Thomas E. Starzl, M.D., Ph.D. (1926-2017), known by many as the “Father of Transplantation,” is being mourned around the world. His ground-breaking career in research and transplant surgery saved countless patients, allowing them to live longer and healthier. The global significance of his research, clinical discoveries, and surgical achievements in organ transplantation have been widely reported in recent days. The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is grateful not only for his significant contributions to medical science and teaching but also for his unwavering, vocal support for the importance of humane animal research.
Dr. Starzl was a dedicated champion for animal research, serving on FBR’s Board of Governors from 1989-1991, returning from 1996-2006, and later serving as a Distinguished Advisor to the FBR Board from 2006-2012. Dr. Starzl truly was one of FBR’s most effective and inspiring public educators, and in the span of those three decades, he visited Washington repeatedly to meet with officials at the White House and the U.S. Congress to explain the importance of animal research. On one occasion, he brought along several of his young organ transplant patients, enjoying their second chance at life, for the opportunity to experience our nation’s capital. FBR is incredibly grateful for his generous gifts of insight, experience, and wisdom.
Dr. Starzl made no secret of his lifelong affection for dogs. His obituary mentioned eight of his dogs by name, and stated, “Their unconditional love was matched only by his own love for them.” Not only did he consider dogs important in his personal life, but they also played a significant role is his professional life. Much of his pioneering work was developed from basic surgical procedures with dogs, and his later work refined transplantation methods that involved other animal models, such as pigs and baboons.
Dr. Starzl was the recipient of more than 200 awards and honors, including the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation in 2012, and the 2004 Presidential National Medal of Science (video), the nation’s highest scientific honor.
A memorial service for Dr. Starzl will be held on what would have been his 91st birthday, March 11, on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a distinguished service professor of surgery.
FBR honors Dr. Starzl and his immeasurable contributions to transplant surgery and animal research.