University of Pittsburgh
November 27, 2005

Pitt Transplant Pioneer Thomas E. Starzl to Receive President's National Medal of Science

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PITTSBURGH-University of Pittsburgh transplant pioneer Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph. D., has been named recipient of the 2004 National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor. Dr. Starzl, distinguished service professor of surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director emeritus, Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), and seven other medal laureates will receive the awards from President George W. Bush in a White House ceremony in the near future.

Dr. Starzl's groundbreaking work in organ transplantation has spanned more than four decades and has earned Dr. Starzl the distinction as the father of transplantation, and Pittsburgh the moniker transplant capital of the world.

"Dr. Starzl's selection for this high honor is a well-deserved tribute to a life characterized by high achievement and extraordinary impact," said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. "He has been called the greatest surgeon of the twentieth century and also has been identified as the world's most-cited scientist in the broad field of clinical medicine. He first led pioneering efforts that utilized anti-rejection drugs to make human organ transplantation possible and then, in an amazing development, led equally significant research efforts to decrease the long-term dependency of organ recipients on those same drugs. What he has contributed to the cause of human health is immeasurable and everyone at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is proud that Dr. Starzl has done much of his path-breaking work here," Nordenberg said.

Dr. Starzl performed the world's first liver transplant in 1963 while at the University of Colorado. Four years later, he performed the first successful liver transplant. In 1980, he brought the field a step forward when he introduced the new anti-rejection medications anti-lymphocyte globulin and cyclosporine, which became the accepted transplant regimen for patients with liver, kidney and heart failure.

In 1981, Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and led the team of surgeons who performed the city's first liver transplant. Thirty liver transplants were performed that year, launching the university's liver transplant program - the only one in the nation at the time - and invigorating the university's heart and kidney transplant programs. In 1989, Dr. Starzl introduced the anti-rejection medication FK506, which markedly increased survival rates for liver and other organ transplants and led the way to other successful types of organ transplants, including pancreas, lung and intestine.

Today, Dr. Starzl remains active in research, mapping the relationship between donor and recipient cells and developing new therapeutic strategies to achieve immune tolerance after transplantation with a much lower risk of side effects from immunosuppressive therapy.

"No one is more deserving of being recognized with the 2004 National Medal of Science than Dr. Thomas Starzl, including the Nobel laureates who share this year's White House honor with him," said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

"Simply put," he continued, "Dr.Starzl was-and is-an innovator whose scientific vision has always been well ahead of his time. Dr. Starzl spearheaded the transformation of organ transplantation from an intriguing research concept to a relatively routine clinical reality, laying the groundwork for an entirely new field of medicine. In the process, he also has illuminated fundamental immunologic mechanisms that have ramifications far beyond his own field. And not incidentally, Dr. Starzl has trained many of the physicians who now lead organ transplantation programs worldwide. We are honored that Dr. Starzl chose to make his long-term academic home at the University of Pittsburgh," Dr. Levine said.

Established by Congress in 1959, the National Medal of Science is the nation's highest honor for American scientists and is awarded annually by the President of the United States to individuals "deserving of special recognition for their outstanding contributions to knowledge."