John P. Merrill, MD
John P. Merrill, MD, generally credited as the "father of nephrology," was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1917. He graduated Dartmouth College and then attended Harvard Medical School and interned at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women's Hospital). He served four years in the Army during World War II, returning to Boston in 1947 as an assistant resident at Brigham Hospital. He remained at Brigham until his death in 1984.
Although initially interested in cardiology, Dr. Merrill was tapped by Dr. George Thorn to lead Brigham's efforts to develop an artificial kidney. Modified from a design by Dr. Wilhelm Kolff, the Brigham-Kolff dialyzers found early success in treating acute renal failure. In the early 1960's, Dr. Merrill joined other pioneers in testing chronic dialysis, leading to the acceptance of the treatment as a safe and effective mainstay for end-stage renal disease.
In 1954, Dr. Merrill, leading a team that included Dr. Thorn and David M. Hume, MD, completed the first successful kidney transplant. The surgery was conducted in December between two identical twins, which circumvented the immunologic rejection that had caused previous transplants to fail. Determined to find such success between non-identical pairings, Dr. Merrill dedicated his research to investigating transplant immunology. The first successful transplantation in fraternal twins was performed at Brigham in 1960 and the first successful cadaver kidney transplant followed in 1963 by treating recipients with steroids and incremental radiation.
Dr. Merrill's clinical and investigative interests expanded beyond dialysis and transplantation to include hypertension, acute renal failure, glomerulonephritis, fluid and electrolytes, and other interrelated medical issues, fostering the development of today's nephrology specialty. He published over 400 articles and trained over 150 fellows from across the world. He was active in many medical societies, serving as president of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs, and the International Society of Nephrology. In addition to his research, Dr. Merrill was dedicated to social causes, including advocating for medical care for all, promoting dialysis centers in communities throughout the nation, and in encouraging the government to support patients requiring long-term kidney care.