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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences 

Pitt’s Biomedical Science Tower Being Renamed In Honor Of Dr. Thomas Starzl

Chancellor Nordenberg makes surprise announcement as two-day tribute to Starzl gets under way

PITTSBURGH, March 10, 2006 — At a small gathering today that included Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D., members of his family, and some of his closest colleagues, a number of whom had traveled from other parts of the world, University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg made a surprise announcement: Pitt’s first Biomedical Science Tower (BST), one of the University’s premier research buildings, will be renamed in honor of Dr. Starzl, the liver transplant pioneer who has made the University his academic home for more than 25 years.

The BST – a building of nine floors straddling Lothrop, Darragh and Terrace streets – will now be known as the Thomas E. Starzl Biomedical Science Tower. Built in 1990, it houses the laboratories for 21 departments and programs, including an entire floor of laboratories devoted to the research of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute .

“When the Biomedical Science Tower was built, it was hailed as a tangible symbol of our University’s commitment to scientific discoveries that would have vast benefits to humanity. That tower soon will bear the name of an extraordinary surgeon and scientist whose life’s work has saved and enhanced countless lives, whose achievements are a monument to both exceptional talent and uncompromising commitment, and whose vision continues to guide and inspire new generations of clinicians and researchers,” said Chancellor Nordenberg.

Chancellor Nordenberg delivered the news during a private luncheon earlier today, on the eve of Dr. Starzl’s 80th birthday and on the first of two days of celebratory events honoring his contributions that have advanced science, defined an entirely new field of medicine, and provided so many with a second chance at life. Colleagues, former faculty and fellows he trained in the specialty of transplant surgery are among the 400 guests attending the two-day tribute. Former patients of Dr. Starzl, including the world’s longest surviving kidney and liver transplant recipients, also will be taking part in the “Double Celebration,” honoring his 80-year birthday milestone and his selection as recipient of the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor. Dr. Starzl was presented with the National Medal of Science by President George W. Bush at a White House East Room ceremony on Feb.13, “for his pioneering work in liver transplantation and his discoveries in immunosuppressive medications that advanced the field of organ transplantation.”

“Tom Starzl’s life’s work – which is far from being complete – exemplifies the important connection between the basic and clinical sciences. Each of his clinical advances was rooted in basic science, but they also brought to bear new basic science concepts that sustained progress in transplantation or new fields altogether. In short, his influence has and continues to have reach beyond the world of transplantation. It is fitting that the Biomedical Science Tower, with its myriad of research programs, ranging from neurology to molecular genetics, be named for someone whose impact has been so all-encompassing,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, health sciences, and dean, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh.

Known to many as the “Father of Transplantation,” Dr. Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 and the world’s first successful liver transplant in 1967, both at the University of Colorado. In 1980, he brought the field a huge step forward when he introduced the anti-rejection medications anti-lymphocyte globulin and cyclosporine. When, in 1981, Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he refined this approach, which soon became the accepted transplant regimen for patients with irreversible liver, kidney and heart failure.

During Dr. Starzl’s first year at Pitt, 30 liver transplants were performed, launching the University’s liver transplant program – the only one in the nation at the time – and invigorating the University’s heart and kidney transplant programs. That year also spawned more than 25 years of major advances by Dr. Starzl and Pitt researchers, the impact of these still evident today. Principal among these advances was the development of the anti-rejection drug FK-506, first reported in 1989, which markedly increased survival rates for all types of organ transplants; allowed, for the first time, successful small intestine transplants; and, because of fewer side effects, greatly improved the quality of life of children.

Today, Dr. Starzl, Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery and director emeritus of the Starzl Institute, remains active in research, exploring the use of animal organs to address the critical shortage of human organs for transplantation, seeking to understand the mechanisms of immune tolerance by mapping the relationship between donor and recipient cells, and developing new therapeutic strategies that aim to free patients of the need for life-long immunosuppression.

“Thomas Starzl has made some of medical science’s most important discoveries and contributions. Whether by pioneering new techniques in surgery or organ preservation or introducing new immunosuppressive approaches or ways of thinking about the immune response, he has left his indelible mark. He is an inspiration to both young and senior investigators alike. I am as much in awe of Tom Starzl now as I was as a surgical research fellow back in 1987,” commented Timothy R. Billiar, M.D., George V. Foster Professor and Chair of Surgery.

University officials will publicly announce the renaming of the BST at a reception tonight in Alumni Hall, which follows the Thomas E. Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology Lecture, being given by Nancy Ascher, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. A scientific symposium, “Transplant Tolerance: The Challenges Ahead,” will be held on Saturday in Pitt’s Alumni Hall.

It is expected that a formal ceremony re-dedicating the Biomedical Science Tower in Dr. Starzl’s name will be held in June, in conjunction with the annual meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees.

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