Joseph E. Murray Biography (1919-)


Joseph Edward Murray was born 1919 in Massachusetts, the son of William Andrew Murray and Mary DePasquale Murray. He earned an A.B. in 1940 from Holy Cross College and then went on to Harvard University to earn his medical degree in 1943. His early work specialized in plastic surgery, in particular reconstructive surgery of the eye and hand. It was a training that would stand Murrayin good stead with his later research, for one of the major problems plasticsurgeons had to deal with was the rejection of skin grafts by the immune system. Murray and other plastic surgeons soon learned that grafts would take between identical twins.

In the late 1940s, Murray became drawn to the work of a team of doctors at Brigham Hospital who were studying end-stage renal disease, and one of the directions their researches was taking was transplantation. Research had been progressing over the past half century on kidney transplants in dogs, but therehad never been a successful human transplant. These Harvard researchers, ledby John Merrill and David Hume, had been doing experiments transplanting kidneys from cadavers onto the thigh of patients with kidney failure, grafting the third kidney to the femoral vessel of the recipient. One such thigh transplant functioned for about six months, enough time to allow the patient's own kidneys to heal and resume functioning. Kidney dialysis was also being perfected at this time, but Murray felt that it was only a temporary solution. He developed a surgical technique to connect the blood vessels of the donor kidneywith those in the abdomen of the recipient, implanting the ureter directly into the urinary bladder.

The new procedure required the right patient; he or she would have to be oneof a pair of identical twins with the other twin willing and able to donate akidney, thus avoiding rejection by the immune system of the recipient. Suchan opportunity came in 1954 when the Herrick brothers turned up at Brigham Hospital. The subsequent operation lasted five and one-half hours and was an immediate success. Richard Herrick lived another seven years on the transplanted kidney before dying of heart failure.

Murray continued to perform more successful operations on identical twins, including Edith Helm, who went on to have children and grandchildren, but the real problem now became how to suppress the immune reaction so that the operation would be more generally available. At first Murray and other researcherstried total body X rays and infusions of bone marrow from the donor to adaptthe recipient's immune system. In most cases the transplants functioned for several weeks, but there were many failures. Finally in 1959, after a course of total body X rays, a non-identical twin survived a kidney transplant from his brother and went on to lead a normal life. Later in 1959 two Boston hematologists, William Dameshek and Robert Schwartz, demonstrated that the compound6-mercaptopurine would prevent a host animal from rejecting a foreign protein. This was the opening Murray was looking for, and working with chemists andother researchers, Murray developed a drug regimen to suppress the immune system and thus allow an organ from a non-related donor to be accepted by the recipient's body. In 1962 Murray successfully completed the first organ transplant from a cadaver.

Murray's successes became known worldwide and inspired other surgeons to experiment with a variety of organ transplants. With the development of less toxic immune suppressants such as azathioprine, transplants became a growth industry with registries for organs documented worldwide. A related medical benefit was the increase in research into the rejection phenomenon, and thus into the functioning of the human immune system, research that has proved invaluable with the onset of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

After this work on renal transplants, Murray went back to his first love, plastic surgery, developing ways to repair inborn facial defects in children. Heheaded the plastic surgery divisions of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital from 1951-1986 and Children's Hospital Medical Center from 1972-1985, and he has alsobeen a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School since 1970. Murray wasthe recipient of the Gold Medal from the International Society of Surgeons in 1963. Four years after retiring from surgery, but not from administrative duties at Brigham Hospital, Murray was awarded the Nobel Prize for physiologyor medicine along with E. Donnall Thomas, whose work in bone marrow transplants was closely related to Murray's research. By tackling the difficult problem of organ transplants, he provided a definitive solution to end-stage renaldisease as well as stimulating worldwide research into immunology. His work in craniofacial reconstruction as a plastic surgeon has not only mended and saved lives, but also enlarged the scope and diversity of plastic surgery.

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