100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview
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Organ Transplant
Year of Invention: 1972

What Is It? The replacement of a defective human organ with one donated
from another human.

Who Invented It? Surgical techniques: Norman Shumway (Stanford University).
Immunosuppressive drugs: Jean-Francois Borel (in Geneva, Switzerland)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The vital organs (heart, lungs, kidney, liver, etc.) must function properly in order for a human to exist. When any of these essential organs wears out and ceases to function, we die. Organ transplants have given thousands of people a second chance at life. Faulty organs are replaced with donated ones. The whole body is no longer held hostage by its weakest organ.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Transplanting tissue from one person to another is, surprisingly, not a new concept. Skin grafts are a type of transplant. So are bone grafts and arterial grafts. Each of these operations was attempted over 3,000 years ago—usually with little success. The operations seemed to go well, but the transplanted tissue withered, as did the patient, after surgery. No one knew why.

These transplant operations involved noncritical body parts. No one dared attempt the replacement of vital organs, since the operation to reach the organ usually killed the patient.


How Was Organ Transplantation Invented?

Inventions in two separate areas were needed to make organ transplants possible: surgical procedures and suppressing the recipient’s body’s natural rejection of the donated organ. Surgical techniques were far easier to develop and were available 20 years before successful suppression drugs existed.

French surgeon Alexis Carrel developed techniques for sewing veins and arteries during his animal experiments in the early twentieth century. These techniques later allowed surgeons to successfully reconnect a donated organ to the recipient’s blood vessels.

Beginning in the 1930s, doctors made hundreds of attempts to transplant a kidney from one animal to another. All failed except for a few of the mother-to-child transplants and

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