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Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD, transformed thousands of lives through advances in organ transplant that many thought weren't possible. He was a genius and a pioneer, but it was his passion for saving lives through transplant that defines him.
From his landmark success with immunosuppression until his death in 2017, Dr. Starzl worked to solve the many puzzles of organ transplantation.
In 1981, Dr. Starzl came to Pittsburgh, Pa., to work at the School of Medicine. He led a team of surgeons who performed Pittsburgh’s first liver transplant. The team went on to do 30 liver transplants that year.
UPMC already had a kidney transplant program and was the site of Pa.’s first heart transplant.
But Dr. Starzl brought two crucial aspects to UPMC's transplant programs:
Before UPMC, Dr. Starzl worked at the University of Colorado where he did the world’s first liver transplant.
He also did much of the lab research to learn the roadblocks to transplant success. The toughest challenge was rejection when the immune system attacks a donor organ as it would a foreign invader like bacteria.
By the mid-1960s, surgeons at U.C. and other advanced programs had the skills to transplant livers. But the anti-rejection drugs of the day weren’t effective enough.
The high doses of steroids to suppress the immune system could have severe side effects, such as:
Those barriers fell in 1979 with the approved new anti-rejection drug, cyclosporine. Dr. Starzl was one of the first doctors to test the new drug in humans.
The drug was a resounding improvement — first bettering liver transplant success rates and then heart and other solid organ transplants.
While building the world’s largest liver transplant program and later directing the Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, Dr. Starzl continued researching organ rejection.
In 1989, Dr. Starzl and his team announced the results of a trial of the new anti-rejection drug FK506. It was another leap forward.
The new drug:
Dr. Starzl retired from surgery and clinical service in 1991. But he continued his research and served as Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Children's Hospital's main campus is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. Our main hospital address is:
UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
One Children’s Hospital Way
4401 Penn Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
In addition to the main hospital, Children's has many convenient locations in other neighborhoods throughout the greater Pittsburgh region.
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Interested in giving to Children's Hospital? Support the hospital by making a donation online, joining our Heroes in Healing monthly donor program, or visiting our site to learn about the other ways you can give back.