Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust

Sir Roy Calne's story


Millions of people around the world are alive today thanks to the work of Professor Sir Roy Calne. Some will have been his patients and operated on by his own hands. But most will have never heard of him or know that they’re alive because of his pioneering work.



Sir Roy, now 87, is one of the founding fathers of organ transplant. A practising surgeon who came to Addenbrooke’s in 1968, he has always been ahead of the curve, pushing the boundaries of what was known about transplant surgery and how to improve survival rates by combatting organ rejection.


He conducted his first liver transplant on 2 May 1968, half a century ago; it was the first successful one in Europe. The operation went very well, but the patient sadly developed an infection after a couple of months and died.


Sir Roy admits that there were a lot of challenges in the early days. Addenbrooke’s didn’t have a hepatologist at the time so he collaborated closely with liver specialists at King’s Hospital in London. Sir Roy and his Cambridge colleagues conducted the operations and the King’s team met the patients’ subsequent medical needs. It was a collaboration that lasted for over 20 years.


Sir Roy was constantly ahead of what Addenbrooke’s could offer and he supported the development of the intensive care infrastructure needed to support his operations, including the John Farman Unit. The hospital had recruited skilled liver physicians to look after patients, and the majority went on to flourish. The longest surviving liver transplant patient is still alive, 44 years after his surgery.


“We travelled far and wide and we’d be working for 24 hour stretches, bringing back donor organs, sometimes under police escort or by helicopter. It could be exhausting."


“It felt like there were no boundaries, because patients were dying. We knew what we were doing wasn’t perfect, so all the time we were trying to make it better with different immunosuppressant combinations, trying to reduce rejection while minimising the number of drugs that patients had to take on an ongoing basis. There is still lots left to be cracked.”


Sir Roy also achieved the world’s first heart, liver and lung transplant with John Wallwork at Papworth Hospital, as well as the first successful organ cluster transplant of stomach, intestine, pancreas, liver and kidney, in 1992. Despite these surgical firsts, he is most proud of his work in developing immunosuppressants which have undoubtedly restored the lives of millions of patients, people who know only too well the alternative.


Over 100 patients now receive liver transplants each year at Addenbrooke’s alone, with 25,000 being conducted worldwide. As celebrations unfold to mark Sir Roy’s milestone transplant, specialists at Addenbrooke’s are continuing his legacy, searching for new ways to prolong organ viability, making this life-saving surgery available to ever more people.

Help us to raise £250,000 to save the lives of more liver patients. Find out more about our appeal by visiting

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• Read Maggie' story and Michelle's story to find out how liver transplants changed their lives.