Joseph E. Murray is a 1990 Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discoveries concerning organ and cell transplantation in the treatment of human disease.
Dr. Murray's initial interest in science began when he was a small boy. "From earliest memory I wanted to be a surgeon, possibly influenced by the qualities of our family doctor who cared for our childhood ailments. As a second year high school chemistry student, I still have a vivid memory of my excitement when I first saw a chart of the periodic table of elements. The order in the universe seemed miraculous, and I wanted to study and learn as much as possible about the natural sciences."
Working with burn victims as a doctor during World War 11 inspired Dr. Murray to gear his medical career towards tissue and organ transplantation. He frequently observed how skin taken from one soldier to replace the badly burned skin of another soldier would gradually be rejected by the burned soldier's body. Dr. Murray was intent on discovering why this occurred. By observing a colleague successfully trade sections of skin between a pair of identical human twins, Dr. Murray became encouraged to study a similar procedure with human organs.
Although other researchers were convinced that organ transplantation would never be physically possible, Dr. Murray vigorously pursued its achievement. His efforts resulted in the first successful transplantation of a kidney from one dog to another. Several years later, he performed the first successful kidney transplant between identical twins.
Following development of anti-rejection drugs, which allowed an organ recipient's body to accept another person's donated organ, Dr. Murray showed that it was possible to transplant organs between non-identical relatives and from deceased persons to the living.
Dr. Murray's perseverance paid off. Today about 20,000 kidneys are transplanted each year, providing many people with a new chance for a long, healthy life.
Adapted from Curiosity is the Key to Discovery: The Story of How Nobel Laureates Entered the World of Science, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1992
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