AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Wednesday 28 November 2012
Last update 28 November 2012 12:58 am
WASHINGTON: Dr. Joseph Murray, who won the Nobel Prize for performing the first-ever successful organ transplant, died late Monday 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 Dec. 23, 1954, the newspaper reported.
The hospital was not immediately able to confirm the report. 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.
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 later focused on plastic surgery, specifically the repair of facial defects in children. He led Brigham’s plastic surgery department for almost four decades and the division at Children’s Hospital Medical Center from 1972 to 1985, according to the Globe.
“My life as a surgeon-scientist, combining humanity and science, has been fantastically rewarding,” Murray wrote in the Nobel autobiography.
“In our daily patients we witness human nature in the raw — fear, despair, courage, understanding, hope, resignation, heroism. If alert, we can detect new problems to solve, new paths to investigate.”
Murray is survived by his wife, three sons, three daughters and 18 grandchildren, the Globe said.