A Brief History of Transplantation

     To celebrate the beginning of DonateLife Week we here at bloodbonesandbodies have decided to do what we do best; provide you with some historical knowledge bombshells to wow your friends and impress your colleagues! This is an incentive by the DonateLife organisation and helps raise awareness around the benefits of choosing to be an organ donor, so if you haven’t yet checked them out (or aren’t an organ donor yet) please follow the link at the end of this article. You never know when someone you love will need an organ, so sign up and potentially save some lives!

     The history of organ transplantation is incredibly interesting; the number of technological, medical, and ethical issues surrounding this subject is enormous and is still up for debate, even to this day. The earliest accounts of transplantation extend far beyond what one would believe, with the Indian surgeon Sushruta supposedly autografting (transplanting one bit of a person’s body to another part) to perform a rhinoplasty in 2nd century BC. The success of these procedures are not widely reported, with most of these early procedures ending in infection, rejection, and death. This notion of rejection was actually discussed quite early on, centuries before it became a widely accepted idea, in Gasparo Tagliacozzi’s De Curtorum Chirurgia per Insitionem (“On the Surgery of Mutilation by Grafting”) where this rejection was attributed to the ‘force and power of individuality’.

     The first modern example of allotransplantation was in 1905 (a corneal transplant), and was performed by Eduard Zirm in the now Czech Republic. But, perhaps the biggest breakthrough of that time was made by Alexis Carrel and Charles Guthrie in who discovered a way to join blood vessels together using anastomosis, an achievement that earned Carrel the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. This was the first time that organ transplantation was seriously considered as a treatment for a failing organ and led the way for other surgeons to refine, experiment, and discover new techniques to increase the success rates for transplantation.

     This could not have been done, however, without an understanding of immunity and rejection. No matter how many organs you transplant, without an understanding of this core concept it was proving incredibly difficult to see long term success. Although Carrel had described it in 1902 it wasn’t until Peter Medawar refined and improved this understanding in 1951 (along with the discovery of azathioprine in 1959 and cyclosporine in 1970) that organ transplantation really took off and became a doable and viable option for those suffering from chronic, debilitating, and otherwise incurable ailments.

     A fantastic timeline of the dates that successful organ transplantations can be found here on the DonateLife website, showing the progression from the first kidney transplant in 1954 to 2009 with the first paediatric small bowel, liver, pancreas and bilateral kidney transplant. The world was also introduced to the idea of penis transplants in 2014, as well as neonatal organ transplantation around the same time, and with medicine progressing in leaps and bounds the future of transplantation, and the future of thousands of individuals with chronic, incurable, and life threatening conditions, is looking incredibly bright.

     If you have not yet signed up to be an organ donor please follow this link, have a read, and have the discussion with your family about your wishes. You have the potential to save the lives of 8 people with each donation, and with a person being placed on the waiting list for organs every 10 minutes in Australia this is more vital than ever before.

IMAGE: Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian performing their legendary leg transplant in 4th century AD.

SOURCE: http://catholicsaints.info/wp-content/gallery/saint-cosmas-and-saint-damian/saint-cosmas-and-saint-damian-00.jpg

Watson CDark J. Organ transplantation: historical perspective and current practice. British Journal of Anaesthesia. 2011;108(suppl 1):i29-i42.
The Gift of a Lifetime – History of Transplantation [Internet]. Organtransplants.org. 2016 [cited 30 July 2016]. Available from: http://www.organtransplants.org/understanding/history/
DonateLife. History of organ and tissue transplantation [Internet]. 1st ed. Canberra: DonateLife; 2009 [cited 30 July 2016]. Available from: http://www.donatelife.gov.au/sites/default/files/History_of_Organ_and_Tissue_Donation.pdf

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Sandra Hardy says:

    Great article! Had no idea the history of transplantation began so long ago 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It really is an interesting history, and this was only a very brief article. Could have gone on for much longer!


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