Cleveland Clinic Surgeon John Fung Wins 2015 Starzl Prize

And becomes director of Health System Center for Transplantation

John Fung, MD, PhD, a pioneer transplant surgeon and newly named Director of the Cleveland Clinic Health System Center for Transplantation recently received the 2015 Thomas E. Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology in May.  The Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute and Department of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) award the prize annually to an international leader in organ transplantation.

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Dr. Fung, former Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease Institute, became Director of the Cleveland Clinic Health System Center for Transplantation in July. He will work to expand transplant services to Cleveland Clinic Florida and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, collaborating with each facility’s transplant center directors on quality, innovations, clinical trials, and growth including affiliation opportunities.

For many years, Dr. Fung was Chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Department of General Surgery and Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Transplant Center, helping build it into one of the most comprehensive transplant programs in the world. Before joining Cleveland in 2004, Dr. Fung served as Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh. He had studied under Thomas Starzl, MD, PhD, during his transplant surgery fellowship there and had joined the faculty in 1989 as the inaugural Thomas E. Starzl Professor of Surgery.

Founding the Thomas E. Starzl Prize

While at University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Fung helped found the Thomas E. Starzl Prize to honor his mentor, widely recognized as the “Father of Transplantation.” Dr. Starzl has had a profound impact on generations of physicians and scientists in many areas of medicine.

“Dr. Starzl had an uncanny ability to envision a new procedure, drug use or concept and figure out a way to make it work, regardless of how long it might take or how difficult it might be,” says Dr. Fung. “He would develop a well-formulated, scientifically sound approach and stick by it. Nine times out of 10, he would be right! I continue to admire that tenacity.”

Dr. Starzl was the first to transplant kidneys in humans with consistent success. He performed liver transplant and successfully transplanted human intestines. He is widely credited for successful introduction of four commonly used immunosuppressive drugs (prednisone, ALG/OKT3, cyclosporine and tacrolimus) in clinical transplantation. In 1992, he revealed a fundamental principle of transplantation tolerance when he discovered donor-derived leukocytes in tissues of long-term functioning organ recipients.

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Continuing the work

“Working with Dr. Starzl for 20 years in the lab and in the wards, I was honored to be part of many of his contributions to the field,” says Dr. Fung. “Now we at Cleveland Clinic are carrying on what he started.”

Dr. Fung’s most notable contributions to Cleveland Clinic transplantation include:

  • Instituting new liver transplantation procedures (e.g., portocaval hemitransposition, use of the vascular stapler, living donor liver transplantation)
  • Introducing minimally invasive liver surgery techniques
    • Initiating an intestinal transplant program
  • Using new preservation techniques for donor organs
  • Establishing Cleveland Clinic Florida’s multiorgan transplant program

A member of numerous prestigious scientific and surgical societies, Dr. Fung was president of the International Liver Transplantation Society from 1997 to 1999 and has been an officer of the Transplantation Society since 2006. He has published more than 1,000 articles and book chapters and serves on the editorial board of multiple medical journals. He is the past editor-in-chief of Liver Transplantation.

Transplantation: Its history and future

In May, Dr. Fung will return to University of Pittsburgh to formally receive the Thomas E. Starzl Prize, including a crystal award and an honorarium of $10,000. During the event, he will speak on the “History of Immunosuppression and Transplantation.”

As for the future of the field, Dr. Fung anticipates continuing advances from Cleveland Clinic.

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“Heart and kidney transplantation have always been big here. Today we’re also doing more than 140 liver transplants a year, have one of the largest small bowel transplant programs in the nation, and our lung transplant program is growing significantly,” says Dr. Fung. “Composite tissue transplantation, including and not limited to facial transplant, has added a lot of excitement recently.”

His first projects as the new Director of Cleveland Clinic Health System Center for Transplantation will include overseeing the initial screening and evaluation of participants for the uterine transplantation clinical trial and the creation of one of the nation’s first centers for multi-organ normothermic ex vivo perfusion.

This post has been updated since its original publish date.