Tue, 12/23/2014 – 7:00am
Lily Barback, Associate Editor
John Merrill (left) explains the workings of a then-new machine called an artificial kidney to Richard Herrick (middle) and his brother Ronald (right). The Herrick twin brothers were the subjects of the world’s first successful kidney transplant, Ronald being the donor. Image: Wikimedia
The first kidney transplant was performed on June 17, 1950, however the kidney was rejected only 10 months later. At the time there were no antirejection drugs. The first successful transplant was carried out using identical twins on December 23, 1954.
The surgery was performed on 23-year-old identical twins. Richard Herrick received a kidney from his brother Ronald. Because they were identical no immunosuppressant drugs were required. The surgery was performed in Boston at Brigham Hospital.
John Merrill, one of the doctors working on the surgery, had already completed nine unsuccessful kidney transplants. He suspected that the failures were caused by the immune system attacking the foreign organ. He tested the theory by first performing skin grafts on the brothers—switching patches of skin—when the grafts were successful and the skin was not rejected Merrill felt comfortable performing the surgery. He was later dubbed the “father of nephrology,” meaning the study of kidneys.
Richard Herrick lived for eight years after the surgery.