Nobel Prize-winning organ transplant pioneer Joseph Murray dies at 93
Dr. Joseph Murray, who won the Nobel Prize for performing the first successful organ transplant, has died at the age of 93, according to the Boston Globe.
After suffering a stroke Thursday, Murray passed away at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he had performed the landmark kidney transplant on Ronald and Richard Herrick on December 23, 1954, the newspaper reported.
The hospital was not immediately able to confirm the report.
Born on April 1, 1919 in Milford, Massachusetts, Murray traced his interest in the emerging science of transplants to the three years he spent on the surgical ward of an army hospital in Pennsylvania during World War II.
There surgeons would often treat severely burned soldiers with skin grafts from cadavers as a temporary measure.
“The slow rejection of the foreign skin grafts fascinated me. How could the host distinguish another person’s skin from his own?” Murray would later write in an autobiographical essay published by the Nobel committee.
Murray learned that the chief plastic surgeon, Colonel James Brown, had earlier carried out a skin graft on identical twins in which the recipient’s body had accepted the foreign tissue rather than instinctively attacking it.
“This was the impetus to my study of organ transplantation,” Murray wrote.
The prospect of transplanting organs from one living patient to another was controversial from the beginning, with critics viewing it as a violation of nature that endangered both the donor and the recipient.
But the public started coming around to the procedure after Murray’s historic operation in 1954, when he transplanted a kidney from Ronald Herrick to his identical twin brother Richard, extending his life by eight years.
In those eight years, Herrick married his post-operative nurse, had two children and toasted his brother for “the extra drink,” the Globe reported. Ronald Herrick only passed away in 2010.
In the 1960s Murray helped to develop the drug Imuran, which suppressed the immune system to allow patients to accept transplants from unrelated donors.
He won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1990, sharing the honor with E. Donnall Thomas, who pioneered bone marrow transplants.
Their discoveries have been used to cure or provide a decent life for tens of thousands of severely ill patients.
Murray is survived by his wife, three sons, three daughters and 18 grandchildren, the Globe said.