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2016 Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences

2016 Spring General Meeting

Thomas E. Starzl

The recipient of the American Philosophical Society's 2016 Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences is Thomas E. Starzl, Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Tom Starzl has had an extraordinary career. He not only pioneered surgery for transplantation of the liver, he also developed a model of multivisceral transplantation (intestine, pancreas and other organs) that significantly lessens the rejection of the transplant. Perhaps his greatest discovery was in the use of the anticancer drug methotrexate and its derivative imuran to suppress rejection. At a 1963 conference organized by the National Research Council, he astounded the meeting with the news that his methods had produced an 80% one-year survival for kidney grafts when all others were achieving less than 10%. He later had even greater success with cyclosporine and other immunosuppressives. In large part due to his innovations, successful organ transplantation has now almost become commonplace. He is, by a wide margin, the most-cited scientist in medical research.

The citation for the medal is "Tom Starzl has transformed human organ transplantation from science fiction to reliable treatment of fatal diseases, virtually changing medical practice. Fifty years ago when the world had only a handful of surviving kidney transplant recipients he showed that rejection was reversible, allowing consistent success. His introduction of new immunosuppressive agents helped him to accomplish the first liver and multivisceral transplants. His studies explain liver regeneration and determine that this organ controls lipid metabolism. His discovery of persistent donor cell chimerism in successful recipients points the way to allograft tolerance without chronic immunosuppression. In recognition of his profound contributions the American Philosophical Society salutes Thomas E. Starzl by awarding him its highest honor."

Dr. Starzl earned his bachelor's degree in biology at Westminster College. At Northwestern University Medical School 1950 he received a master’s degree in anatomy in 1950 and in 1952 earned both a Ph.D. in neurophysiology and M.D. with distinction. He served on the faculty of Northwestern University from 1958 to 1961 and joined the University of Colorado School of Medicine as an associate professor in surgery in 1962. He was promoted to professor in 1964 and served as chairman of the department of surgery from 1972 to 1980. Dr. Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine as professor of surgery in 1981. Until 1991, he served as chief of transplantation services at Presbyterian University Hospital (now UPMC Presbyterian), Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh, overseeing the largest and busiest transplant program in the world. He then assumed the title of director of the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, a post that permitted his full attention to research. In 1996, the Institute was renamed in his honor. He now holds the title of director emeritus. He is the recipient of the Medawar Prize (1992), the National Medal of Science (2004), the Lasker Award for Clinical Science (2012), and the Anthony Cerami Award in Translational Medicine (2015). He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2015. He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1999.

The Benjamin Franklin Medal was created in 1906 by the United States Congress to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin. The Benjamin Franklin Medal is the Society’s highest honor for lifetime achievement in the sciences.

The selection committee: President Clyde Barker, Executive Officer Keith Thomson, Class 1 Council members, Jerrold Meinwald, Stephen Benkovic, and Charles Slichter, and Class 2 Council members Jack Dixon, David Sabatini, and Lawrence Einhorn.