Sir Roy Y. Calne
Sir Roy Y. Calne is a pioneering British transplant surgeon whose work on immunosuppression and surgical technique mirrored Dr. Starzl’s own, only a continent away. Calne was intrigued by the idea of organ transplantation from its nascent stage, particularly after listening to a lecture by Peter Medawar in 1959. Focusing primarily on immunosuppressive models, Calne was discouraged by the toxic effects of radiation as a means to combat rejection, and was instrumental in developing the first chemical combatants to rejection, the first clinical application being azathioprine, which was used successfully in humans in 1962 by Dr. Joseph Murray. After briefly studying in Boston with Dr. Francis Moore, Calne became the foremost transplant surgeon in Europe, being appointed Chair of Surgery at Cambridge University in 1965. Starzl and Calne were acquainted and began a correspondence in the early 1960s. (Doc. 1)
Though his early work focused on the kidneys, Calne was intrigued by reports of pigs showing long-term survival after liver transplants, without the use of antirejection drugs. At the same time, Starzl was preparing to reopen his liver program in Denver again, where the first successful transplant was performed in 1967. Heartened by Starzl’s success, Calne opened the world’s second liver transplant program, the first in Europe, in 1968, which yielded its own positive results. Both doctors realized the need for further work on antirejection medication in order to make the procedure viable, and their combined research led to some of the greatest advances in the field. (Doc. 2) Calne’s development of Cyclosporine-A in the late 1970s was a breakthrough; by combining this drug with prednisone, Starzl was able to achieve more consistent long-term results in his own patients. By the early 1980s, liver transplantation became accepted clinical practice, rather than experimental, built upon the backs of these two men and their research. Still, they continued in their search for more effective, less harmful, methods of combatting rejection; Calne pioneered the use of the drug Campath, which is used not only to treat rejection, but to also help prevent it.
Calne’s career has been marked by enormous success and tremendous perseverance. Like Starzl, he struggled against early critics of the liver transplantation procedure, desperate to keep patients with liver disease from facing a death sentence upon diagnosis. Calne was recognized for his multitude of contributions to medicine when he was knighted a Knight Bachelor in 1986, among a litany of other awards and honors. In addition to his medical dexterity, Calne is also an accomplished artist, working both as a painter and sculptor. He remained at Cambridge University until 1998, where he now serves as Professor Emeritus. Currently, Calne is currently studying gene and cell therapy at the National University of Singapore as a visiting professor.
As contemporaries, Starzl and Calne pioneered the study of immunosuppression and the procedure of liver transplantation, changing the face of modern medicine as we know it. In The Puzzle People, Starzl does not underestimate the role Calne played in keeping their research afloat: “The fate of liver transplantation would depend on an unspoken trans-Atlantic alliance between Cambridge and Denver without which further efforts could not have continued, much less succeeded, on either side of the ocean. These mutually supportive moral and scientific bonds pulled liver transplantation into the mainstream of medical practice.”[ref 1] Appropriately, the two men were honored together by both being awarded the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award in 2012, acknowledging that “through their systematic and relentless efforts, [Calne and Starzl] created a medical procedure that most physicians deemed an impossible dream.”[ref 2]
- Thomas E. Starzl, The Puzzle People (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992), 190.
- Evelyn Strauss, “Award Description: Roy Calne and Thomas E. Starzl,” The Lasker Foundation,
(accessed February 15, 2013).
An early letter from Sir Calne, inquiring about Dr. Starzl’s early experiments with baboon kidneys
Letter, January 13, 1963, Sir Roy Calne to Dr. Thomas Starzl, 1 page
© Sir Roy Calne
Dr. Starzl discusses recent heterograft attempts, and reflects on a shared interest: immunosuppression
Letter, March 23, 1964, Dr. Thomas Starzl to Sir Roy Calne, 1 page
© Dr. Thomas Starzl
Dr. Starzl discusses Sir Calne in response to hearing of his selection as Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons
Letter, April 5, 1985, Dr. Thomas Starzl to Lloyd D. MacLean, 1 page
© Dr. Thomas Starzl
A speech given by Dr. Starzl at a 1991 meeting of the British Transplantation Society, honoring Sir Calne
Speech, “Liver Transplantation,” given at a meeting of the British Transplantation Society, March 26, 1991, 11 pages
© Dr. Thomas Starzl