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Joseph Edward Murray

(b. 1919)


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(1919–) American surgeon

Murray was born in Milford, Massachusetts. Educated at Holy Cross College and at Harvard University, he embarked on a career in medicine, specializing in plastic surgery. He worked at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, becoming chief plastic surgeon (1964–86), held a similar position at the Children's Hospital Medical Center, Boston (1972–85), and served as professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School from 1970 to 1986.

Murray was a pioneer of kidney transplantation. In December 1954 he performed the first operation to implant a donor kidney into the pelvis of the recipient and attach it via the ureter to the bladder. Earlier attempts had placed the transplanted organ outside the body cavity, at sites such as the groin and armpit. The patient in Murray's operation was Richard Herrick, who received a kidney from his identical twin, Ronald.

The use of an organ from an identical sibling overcame the great obstacle of transplant surgery, namely rejection of the transplanted organ by the recipient's immune system. By receiving an organ of virtually identical tissue type, this first patient survived for eight years. For patients receiving organs from less closely related donors, the outlook was much worse.

Murray endeavored to improve the survival of the transplanted organ by suppressing the recipient's immune responses immediately prior to the operation. He conducted trials of the drug azathioprine, which killed cells of the immune system and so reduced the ability of the patient's own defense mechanism to reject the ‘foreign’ tissue of a transplanted organ. Azathioprine had been developed by the British researcher, Roy Calne (1930– ), working in collaboration with Murray at Boston. The drug proved to be an effective and much less hazardous alternative to Murray's initial method of using a massive dose of x-rays to suppress the recipient's immune system. (Azathioprine has now been superseded by cyclosporine, also developed by Calne.)

For his work in developing fundamental techniques in transplantation surgery, Murray was awarded the 1990 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, jointly with E. Donnall Thomas.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.


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