Joseph E. Murray Biography

(American Plastic Surgeon Who Performed the First Successful Human Kidney Transplant and 1990 Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine)

Birthday: April 1, 1919 (Aries)

Born In: Milford, Massachusetts, United States

Joseph E. Murray was an American plastic surgeon who won a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990. He is credited to have performed the world’s first successful human kidney transplant in 1954 when he removed a healthy kidney from a young man and implanted it in the man’s ailing identical twin. The man who received the kidney successfully survived the surgery and lived for a few more years. Over the years, he developed pioneering techniques in organ transplantation which gave new hope to patients whose own kidneys, livers, heart, or other organs had failed. Becoming a medical doctor was a childhood dream for this great surgeon. He studied philosophy and English before joining the Harvard Medical School from which he graduated in 1943. He served for a while in the army where cadaver skin was used to treat burned soldiers. This technique led him to both transplantation and facial reconstruction. Following his return to civilian life he focused on investigating the possibilities of organ transplants. Along with his colleagues he began performing transplantation surgeries on dogs and proceeded to perform the world’s first successful human kidney transplant in 1954. Over the ensuing years he performed several other life saving surgeries and was honored with a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 for his pioneering work in organ transplantation.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Joseph Edward Murray

Died At Age: 93


Spouse/Ex-: Virginia Link Murray

children: Joseph Link Murray, Kathy Murray, Meg Murray, Richard Murray, Thomas Murray, Virginia Murray

Surgeons American Men

Died on: November 26, 2012

place of death: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Medicine

Cause of Death: Stroke

Notable Alumni: Harvard Medical School

U.S. State: Massachusetts

More Facts

education: College Of The Holy Cross, Harvard Medical School

awards: Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Childhood & Early Life
Joseph Edward Murray was born on April 1, 1919, in Milford, Massachusetts, U.S., to William A. Murray, a lawyer, and his wife, Mary, a school teacher. He was of Irish and Italian descent.
He grew up to be an athletic young boy and was a star performer at the Milford High School. He played a variety of sports like football, ice hockey, and baseball. He joined the College of the Holy Cross after finishing high school where he studied philosophy and English, earning a degree in humanities in 1940.
Becoming a doctor was a childhood dream and the young man enrolled at the Harvard Medical School. The four years he spent there were rich and full of stimulating intellectual experiences. He graduated in 1943.
Continue Reading Below
Murray entered the Army Medical Corps in 1944. As an army doctor, he learned to use cadaver skin to treat burned soldiers. The transplanted skin would survive for only eight to ten days before peeling off, but this experience gave him the idea that tissue from one person might survive on another.
After the war, he joined the surgical staff of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. He then underwent training in plastic surgery at New York and Memorial Hospitals. He returned to Brigham in 1951.
The idea of organ transplantation was novel for those times and Murray was often discouraged by his peers and seniors in his quest to make human organ transplantation a reality. Nonetheless, he investigated the possibilities of organ transplants by testing surgical techniques on dogs.
In October 1954, a patient named Richard Herrick was admitted to the hospital. He was suffering from chronic nephritis, a kidney disease, and was on the verge of death. His healthy identical twin brother, Ronald, was willing to give him a kidney. Murray was asked if he would perform the surgery.
Joseph E. Murray performed the surgery—the world’s first human renal transplant—between the Herrick twins at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in December 1954. He was assisted by J. Hartwell Harrison and other noted physicians in the grueling operation which lasted five and a half hours. The surgery was successful and Richard lived for eight more years.
Murray went on to perform the world's first successful allograft—the transplantation of tissues or organs to a recipient from a genetically non-identical donor—in 1959 and the world’s first cadaveric renal transplant in 1962. Over the years he became an international leader in the study of transplantation biology.
He collaborated with top scientists in the 1960s to develop the new drug Imuran (generic azathioprine) for use in transplants which proved to be very helpful in transplants from unrelated donors.
Murray trained physicians from around the world in transplantation and reconstructive surgery as a Harvard Medical School faculty member. He served as chief plastic surgeon at the Peter Bent Brigham until 1986 and also at Children's Hospital Boston from 1972–85. He retired as professor of Surgery Emeritus from Harvard Medical School in 1986.
Major Works
Joseph E. Murray performed the world’s first human kidney transplant on December 23, 1954. He removed a healthy kidney from a 23-year-old man, Ronald Herrick, and implanted it in his ailing identical twin, Richard, who was suffering from chronic nephritis. The surgery was successful and Richard lived for eight more years.
Awards & Achievements
Joseph E. Murray and E. Donnall Thomas were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1990 "for their discoveries concerning organ and cell transplantation in the treatment of human disease."
He was also the recipient of the American Surgical Association's Medal for Distinguished Service to Surgery, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Francis Amory Prize, and the American Association of Plastic Surgeons' Honorary Award.
Personal Life & Legacy
While Joseph E. Murray was a medical student, he fell in love with Bobby Link, a music student, who he met at a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert. They got married in June 1945 and had six children.
He donated his share of the Nobel Prize money to Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.
A Roman Catholic, he was appointed Academician of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican in 1996.
He suffered a stroke on Thanksgiving and died a few days later on November 26, 2012, at the age of 93.

See the events in life of Joseph E. Murray in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Joseph E. Murray Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Ben Carson Biography
Ben Carson
Mehmet Oz Biography
Mehmet Oz
Paul Nassif Biography
Paul Nassif
Dr. Miami Biography
Dr. Miami
Charles R. Drew Biography
Charles R. Drew
Alfred Blalock Biography
Alfred Blalock
Adrian Kantrowitz Biography
Adrian Kantrowitz
William James Mayo Biography
William James Mayo