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Transplant Pioneer Thomas E. Starzl Receives National Medal Of Science From President George W. Bush

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PITTSBURGH, February 13, 2006 — University of Pittsburgh transplant pioneer Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D., known as the father of transplantation, has received the 2004 National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest scientific honor.

Dr. Starzl, distinguished service professor of surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and director emeritus of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), and seven other medal laureates received the award this morning from President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony. Dr. Starzl’s groundbreaking work in organ transplantation has spanned more than four decades and earned Pittsburgh the moniker “transplant capital of the world.”

“Dr. Starzl’s selection for this high honor is a well-deserved tribute to a life characterized by high achievement and extraordinary impact,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.

“He has been called the greatest surgeon of the 20th century and has been identified as the world’s most-cited scientist in the broad field of clinical medicine. He first led pioneering efforts that used anti-rejection drugs to make human organ transplantation possible and then, in an amazing development, led equally significant research efforts to decrease the long-term dependency of organ recipients on those same drugs. His contributions to the cause of human health are immeasurable, and everyone at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center is proud that Dr. Starzl has done much of his path-breaking work here,” Nordenberg added.

“Dr. Starzl’s accomplishments in advancing the field of organ transplantation provided hope to countless patients who otherwise had none. From his earliest discoveries as a scientist to his ground-breaking research in immunosuppressive drug weaning, Dr. Starzl is an inspiration to those who work in the field and a vivid example of the way one person can change the face of medicine,” said
Jeffrey A. Romoff, president, UPMC.

Dr. Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 while at the University of Colorado. Four years later, he performed the first successful liver transplant. In 1980, he brought the field a step forward when he introduced the anti-rejection medications, anti-lymphocyte globulin and cyclosporine, which became the accepted transplant regimen given to patients with liver, kidney and heart failure.

In 1981, Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and led the team of surgeons who performed the city's first liver transplant. Thirty liver transplants were performed that year, 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. In 1989, Dr. Starzl introduced the anti-rejection medication FK-506, which markedly increased survival rates for liver and other organ transplants and led the way to other successful types of organ transplants, including pancreas, lung and intestine.

Today, Dr. Starzl remains active in research, mapping the relationship between donor and recipient cells and developing new therapeutic strategies to achieve immune tolerance after transplantation with a much lower risk of side effects from immunosuppressive therapy.

“Dr. Starzl is a surgeon’s surgeon and a scientist’s scientist. He has applied his abundant talents and skills to everything that he has touched from the earliest days of his career – first as a neuroscientist, then as a surgeon and most importantly, as the pioneering developer of organ transplantation as an increasingly safe and effective remedy – based in science – for many diseases and disorders, and for countless patients. Dr. Starzl brims with imagination, courage, intellectual energy and passion – who among us could ask for more in any human being?” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Established by Congress in 1959, the National Medal of Science is the nation’s highest honor for American scientists and is awarded annually by the President of the United States to individuals “deserving of special recognition for their outstanding contributions to knowledge.”