Noble Prize Winner And Transplant Pioneer Dr. Joseph Murray Dies, 93

By Staff Reporter on November 27, 2012 2:23 PM EST

Dr. Joseph E. Murray
Dr. Joseph E. Murray (Photo: Reuters)

Nobel Prize winner Dr. Joseph E. Murray passed away after suffering a stroke in his Boston home on Thanksgiving day. He was confirmed dead at the Brigham and Women's Hospital on Monday. Dr. Murray was 93.

In December 1954, Dr. Murray and his associates at Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital met 23-year-old Richard Herrick, who was facing end-stage kidney failure. At the time, there had never been a successful human organ transplant. However, an ideal organ match with Richard Herrick's identical twin brother, Ronald Herrick, made the landmark event possible.

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The twin brothers shared an identical genetic background which allowed the doctors to solve the problem of immune system rejection of foreign tissue. The first operation of its kind, Richard lived to marry a nurse he met at the hospital, have two children, and lived another eight years.

Through his career, Dr. Murray would perform more transplants on identical twins and even moved on to kidney transplants between relatives to learn methods of immune rejection suppression. By 1962, Murray and his team finally completed the first organ transplant from an unrelated donor.

When Murray first reported his breakthroughs, ethicists and religious leaders criticized his work and believed Murray was "playing God" for performing the major organ transplants on human beings.

Eventually, Dr. Joseph E. Murray received his Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 alongside Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who won for his work in bone marrow transplants.

After winning the Nobel prize, Murray reflected, "Kidney transplants seem so routine now. But the first one was like Lindbergh's flight across the ocean."

Dr. Joseph Murray is survived by his wife, six children, and 18 grandchildren.

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