News From the College

Dr. Thomas Starzl, the “Father of Transplantation,” passes away


Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD, FACS, known as the “father of transplantation” for his role as the first surgeon to perform a successful human liver transplant and for developing techniques for safe, standardized surgery in the field of transplantation, died March 4 at his home in Pittsburgh, PA. He was 90 years old.

After nearly a decade of laboratory research and surgical practice at institutions such as Northwestern Medical School, Chicago, IL, and Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, Dr. Starzl performed the world’s first successful liver transplant while practicing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in 1967. This achievement came at a time when the prevailing medical opinion on the feasibility of liver transplants was pessimistic, but Dr. Starzl’s monumental success led to a newfound clinical interest in the possibilities of allogenic human transplantation. In 1980, he introduced anti-lymphocyte globulin and cyclosporine to his previous development of azathioprine and corticosteroid immunosuppression to prevent organ rejection. It was this advancement that moved organ transplantation from being considered an experimental to a clinically accepted treatment modality.

Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1981 as professor of surgery; there, he launched the first liver transplant program in the U.S. Though he retired from clinical and surgical service in 1991 after serving as chief of transplantation services at various Pittsburgh hospitals, he remained at the University of Pittsburgh as distinguished service professor of surgery and director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.

Read about Dr. Starzl’s storied career and a statement from his family at For a more thorough account of Dr. Starzl’s accomplishments, visit the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Thomas E. Starzl website at

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