Dr. Thomas Starzl was a leading researcher on anti-rejection drugs

Dr. Thomas Starzl, who pioneered liver transplant surgery in the 1960s and was a leading researcher into anti-rejection drugs, has died. He was 90.

The University of Pittsburgh, speaking on behalf of Dr. Starzl’s family, said the renowned doctor died on Saturday at his home in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 and the world’s first successful liver transplant in 1967, and pioneered kidney transplantation from cadavers. He later perfected the process by using identical twins and, eventually, other blood relatives as donors.

Since Dr. Starzl’s first successful liver transplant, thousands of lives have been saved by similar operations. “We regard him as the father of transplantation,” said Dr. Abhinav Humar, clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. “His legacy in transplantation is hard to put into words it’s really immense.”

Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1981 as professor of surgery, where his studies on the anti—rejection drug cyclosporin transformed transplantation from an experimental procedure into one that gave patients a hope they could survive an otherwise fatal organ failure.

It was his development of cyclosporin in combination with steroids that offered a solution to organ rejection.

Until 1991, Dr. Starzl served as chief of transplant services at UPMC, then was named director of the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, where he continued research on a process he called chimerism, based on a 1992 paper he wrote on the theory that new organs and old bodies “learn” to co-exist without immunosupression drugs.

The institute was renamed inhis honour in 1996, and he continued as its director.

In his 1992 autobiography, The Puzzle People — Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon, Dr. Starzl said he actually hated performing surgery and was sickened with fear each time he prepared for an operation. “I was striving for liberation my whole life,” he said in an interview.

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