Thomas E. Starzel was born in 1926 in Le Mars, Iowa. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, then attended Northwestern University in Chicago Medical School where he obtained a Master of Science degree in anatomy in 1950 and earned both a Ph.D. in neurophysiology and an M.D. in 1952. He served as a researcher at the University of Colorado, then moved – since 1981 – to the University of Pittsburgh, where he started working on organ transplantation which was then hardly known.
Professor Starzl’s accomplishments as an organ transplant surgeon have profoundly impacted the medical community. Often referred to as “the father of modern organ transplantation,” Starzel developed many surgical techniques that were initially only known to him. He performed the first human liver transplant at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and the first simultaneous heart and liver transplant at Pittsburgh. He also established the clinical utility of immunosuppressive drugs and determined the causative association between immunosuppression and post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease and other opportunistic infections, and provided the rationale for treatment by reversing the immunosuppressed state. Starzl is also credited for delineating the indications and limitations of abdominal organ transplantation and for advancing the techniques used for organ preservation, procurement and transportation.
Professor Starzel authored or co-authored more than 2130 scientific articles, four books and 292 book chapters. According to the Institute for Scientific Information, he is one of the most prolific scientists in the world, and the most cited scientist in the field of clinical medicine. In addition to the King Faisal International Prize for Medicine, Starzl’s accomplishments were recognized by numerous awards and honors including the National Medal of Science, presented by the President of the USA; the David M. Hume Memorial Award by the National Kidney Foundation; Brookdale Award by the American Medical Association; Bigelow Medal by Boston Surgical Society; City of Medicine Award; Distinguished Service Award by the American Liver Foundation; William Beaumont Prize by the American Gastroenterological Association; Peter Medawar Prize by the Transplant Society;
Jacobson Innovation Award by the American College of Surgeons; John Scott Award by the City Council of Philadelphia; Physician of the Year Award for Life Achievement by Castle Connolly Medical; Lannelongue International Medal by the Academie Nationale De Chirugie; Gustav O. Lienhard Award by the National Institute of Medicine and Carnegie Science Chairman’s Award
by the Carnegie Science Center. Starzl was also awarded honorary degrees from 21 universities in the United States and abroad and was named one of the most important people of the Millennium. He retired from clinical and surgical service in 1991 but remains active as a researcher and Professor of Surgery at Pittsburgh Medical School and Medical Center’s Program which is also named after him “The Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute.”
At his 80th birthday, the University of Pittsburgh renamed a new medical research building “The Thomas E. Starzl Biomedical Science Tower” in his honor. At the same time, the City of Pittsburgh re-named Lothrop Road, near his office, as the “Thomas E. Starzl Way.”
Professor Starzl, has been awarded the prize, for his performed pioneering work that influenced all aspects of organ transplantation. He was the first to develop the surgical techniques without which successful liver transplantation would not have been possible. He was also the first to introduce the important immunosuppressive drugs, corticosteroids, into clinical transplantation. In addition, he pioneered the use of FK506 (tacrolimus) to prevent the rejection of liver, small bowel, and multiple visceral organ transplants. Professor Starzl has also put forth some of the most challenging scientific concepts, such as microchimerism, which stimulated an immense amount of research in the field of transplantation. Professor Starzl has published more than 3000 research papers and he is among the most cited of all medical scientists. He has also trained a large number of surgeons from all over the world. Professor Starzl received the Sir Peter Medawar Prize in 1992.