PITTSBURGH — Dr. Thomas Starzl, who pioneered liver transplant surgery in the 1960s and was a leading researcher into anti-rejection drugs, has died. He was 90.

The University of Pittsburgh, speaking on behalf of Starzl’s family, said the renowned doctor died Saturday at his home in Pittsburgh.

Starzl performed the world’s first liver transplant in 1963 and the world’s first successful liver transplant in 1967, and pioneered kidney transplantation from cadavers. He later perfected the process by using identical twins and, eventually, other blood relatives as donors.

Since Starzl’s first successful liver transplant, thousands of lives have been saved by similar operations.

“We regard him as the father of transplantation,” said Dr. Abhinav Humar, clinical director of the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. “His legacy in transplantation is hard to put into words — it’s really immense.”

Starzl joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1981 as professor of surgery, where his studies on the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin transformed transplantation from an experimental procedure into one that gave patients a hope they could survive an otherwise fatal organ failure.

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It was Starzl’s development of cyclosporin in combination with steroids that offered a solution to organ rejection.

Until 1991, Starzl served as chief of transplant services at UPMC, then was named director of the University of Pittsburgh Transplantation Institute, where he continued research on a process he called chimerism, based on a 1992 paper he wrote on the theory that new organs and old bodies “learn” to co-exist without immunosuppression drugs.

The institute was renamed in Starzl’s honor in 1996.

In his 1992 autobiography, “The Puzzle People: Memoirs of a Transplant Surgeon,” Starzl said he actually hated performing surgery and was sickened with fear each time he prepared for an operation.

“I was striving for liberation my whole life,” he said in an interview.

Starzl’s career-long interest in research began with a liver operation he assisted on while a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. After the surgery to redirect blood flow around the liver, he noticed the patient’s sugar diabetes also had improved.

Thinking he had found the cause of diabetes to be in the liver rather than the pancreas, he designed experiments in 1956 with dogs to prove his discovery. He was wrong, but had started on the path that would lead to the first human liver transplants at the University of Colorado in Denver seven years later.

Starzl’s other accomplishments included inventing a way to route the blood supply around the liver during surgery to make possible the marathon hours required to complete operations involving that complex organ.

In September 1990, at age 65, Starzl put away his scalpel for good, soon after the death of a famous young patient: a 14-year-old girl from White Settlement, Texas, named Stormie Jones.

Starzl was born March 11, 1926, in LeMars, Iowa. His mother was a nurse and his father was a science fiction writer and the publisher of the local newspaper.

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Starzl is survived by his wife of 36 years, Joy Starzl, his son, Timothy, and a grandchild.