Photo of Thomas E. Starzl

Thomas E. Starzl

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his pioneering work in liver transplantation and his discoveries in immunosuppressive medication that advanced the field of organ transplantation.

Thomas Starzl on pioneering transplantation

In the United States today, approximately 6,000 people receive life-saving liver transplants every year. This breakthrough procedure, and in fact many of the innovative techniques that have made helped shape modern medicine by making transplantation possible, are products of the work of Thomas Starzl, one of the most prolific physicians of our time.

Starzl’s sharp blade was guided by his keen mind, and a deep passion and intensity for his work. Sometimes criticized in the early years of liver transplantation for performing on the sickest patients a procedure with such a low probability of success, Starzl’s dogged approach was vindicated after new drugs that suppressed the immune system’s ability to reject transplants – applications that he helped developed – began increasing the a transplant’s odds of success. Dr. Byers Shaw, chief surgeon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said of the first time he witnessed Starzl perform a liver transplant, “that’s when I witnessed my first miracle.”

Starzl earned a Ph.D and an M.D. from Northwestern University Medical School in 1952, and completed his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He is one of the most oft-cited researchers in the world.

By Jeremy Gordon