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Medical Nobels announced.

Medical Nobels announced

Two Americans won the 1990 Novel Prize in Physiology or Medicine this week for their pioneering work in life-saving organ- and cell-transplant techniques. Joseph E. Murray, a pathfinder in kidney transplants at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and bone-marrow specialist E. Donnall Thomas of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle will share the prize, worth approximately $700,000.

For Murray and Thomas, the Nobel road ran counter to all prevailing medical wisdom and experience. Despite repeated surgical efforts since the turn of the century, virtually all organ transplants had ended in rejection. As recently as the late 1940s, many clinicians deemed the procedure a medical impossibility, with Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar averring that a mysterious biological force "forever will inhibit transplantation from one individual to another." But working first with animals and identical twin and finally with patients unrelated to their donors, the 1990 laureates helped define the poorly understood immunological mechanisms behind organ rejection and applied some of the first ways of overcoming them.

In 1954, Murray performed the first successful human kidney transplant -- an operation now repeated with an 80-percent-success rate tens of thousands of times annually among victims of terminal kidney failure. He showed that total body irradiation reduces the risk of organ rejection, and obtained even better results using a newly developed immunosuppressive drug, azathioprine.

Similarly, the bone marrow transplants that each year save thousands of cancer patients' lives have their roots in Thomas' discovery that the drug methotrexate can diminish the "graft-versus-host" reaction that otherwise dooms such transplants to failure.

The Nobel Committee noted that the researchers' discoveries -- especially impressive given the rudimentary state of immunological knowledge in the 1950s and 1960s -- are in large part responsible for today's wide range of transplant successes on such organs as the heart, pancreas and liver.
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Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 13, 1990
Words:304
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