Dr. Leslie Brent
Dr. Leslie Brent is a British immunologist and zoologist whose early work in immunology helped pave the way for organ transplantation. Dr. Brent was born Lothar Baruch in the town of Köslin, Germany, now renamed Koszalin, and located in Poland. His Jewish parents placed him in an orphanage in Berlin in order to shield him from the worst anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany in 1936. However, 1938’s infamous Kristallnacht signaled to the 13 year-old Baruch that he needed to flee the country. He was taken in the very first Kindertransport mission, in which the British government ferried nearly 10,000 children, predominantly Jewish, out of Germany, hosted them with foster families, and sent them to British boarding schools. Once in England, Baruch adopted the more Anglicized name Leslie Brent, particularly after registering for the British Army in 1943; had he been captured, his recognition as a German defector would have spelt certain death. Brent remained in the army until 1947, and reached the rank of captain; he then studied at the University of Birmingham, and received his PhD from University College London.
In the early 1950s, Brent began studying with Peter Medawar, a biologist who had first started exploring the possibility of transplantation while seeking to improve skin grafts during World War II. The two, along with biologist Rupert Billingham, began carrying out the research that would be the basis of the entire transplantation field: the concept of immunosuppression and immunological tolerance. Their successful experiments on mice demonstrated that dampening the body’s immune system delayed tissue rejection. Later, their research would reveal something even more interesting: baby mice, injected with leukocytes from an adult donor mouse, were able to receive successful transplants from the donor mouse later in life. This demonstrated the concept of acquired immunological tolerance, a concept that was absolutely critical in the development of organ transplantation, and which also helped Medawar garner the Nobel Prize in 1960. Dr. Starzl developed much of his own research off of what he calls the “holy trinity” of Brent, Medawar, and Billingham. After these historic discoveries, Brent continued to research and publish over the course of a long and distinguished career. He was appointed Professor of Immunology at St. Mary's Hospital and Medical School in London in 1969; after retiring in 1990, he remains at the School as Professor Emeritus to this day.
Dr. Starzl’s archival collection contains a long correspondence between the two men, who became close following Dr. Starzl’s 1975 sabbatical at St. Mary’s. The two struck up a lengthy correspondence in the 1990s, reviewing and critiquing one another’s publications and research. (Doc. 1 and Doc. 4) In 1994, Dr. Starzl presented Brent with the Transplantation Society’s prestigious Medawar Prize. (Doc. 2) He was also responsible for reuniting Brent with a long-lost school friend, an adventure he made public in a 2006 publication. [ref. 1] (Doc. 3) To this day, the two pioneering researchers share a relationship based on admiration, respect and friendship.
- Starzl, TE: Leslie Brent and the mysterious German surgeon. Annals of Surgery 244:154-157, 2006. http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/5610/
A letter from Dr. Starzl thanking Brent for his input on a paper
Letter, April 15, 1994, Starzl to Brent, 1 page
© Dr. Thomas Starzl
Dr. Starzl’s presentation of Brent for the awarding of the latter’s Medawar Prize in 1994
Text of presentation given by Dr. Starzl at the Transplantation Society meeting, August 30, 1994, 4 pages
© Dr. Thomas Starzl
The beginning of the “German surgeon” mystery, detailed in a 2006 article by Dr. Starzl.
Letter, April 16, 1996, Starzl to Brent, 1 page
© Dr. Thomas Starzl