Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - Pioneering organ transplant surgeon, Joseph Murray, dies

Dr Joseph Murray, the pioneering surgeon who performed the world’s first successful kidney transplant, has died at the age of 93.

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 27 November

Pioneering organ transplant surgeon, Joseph Murray, dies

Dr Joseph Murray, the pioneering surgeon who performed the world's first successful kidney transplant, has died at the age of 93.

Dr Murray's work paved the way for thousands of human organ transplants worldwide. In 1990 he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr E Donnall Thomas, who was recognised for his work in bone marrow transplants.

After winning the Nobel, Dr Murray told the New York Times: "Kidney transplants seem so routine now, but the first one was like Lindbergh's flight across the ocean."

Dr Murray honed his craft performing reconstructive surgery on severely burned soldiers during World War II, who were often treated with skin grafts. He quickly realised that the biggest obstacle in the procedure was the body's rejection of foreign tissue.

While working at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, USA, Dr Murray was moved to study organ donation after the hospital's chief of plastic surgery, Colonel James Barrett Brown, noticed that the more closely a donor and recipient were related, the more slowly tissue was rejected.

In December 1954, Dr Murray transplanted a kidney between 23-year-old Ronald Herrick and his identical twin Richard, who had liver failure as a result of poorly functioning kidneys. Richard lived another eight years, married and had two children. There had never been a successful transplant before.

In his Nobel lecture, Dr Murray said: "This spectacular success was a clear demonstration that organ transplantation could be life-saving."

He performed more transplants on identical twins over the next few years and tried kidney transplants on other close relatives, before he and his team successfully completed the first organ transplant from an unrelated donor in 1962. The 23-year-old patient, a woman named Mel Doucette, received a kidney from someone who had died.

Dr Murray's breakthroughs did not come without criticism. Some ethicists and religious leaders accused him of 'playing God' and felt that he should not be experimenting on human beings.

Dr Murray suffered a stroke and died on Monday in the same Boston hospital where he pioneered a new era in medical science.

Questions for discussion

General Discussion

  • If you were a scientist, how would you hope to help people? What problems would you work to solve?
  • Why is it important to celebrate scientific acheivement?
  • Can you think of any ethical problems associated with organ donation?
  • How would you feel about your organs being donated to help others after you die?

Related resources

Transplant surgery and organ donation

  • Discuss the arguments for and against organ donation and its importance with this PowerPoint-based activity.

Organ transplant trump cards

  • A Blooms-style set of questions on the ethics of organ donation – and which patient should be saved.

TES Science collection

  • Take a look at TES' fabulous collection of Science teaching resources.

Further news resources

First News front page

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Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week

The Environment Agency has announced a "national crisis" after storms and floods ravaged communities across England and Wales, with more flooding still predicted.

The bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians over the Gaza strip may have been halted but the likelihood of a long-standing peace deal in the region is as remote as ever.

Women bishops will not be welcomed into the Church of England after The General Synod decided to stick with tradition in a narrow vote.

The governing body of the Church of England is due to vote on whether it will allow women to become bishops – or continue debating the issue for several more years.

In the news archive index