History of clinical transplantation

World J Surg. 2000 Jul;24(7):759-82. doi: 10.1007/s002680010124.


The emergence of transplantation has seen the development of increasingly potent immunosuppressive agents, progressively better methods of tissue and organ preservation, refinements in histocompatibility matching, and numerous innovations in surgical techniques. Such efforts in combination ultimately made it possible to successfully engraft all of the organs and bone marrow cells in humans. At a more fundamental level, however, the transplantation enterprise hinged on two seminal turning points. The first was the recognition by Billingham, Brent, and Medawar in 1953 that it was possible to induce chimerism-associated neonatal tolerance deliberately. This discovery escalated over the next 15 years to the first successful bone marrow transplantations in humans in 1968. The second turning point was the demonstration during the early 1960s that canine and human organ allografts could self-induce tolerance with the aid of immunosuppression. By the end of 1962, however, it had been incorrectly concluded that turning points one and two involved different immune mechanisms. The error was not corrected until well into the 1990s. In this historical account, the vast literature that sprang up during the intervening 30 years has been summarized. Although admirably documenting empiric progress in clinical transplantation, its failure to explain organ allograft acceptance predestined organ recipients to lifetime immunosuppression and precluded fundamental changes in the treatment policies. After it was discovered in 1992 that long-surviving organ transplant recipients had persistent microchimerism, it was possible to see the mechanistic commonality of organ and bone marrow transplantation. A clarifying central principle of immunology could then be synthesized with which to guide efforts to induce tolerance systematically to human tissues and perhaps ultimately to xenografts.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Graft Rejection / history
  • Graft Rejection / immunology
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / history
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Organ Transplantation / history*
  • Transplantation Immunology*
  • Transplantation, Heterologous / history
  • Transplantation, Homologous / history
  • United States


  • Immunosuppressive Agents