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Dr. Tuhina Mishra , Intern

Grant Government Medical College, Mumbai

The year was 1954, and the rock n’ roll craze had begun. Elvis Presley recorded and released his debut single, “That’s All Right (Mama),” at Sun Records in Memphis, Joe Turner released “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” and Bill Haley and the Comets recorded their famous single, “Rock Around Clock.” On December 23, 1954, a first-of-its-kind, life-saving surgery took place in Boston, MA that opened the door to an important new era in medicine. The first successful human organ transplant, performed by Joseph E. Murray, MD, David Hume, MD and their team at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (later Brigham and Women’s Hospital) would later become the preeminent therapy for terminal and irreversible organ failure. The team took a kidney from one living identical twin, 23-year-old Ronald Herrick, and implanted it in his identical twin brother Richard, who had end-stage kidney failure. Murray later wrote about that fateful day: “There was a collective hush in the operating room as blood began to flow into the implanted kidney and urine began to flow out of it. It was a moment I can never forget.” Throughout the next few years, Murray’s team at Brigham performed several more successful kidney transplants on identical twins, and also began to transplant kidneys between people who were not genetically identical, using various techniques to fight tissue rejection.

Murray had become fascinated by transplants during his time as a surgeon 10 years prior to this, in the US Army during World War II. He was assigned to Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania while awaiting overseas duty, where the hospital performed reconstructive surgery on troops who had been injured in battle. Burn patients, who were often treated with skin grafts from other people, intrigued Murray. His experiences in helping a 22-year-old airman, Charles Woods, survive a devastating plane crash that resulted in third-degree burns over 70% of his body, sealed Murray’s fate as a transplant innovator. Murray worked as part of a surgical team over two years and 24 operations, to reconstruct the airman’s badly damaged face and hands, by taking an organ—in this case, skin—from one person and transplanted it to another. 

Murray returned from the war to the Brigham and Harvard Medical School to help find a cure for chronic kidney failure. In 1990, Murray was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, for discovering how rejection following human organ transplantation could be mastered.

Today, thanks to Murray’s pioneering work, a wide variety of critical organs and tissues can be successfully transplanted. By the late 1960s, liver, heart, and pancreas transplants were successfully performed, while lung and intestinal transplant procedures began in the 1980s, following advances in immunosuppression therapy. Other organs that are successfully transplanted include heart valves, corneas, middle ears, skin, bones, bone marrow, connective tissue, and vascularized composite allograft (several structures that may include skin, bone, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue).

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