Organ transplant today is a sophisticated process. In 2017 alone, 34,768 people received the gift of life, and most of them have been able to recover and lead a normal, healthy life. But it hasn’t always been that way. Many of the important developments have only occurred in the last 40 – 50 years, and the first successful transplant was just over 60 years ago. Here’s how the science has evolved in recent decades:
Scientists had long thought that organ transplant might be a possibility for terminally ill patients, but early experiments never fared quite as expected.
In 1902, the first successful kidney transplant was performed at the Vienna Medical School in Austria using animals–but the success wasn’t readily replicated in humans. The first kidney experiments on humans were performed in France in 1909 when a surgeon inserted slices rabbit kidney into a child suffering from kidney failure. Not surprisingly, that didn’t go as planned.
Although the immediate results were favorable, the child died about two weeks later.
It wasn’t until 1933 that the first human-to-human transplant was performed, but again, it didn’t go as planned. Doctors at the time didn’t know how to biologically match a donor to a recipient for the best chances of success.
Success at last
In 1954, 23-year-old Richard Herrick was diagnosed with kidney disease and bleak prognosis for the future. Only a miracle would be able to save him. Luckily, doctors theorized that a kidney transplant from his identical twin brother might just do the trick.
On December 23rd, the surgery was successfully performed. It lasted about 5 hours from start to finish. Richard lived for eight more years–a groundbreaking success at the time.
Organ donation today
Since the 1950s, organ transplant technology has grown in leaps and bounds. From better techniques for matching donor and recipient blood and tissue types to the invention of immunosuppressants, organ transplant is now a safer, more effective surgery.