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History of Transplantation

Humans have long realized the possibilities unleashed by transplantation of organs and tissue. As early as the 6th Century BC, the Indian surgeon Sushruta described how to reconstruct disfiguring facial wounds by transplanting skin and cartilage from one place on the body to another. Below is a list of significant events in the development of transplantation as a viable clinical procedure that occurred over the past century.

Read about Noble Prize winners who have contributed to our knowledge of organ transplantation.


Karl Landsteiner discovers human blood groups.


Alexis Carrel develops techniques for suturing blood vessels together; later, he is the first to describe transplant rejection.


First successful human corneal transplant performed by Eduard Zirm.


Major steps in skin transplantation occurred during World War I, e.g., the tubed pedicle graft.


Peter Gorer and George Snell, at The Jackson Laboratory, discover histocompatibility antigens in mice.


Major advances in reconstructive surgical techniques during World War II.


Peter Medawar, Rupert Billingham, and Leslie Brent publish their seminal paper, “Actively Acquired Tolerance of Foreign Cells.”


First successful kidney transplant performed, between identical twins, by Joseph Murray.


First successful bone marrow transplant performed in recipient twin with leukemia, by Donnall Thomas. The recipient twin was treated with total body irradiation before the transplant; the procedures resulted in complete remission of leukemia.


George Hitchings and Gertrude Elion develop the immunosuppressive drug azathioprine.


Discovery of the first HLA antigen by Jean Dausset.


First successful reimplantation—reattachment of severed limb, resulting in limited function and feeling—performed by a surgical team led by Ronald Malt.


First successful pancreas transplant performed by William Kelly and Richard Lillehei.


First successful heart transplant performed by Christiaan Barnard. First successful liver transplant performed by Thomas Starzl.


First bone marrow transplant using related donor for treatment of a noncancerous condition (severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome).


Cyclosporin, a metabolite of the fungus Tolypocladium inflatum, is recognized to have immunosuppressive properties.


First bone marrow transplant using an unrelated donor. The recipient was a child with severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome. After the seventh bone marrow infusion, hematologic function normalized.


First successful heart/lung transplant performed by Bruce Reitz.


First successful lung transplant performed by Joel Cooper. Cyclosporin (Sandimmune) approved for prevention of transplant rejection.


Tacrolimus (Prograf) approved for prevention of transplant rejection— has immunosuppressive properties very similar to cyclosporin but is 10 to 100 times more potent on a per gram basis.


Mycophenolate (CellCept) approved for the prevention of transplant rejection.


Daclizumab (Zenapax) approved for preventing transplant rejection.


First successful cord blood stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor to a child with sickle cell anemia.


First successful transplants of pancreatic islets using the Edmonton Protocol, by James Shapiro. The transplant recipients had complications of Type I diabetes that could not be managed with insulin injections.


First living donor pancreatic islet transplant from a 56-year-old woman to her 27-year-old diabetic daughter. The transplanted cells began producing insulin within minutes.

First successful partial face transplant.

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Last Updated July 17, 2008