joseph E. Murray, a pioneer of organ transplants that saved 600,000 lives worldwide, died in a Boston hospital after he suffered a stroke Thanksgiving.

Murray, a Nobel laureate for his work in organ transplants, conducted the first successful organ transplant Dec. 23, 1954, taking the healthy kidney of Ronald Herrick and transplanting it into the donor's dying identical twin, Richard, at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, The Boston Globe reported.

After the more than 5-hour operation, Murray and his team saved the man's life and later he also worked on medications that help keep a transplant patient from rejecting the organ.

A deeply religious Catholic, Murray, his wife and their six children prayed together on their knees the night before the historic surgery, family members said.

Murray was also credited with the first successful transplantation of a kidney from a non-identical twin and from a cadaver.

By the early 1960s, top scientists investigating immunosuppressive drugs came to Boston to work with Murray where they tailored the drug Imuran for use in transplants. By 1965, patients with kidney diseases who received a kidney transplant from an unrelated donor reached 65 percent, the Globe said.

Murray, along with Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, a pioneer in bone marrow transplants, shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990.

Murray's specialty was actually plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery, and he was credited with several advances in those fields.

The physician was a surgical intern at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital before joining the Army Medical Corps in 1944. He was stationed at Valley Forge General Hospital outside Philadelphia for three years where he reconstructed the hands and faces of soldiers disfigured from combat during World War II.

After the war, several prominent scientists in immunology said transplants were an impossibility and a waste of time, while others said a surgeon who extracted a donor organ from a healthy person violated the most basic principle of medicine: First, do no harm.

After two years of experiments on animals, Murray perfected a surgical technique for implanting a kidney.

"People ask, 'Why did we keep on when there was so many failures?'" he said during his Nobel interview. "Most of (the patients) were young, in their early 20s. The families knew that we were experimenting. And even though they didn't expect success, they said, 'It may not help us but it may help someone in the future."

Murray is survived by his wife, three sons, three daughters and 18 grandchildren.

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