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Penn’s Cooper to be Awarded Thomas E. Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology

PITTSBURGH, April 8, 2013 – A professor of surgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who has made innovative contributions to lung transplantation will receive the 2013 Thomas E. Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology, an annual award that honors transplantation icon Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D.
Joel D. Cooper, M.D., is an internationally recognized surgeon-scientist who has been at the forefront of both experimental and clinical lung transplantation for more than 30 years. His contributions made clinical lung transplantation possible by advancing the understanding of the role of immunosuppression in wound healing and introducing new surgical techniques.
The Starzl Award presentation and a lecture by Dr. Cooper, titled “The Surgeon’s Laboratory,” are scheduled for 4 p.m., Wednesday, April 10, in Lecture Room 6, Scaife Hall, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Dr. Cooper initiated a clinical lung transplantation program at Toronto General Hospital in 1983 and his team was the first to achieve reproducible long-term success, which was reported in a landmark article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1986. He then went on to direct a series of experiments in the laboratory to devise and perfect the en-bloc double lung transplant technique. The Toronto Group carried out the first successful clinical double lung transplants in 1986 and 1987. Later, Dr. Cooper modified this procedure to a simpler one—bilateral, sequential, single-lung transplantation—that was performed as treatment of cystic fibrosis, emphysema and pulmonary hypertension. While advancing lung transplantation, Dr. Cooper also performed a series of fundamental studies that formed the basis for the lung preservation method currently used worldwide.
For his groundbreaking experimental and surgical contributions, published in more than 400 original articles, Dr. Cooper has received numerous honors and awards. These include the Jacobson Innovation Award from the American College of Surgeons, the Earl Bakken Scientific Achievement Award from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, the Global Impact Award from the University Health System Toronto, an Honorary Fellowship in the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and Presidency of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. In 2007, Dr. Cooper was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. In 2012, the Canadian Society of Transplantation created the annual Joel Cooper Award for outstanding contributions to lung transplantation.
Dr. Cooper graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts in chemistry from Harvard College. He received his medical degree in 1964 from Harvard Medical School and completed his surgical internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). After clinical and research fellowships at MGH, Dr. Cooper joined the faculty of the University of Toronto and quickly rose through the ranks to professor of surgery and head of the Division of Thoracic Surgery. In 1988, he moved to Washington University in St. Louis to lead the Section of General Thoracic Surgery in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, and in 1997 became chief of cardiothoracic surgery and the Evarts A. Graham Professor of Surgery. In 2005, Dr. Cooper was recruited to the University of Pennsylvania as chief of the Division of Thoracic Surgery, a position he held until 2011.
The annual Thomas E. Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology is awarded by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Department of Surgery and UPMC Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. The award and lectureship were established in 1996 by the Department of Surgery and subsequently endowed by Fujisawa Healthcare Inc. (currently Astellas Pharma Inc.) to honor the distinguished career of Dr. Starzl, whose contributions to organ transplantation and immunology have been recognized around the globe.
Dr. Starzl, who currently serves as a distinguished service professor of surgery, was the first surgeon to transplant kidneys in humans with consistent success, perform liver transplantation, and successfully transplant human intestines. He introduced four commonly used immunosuppressive drugs for clinical transplantation. Dr. Starzl’s seminal contributions to the field of organ transplantation and immunology with emphasis on chimerism and tolerance have been recognized worldwide.
In 1996, the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, which Dr. Starzl directed for many years, was renamed in his honor, as was Pitt’s Biomedical Science Tower in 2006 on the occasion of his 80th birthday. In 2004, Dr. Starzl received the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor, and in 2012 received the  Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award, the highest medical honor in the United States.

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