50 years ago, early organ transplants brought triumph and tragedy

Excerpt from the March 2, 1968 issue of Science News

transplant cooler

LIVE LIVER  Advances in liver transplants mean that the donor no longer needs to be dead, and one liver may serve more than one recipient.


Kidneys lead the field

While the drama of human heart transplants has grasped the public interest, kidney transplants are ahead in the field…. Although only three little girls are now surviving liver transplants, the liver is a promising field for replacement…. The donor, of course, must be dead; no one can live without his liver. — Science News, March 2, 1968


Kidney patients, who could receive organs from family members, had up to a 75 percent one-year survival rate in 1968. Liver recipients were less lucky, having to rely on unrelated, postmortem donations. Liver patients’ immune systems often attacked the new organ and one-year survival was a low 30 percent. Cyclosporine, an immune-suppressing drug available since 1983, has made a big difference. Now, about 75 percent of adults are alive three years after surgery, and children’s odds are even better. The liver is still a must-have organ, and the need for donor livers has climbed. Today, the options have expanded, with split-liver transplants and partial transplants from living donors.

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