10 March 2017

In memory of Thomas E. Starzl, the “father of transplantation”

In memory of Thomas E. Starzl, the “father of transplantation”

Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, known as the “father of transplantation” for his role in pioneering and advancing organ transplantation from a risky, rare procedure to an accessible surgery for the neediest patients, died peacefully Saturday, March 4, 2017, at his home in Pittsburgh.  Dr. Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 and the first successful liver transplant in 1967, both while at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1981 as professor of surgery, and led the team of surgeons who performed Pittsburgh’s first liver transplant. Thirty liver transplants were performed that year, launching the liver transplant program—the only one in the nation at the time. Dr. Starzl served as chief of transplantation services at Presbyterian University Hospital (now UPMC Presbyterian), Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (now Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC) and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh, overseeing the largest and busiest transplant program in the world. He then assumed the title of director of the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, which was renamed the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute in 1996. Since 1996, Dr. Starzl held the titles of Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh and director emeritus of UPMC’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.

A major focus of Dr. Starzl’s later research was transplant tolerance and chimerism—the existence of cells from both the donor and recipient. His work in this area offered significant contributions to the understanding of transplant immunology, particularly with respect to how and why organs are accepted. Dr. Starzl was the recipient of more than 200 awards and 26 honorary doctorates from universities around the world. In 1999, ISI identified him as the most cited scientist in the field of clinical medicine, a measure of his work’s lasting influence and utility.

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