Deceased Academicians

Joseph Edward Murray


Joseph Edward Murray

Date of birth 01 April 1919

Place Milford, MA, United States of America (America)

Nomination 30 May 1996

Field Plastic surgery, Reconstructive surgery, Transplantation

Title Professor, Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1990

Place and date of death Boston, MA, USA † 26 November 2012

  • Biography
  • Publications
  • Commemoration

Most important awards, prizes and academies
Awards: Francis Amory Prize, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1962); Lifetime Achievement Award, Massachusetts Medical Society; Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1990); Medal for Distinguished Service to Surgery, American Surgical Association (1991); Sabin Award, Americans for Medical Progress (1994). Academies: National Academy of Sciences (1993); Hon. Fellow Royal College of Surgeons of England; Hon. Fellow Royal Australasian College of Surgeons; American Surgical Association; American Soc. of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Summary of scientific research
Joseph Murray's career was devoted to medical surgery and in particular to plastic and reconstructive surgery, and he was Chief Plastic Surgeon at two major Boston hospitals. He was not only a working surgeon, but also a researcher and theoretician. He thus engaged in debate, research and discussion at an international level, being constantly in the vanguard of new developments and techniques, never hesitating to adopt bold and innovative approaches. Considered one of the pre-eminent experts in his field, the award of the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1990 was a recognition of his many achievements in his field of specialisation.

Main publications
Books: Murray, J.E., Surgery of the Soul, Science History Publications (2001). Articles: Over three hundred articles and essays, including: Murray, J.E., Matson, D.D., Habal, M.B., and Geelhoed, G.W., Regional Cranio-Orbital Resection for Recurrent Tumors with Delayed Reconstruction, Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics, 134, p. 437 (1972); Belfer, M.L., Harrison, A.M., Pillemer, F.C., and Murray, J.E., Appearance and Influence of Reconstructive Surgery on Body Image, Clinics in Plastic Surgery, 9 (3), p. 307 (1983); Murray, J.E., Kaban, L.B., and Mulliken, J.B., Analysis and Treatment of Hemifacial Microsomia, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, 74, p. 789 (1984); Murray, J.E., Mulliken, J.B., Kaban, L.B., Microtia: A Microfilm of Hemifacial Microsomia, Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, vol. 76, n. 2, pp. 859-64 (1985); Murray, J.E., Mulliken, J.B., Kaban, L., Evenas, C.A., and Strand, R.D., Facial Skeletal Changes Following Hypertelorbitism Correction, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, vol. 77, n. 1, pp. 7-15 (1986); Murray, J.E., The Many Faces of Surgery: Presidential Address, Archives of Surgery, vol. 123, pp. 543-4 (1988); Murray, J.E., The First Successful Organ Transplants in Man, Nobel Lecture (December 8, 1990), Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Foundation, 1990/1991; Murray, J.E., The Role of Surgeon-Scientists in Medical Progress, ACS Bulletin, pp. 23-8 (Feb. 1992); Murray, J.E., Reflections on Plastic Surgery, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, vol. 89, n. 5, pp. 944-8 (1992); Murray, J.E., Human Organ Transplantation: Background and Consequences, Science, 256, pp. 1411-6 (1992); Murray, J.E., Organ Transplantation and the Revitalization of Immunology, in Callager, R.B., Gilder, J., Nossal, G.J.V. and Salvatore, G., Immunology: The Making of a Modern Science (Academic Press, London, 1995); Murray, J.E., The Excelsior Surgical Society/Edward D. Churchill Lecture, Bulletin of the American College of Surgeons, 80, 8, pp. 14-25, (1995); Murray, J.E., Surgery and the Value of Life, Dolentium Hominum: To Know, Love and Serve, Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference of the Vatican, November 24-26, 1994, 28:X, 1995; Murray, J.E., Merrill, J.P., and Harrison, J.H., Renal Homotransplantation in Identical Twins, (Reprinted from Surgical Forum, VI, p. 432, 1955, with commentaries by Joseph E. Murray and Charles B. Carpenter), Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 12, p. 201, 2001.

Joseph E. Murray, was born on April 1, 1919, in Milford, Massachusetts, and died on November 26, 2012 in Boston at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the institution where he intensively worked for several decades as Chief Plastic Surgeon. He became one of the most prestigious professors of Harvard Medical School and in 1990 was awarded the Nobel Prize on Physiology or Medicine with his colleague Donnall Thomas for their pioneering work on “organ and cell transplantation in the treatment of human disease”. He was appointed a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996.

Murray’s interest in the biology of tissue and organ transplantation arose from his military experience at Valley Forge General Hospital in Pennsylvania during the war where he explored new treatments for extensively burned patients using skin grafts.

Humanity has a debt of gratitude to his impressive work to save the lives of thousands by tissue and organ transplantation. In December 23, 1954 Murray and his team at Brigham Hospital successfully performed the first kidney transplant in identical twins. This surgery became a landmark in the history of medicine, and as such is represented in a painting at the famous Countway Library of Medicine in Boston. In his Nobel lecture Murray vividly described the ethical question that the organ transplant elicited: “For the first time in medical history a normal healthy person was to be subjected to a major surgical operation not for his own benefit. After many consultations with experienced physicians within and outside the Brigham and with clergy of all denominations, we felt it reasonable to offer the operations to the recipient, the donor and their family… Post-operatively the transplanted kidney functioned immediately with a dramatic improvement in the patient’s renal and cardiopulmonary status. This spectacular success was a clear demonstration that organ transplantation could be life saving”.

To this first intervention followed other substantial feats: in 1959 the first allograft and in 1962 the first cadaveric transplant. At the same time Murray became deeply involved in the search for immunosuppressive agents to extend the reach of organ transplants and performed groundbreaking research in animals. By the time of his Nobel award there were more than 12,000 kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, and heart-lung transplants performed in the United States alone. Today there are hundred of thousands of successful transplantations of solid organs and dissociated marrow cells around the world.

I had the enormous privilege to meet Murray at Harvard in 2002. I was teaching with Kurt W. Fischer a course at the Graduate School of Education on the “educated brain” and we invited him to give a lesson to our students about his life as a surgeon-scientist. We will never forget his talk. It was so deeply moving and inspiring. Of course some asked for the possibility of brain transplants… He also spoke about his last book, with a bold title, Surgery of the Soul: Reflections on a Curious Career. We had several opportunities to talk about his work and discuss my projects during my stay at Harvard. He was a source of inspiration for many of us. He had a wonderful family; he was married to Virginia Link, Bobby as he called her, and had six children. I have kept a photo with him on my desk ever since.

Murray was a model of a man of faith and science, a man full of love, joy, curiosity and hope. He said: “My life as a surgeon-scientist, combining humanity and science, has been fantastically rewarding. In our daily patients we witness human nature in the raw-fear, despair, courage, understanding, hope, resignation, heroism. If alert, we can detect new problems to solve, new paths to investigate”. He wanted to “send a world-wide message to clinical scientists that their research is just as significant as that of fundamental scientists whose work forms the background of all advances. Let us continue to shorten the distance from the laboratory to the bedside”. Many are now walking the path that our dear friend and colleague opened for all of us.

Surgery of the Soul (PDF) 2002