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Joseph Murray dies; performed 1st organ transplant

BOSTON -- Joseph Murray, the surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School who performed the first human organ transplant almost six decades ago, has died. He was 93.

Murray, who won the 1990 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work in transplantation, died Monday, Betsy Nabel, the president of Brigham in Boston, wrote in an email to the hospital community.

In 1954, Murray led a team of Brigham doctors that gave 23-year-old Richard Herrick a kidney from his identical twin, Ronald. Since then, more than 600,000 people have received life-saving organs through the transplantation techniques pioneered by Murray and his collaborators, according to Nabel.

"He brought comfort to thousands of patients and families with his compassion and the exquisite care he provided," Nabel wrote.

Before the Brigham team, multiple attempts to transplant a kidney from one person to another had failed, largely because of the body's tendency to reject foreign tissue.

Transplanting an organ between identical twins helped avoid many of the immune-system related problems seen in earlier attempts. Still, the surgery was daunting, and one physician labeled Murray and his colleagues a "group of fools" for trying to transplant a kidney, according an article last year on Harvard's website.

"If you're going to worry about what people say, you're never going to make any progress," Murray said, according to the Harvard story.

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