Professor Sir Roy Calne

Professor Sir Roy Calne, the pioneering transplant surgeon who carried out the first liver transplant in the UK during his time at Cambridge, has died aged 93.

Professor Calne pursued a career as a transplant surgeon after his experience as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital in the 1950s, when he was told there was nothing that could be done for a man dying of kidney failure.

He was appointed to the position of Professor of Surgery at the University of Cambridge in 1965, where he remained until 1998. He established the kidney transplant programme at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, now part of Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust.

On 2 May 1968, Professor Calne performed the first successful liver transplant in Europe. Almost two decades later, in 1986, he would go on to carry out the world’s first liver, heart and lung transplant together with Professor John Wallwork at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. Professor Wallwork described Professor Calne as "a giant in the transplant world and an innovative surgeon".

Professor Calne was a pioneer in immunosuppression – the use of drugs to dampen the response of the immune system in order to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs, a potentially fatal complication. This would go on to revolutionise transplantation. He was among the first to introduce the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporin into routine clinical care, for which he shared the prestigious Lasker Award in 2012.

Despite retiring from the Chair of Surgery at the University of Cambridge in 1998, he continued to perform kidney transplants until well into his seventies, and remained active in research into his eighties.

Professor Deborah Prentice, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “Professor Calne was a true pioneer, driven by the desire to help his patients. His work here in Cambridge as a scientist and clinician has saved many thousands of lives and continues to have a major impact worldwide. We are saddened by his loss and pay tribute to his extraordinary achievements.”

Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge, added: “Sir Roy was a brilliant man who made a series of major breakthroughs in transplant surgery. His work has transformed the lives of countless patients around the world.”

Professor Calne was a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, from 1965-1998. Following his retirement, he was made an Honorary Fellow. In 2018, he attended celebrations at the College to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his pioneering liver transplant surgery, where he was able to meet patients and colleagues from a career spanning six decades. To mark the anniversary, he helped launch a £250,000 appeal by Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust to trial and run a new perfusion machine, which would allow more donated organs to be rendered suitable for transplantation. In 2021, the Addenbrooke’s Transplant Unit was named after him.

Dr Mike More, Chair of CUH, said: “Sir Roy leaves behind a truly amazing legacy and many of our staff will remember him with fondness for his vision and genuine kindness. We will all miss him very much.”

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