Pioneering transplant surgeon Professor Sir Roy Calne dies aged 93

Pioneering transplant surgeon Professor Sir Roy Calne dies aged 93

Professor Sir Roy Calne, the pioneering surgeon who led the first liver transplant operation in Europe in 1968, has died at the age of 93, his family said.

He led the operation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge on May 2 1968 and went on to be the first doctor to use an immunosuppressant in 1978, which was found to be effective in reducing organ rejection.

Sir Roy performed a series of surgical “world firsts” and his work on liver transplants offered thousands of people with end-stage liver disease a normal life, The Royal Society said.

His family told the PA news agency he died in Cambridge late on Saturday evening.

Half a century after completing first liver transplant in Europe, he told the PA news agency that he did not consider it a milestone at the time.

The operation, conducted at Addenbrooke’s Hospital on a 46-year-old woman with liver cancer, was thought to be just “one step” in developing transplants, he said in 2018.

Sir Roy added that he faced opposition while the surgery was arranged, and warned a culture of blame could deter fellow medics from trying to get involved in serious cases.

Despite a successful operation, the patient died two months later from lung inflammation.

Asked whether he had recognised the significance of the transplant, said: “We didn’t really look at it quite like that. We looked at it one step at a time.

“We could do the operation, does the immunosuppression work? Can we prevent the patient getting infected when they are in that poor state?”

Addressing fears over tackling complex cases, he said: “I think there is more caution, there’s more blame.

“If you did your best trying to treat somebody who had a lethal disease, and they died despite you doing your best, it was I think regarded as par of the course. That would happen.

“But now, people will immediately say, ‘whose fault is it?’”

In July 2020, Angela Dunn was believed to be the longest-surviving kidney transplant patient on the planet, having reached 74 years old.

She expressed her gratitude to Sir Roy on the 50th anniversary of the surgery, adding that prior to the operation in her mid-20s she did not expect to live to 30 years old.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital named its specialist transplant unit after the medic, honouring his “world firsts”, and a plaque was placed at the entrance.

At the time, Professor Chris Watson credited the surgeon with putting “Cambridge on the map as an international centre for excellence”.

In 2021 it was the only transplant centre to perform all abdominal organ transplants, with more than 350 conducted each year, Prof Watson added.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said Sir Roy was professor of surgery between 1965 and 1998, performing Cambridge’s first kidney transplant in 1965 and Europe’s first liver transplant three years later.

In 1978 he became the first person to use immunosuppressant ciclosporin, which went on to greatly improve outcomes of various transplants, it added.

He is said to have conducted the earliest ever liver, heart and lung transplant nine years later, and in 1992 carried out the UK’s first intestinal transplant.

Two years after that he successfully performed a multi-visceral transplant combining stomach, intestine, pancreas, liver, and kidney cluster – another world first.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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