Innovations from '60s led to medical advancements continuing today

THE TIMES | Kate Malongowski

The 1960s proved to be a time for incredible medical innovations that are nearly taken for granted now, such as organ transplants and advancements in treating premature births.

Dr. Thomas Starzl, a transplant doctor who was later based at the University of Pittsburgh, performed his first organ transplant surgery with a liver in 1967. It was a controversial procedure in those days because outcomes were unknown, said Dr. Christopher Hughes, surgical director for liver transplantation at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“He set off an entirely new medical field,” Hughes said of Starzl. “His work in the lab and subsequently pushing through the difficult times of doing the first liver transplants against a lot of naysayers at the time really advanced an entire field of medicine that had not been known before. The fact that he was able to not only get past the very difficult technical aspects of the surgery, but being able to understand the immunology at the molecular level.”

Those first surgeries failed, but Starzl persisted. Now transplants are performed everyday for a variety of organs: liver, lungs, kidneys, pancreas, heart and small intestines.

It’s a commonplace procedure.

“(Starzl) knew that if he could get past those technical issues and get past the immunology, patients would do well. They would survive and live and live normal lives like they do today,” Hughes said. “And so it took a vision, and it took a lot of ability on his part to resist the people at the time that were saying, 'This is too much. This can't be done.'”

There were other medical advancements in the 1960s, too, that lead to the technology and options that are used every day. Continue reading
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