Dr. Thomas Starzl, the pioneer of liver transplantation and driving force behind the world's first baboon-to-human liver transplants and research on anti-rejection drugs, has died. He was 90. The University of Pittsburgh said the renowned doctor died Saturday at home in Pittsburgh, reports the AP. Starzl performed the world's first liver transplant in 1963 and the world's first successful liver transplant in 1967, and pioneered kidney transplantation from cadavers. He later perfected the process using identical twins and, eventually, other blood relatives as donors. Since Starzl's first successful liver transplant, thousands of lives have been saved. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1981 as professor of surgery, where his studies on the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin transformed transplantation from an experimental procedure into one that gave patients hope.
In a 1992 autobiography, Starzl said he actually hated surgery and was sickened with fear each time he prepared for an operation. "I was striving for liberation my whole life," he said. Starzl's interest in research began with a liver operation he assisted on while at Johns Hopkins Hospital. After surgery to redirect blood flow around the liver, he noticed the patient's sugar diabetes also improved. Thinking he had found the cause of diabetes to be in the liver, he designed experiments in 1956 to prove his discovery. He was wrong, but had started on the path to the first human liver transplants seven years later. In 1990, at age 65, Starzl put away his scalpel for good, soon after the death of 14-year-old Stormie Jones, who lived six years after a heart-liver transplant at age 8 but needed a second liver in 1990 and died. Her death affected Starzl greatly. "It is true that transplant surgeons saved patients, but the patients rescued us in turn and gave meaning to what we did, or tried to," he wrote. (Read more liver transplants stories.)