The son of an Iowa newspaper editor and a nurse, Starzl planned to become a priest. But when his mother died from cancer, he turned instead to medicine. After getting his medical degree, he studied surgery. At the University of Colorado (1962-1981), he worked in a growing medical field: transplants. Starzl spent a lot of time studying livers: once someone’s liver failed, they were doomed to quickly die. He performed the first human liver transplant in 1963. As early failures in the procedures gave way to success, the big problem surgeons found was transplant rejection; in the 1970s, Starzl worked on that problem; he established that cyclosporine (and, later, other drugs) would keep the body from rejecting transplanted tissues. In 1981, he moved to the University of Pittsburgh and developed protocols to find, preserve, and transplant organs, and studied ways to stop or reverse inherited metabolic diseases (paving the way for gene therapies). Starzl was so prolific, the Institute for Scientific Information found in 1999 that Starzl’s work had been cited by other researchers more than any other researcher in the world. Starzl retired from surgery in 1991, and spent his time continuing his research, and teaching. Among other honors, he was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2004 by President George W. Bush, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences in 2016. Dr. Starzl died at his home in Pittsburgh on March 4, at 90.
From This is True for 5 March 2017