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Transplant pioneer, Sir Roy Calne, has sadly died

Sir Roy saved many lives and touched many families through his innovative transplant work

News story

8 January 2024

We are very sad to learn that transplant pioneer, Professor Sir Roy Calne, has died.

He will be missed not only by all of us at Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT), but also by the countless staff who worked alongside him, and the patients whose lives were transformed by his pioneering work. Thousands of families all over the world will have been touched by his caring and innovative approach – Professor Calne never accepted that something wasn’t possible and many people’s lives have been saved thanks to that determination.

Sir Roy performed the first successful liver transplant in Europe at Addenbrooke’s on 2 May 1968, and dedicated his life to turning seemingly impossible surgery into regular practice at Addenbrooke’s, where he established the kidney transplant service.

The Organox liver perfusion machine
Sir Roy Calne (L) and Prof. Chris Watson with the liver perfusion machine funded by ACT supporters

In 2018, Sir Roy helped launch ACT’s £250,000 appeal to run a state-of-the art ‘liver perfusion’ machine. This machine helps newly donated livers survive for longer and, crucially, enables surgeons to ‘test-drive’ livers on a system mimicking the body, ensuring their functionality before transplant.

The appeal reached its target the following year thanks to the generous support of the charity’s incredible donors and has meant that since the machine arrived in February 2018, 213 livers that may have previously been deemed unsuitable for transplant have been found to function well enough for them to be transplanted.

One of the stories we reported on was that of Paul, who in 1990 was diagnosed with liver disease. Paul experienced the stress of receiving a call in January 2018 asking him to travel to Cambridge as a liver was ready for him only to discover that, unfortunately, the liver was not suitable. In August Paul was called again, however this time the liver perfusion machine was in operation and, as a result, the liver was tested for suitability and confirmed for use. After a successful surgery Paul was able to get back on his feet and start enjoying the things he used to love like golf and cycling.

ACT CEO, Shelly Thake, said “We are so very sorry to hear the sad news of the passing of Professor Calne. He was such an inspiration and innovator in the transplant world, and we are honoured to have worked with him on our liver perfusion machine appeal that will go on saving lives for years to come.”

We offer our sincerest condolences to Professor Calne’s family at this time, and our gratitude to a man that transformed the lives of so many, and embodied the caring, innovative and world-leading approach that Addenbrooke’s Hospital is known for.

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