Transplant Pioneer Thomas E. Starzl Wins Institute of Medicine's 2009 Lienhard Award

Issue Date: 
October 19, 2009
Thomas E. StarzlThomas E. Starzl

Thomas E. Starzl, Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery in the  University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine and director emeritus of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, was presented with the 2009 Gustav O. Lienhard Award at the Institute of Medicine’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 12. Known as “the father of transplantation,” Starzl was selected for his role in pioneering and advancing transplantation science.

Each year, the award is presented to an individual to recognize his or her outstanding achievement in improving health care services in the United States. The award consists of a medal and $25,000 and is funded by an endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Thomas Starzl transformed the field of transplantation as we knew it. Through his leadership and perseverance, he created what is now one of the oldest and strongest transplant programs in the world,” said Abhinav Humar, clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute and division chief of transplant surgery at UPMC. “It is fitting that he be recognized by the Institute of Medicine with this prestigious honor.”

Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 and the first successful liver transplant in 1967, both while at the University of Colorado. In 1980, he introduced the

antirejection medications antilymphocyte globulin and cyclosporine, which became the accepted form of treatment for patients with end-stage liver, kidney and heart disease.

In 1981, Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine as a professor of surgery and led the team of surgeons who performed Pittsburgh’s first liver transplant. Thirty liver transplants were performed that year, launching the liver transplant program—the only one in the nation at the time.

In 1989, Starzl announced the first-time use of FK506 (tacrolimus) as a more effective anti-rejection agent. FK506 greatly improved patient and graft survival rates for liver and other organ transplants and made intestinal transplantation possible for the first time. In 1994, FK506 was approved for clinical use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Dr. Starzl has applied his talents and skills to everything that he has touched from the earliest days of his career—first as a neuroscientist, then as a surgeon, and, most importantly, as the pioneering developer of organ transplantation as a safe and effective remedy for many diseases and disorders. His imagination, courage, intellectual energy, and passion have changed the lives of countless patients,” said Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Starzl attended Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, where he earned a doctoral degree in neurophysiology and a medical degree with distinction in 1952. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1999. Among Starzl’s other honors were his receipt of the the 2004 National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush, the David M. Hume Memorial Award from the National Kidney Foundation, the Brookdale Award in Medicine from the American Medical Association, the Rhoads Medal from the American Philosophical Society, and 24 honorary doctorates from universities worldwide.