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BWH mourns the loss of Nicholas Tilney, MD, a passionate scientist, supportive mentor, kindhearted physician and faithful friend, who passed away March 13. He was a longtime director of BWH's Transplant Service.
"Dr. Tilney was the epitome of a gentleman," said friend and colleague Stefan G. Tullius, MD, PhD, FACS, chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery. "He was a charismatic surgeon-scientist and a tremendous mentor to many physicians and scientists who are now in prominent positions throughout the world."
Born in New York City, Dr. Tilney earned his medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in 1962 and completed his residency and training in surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1972. After serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Dr. Tilney and his family moved to England, where he worked for and studied at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology and the National Health Service.
He returned to Boston and joined the Peter Bent Brigham as a general and vascular surgeon and Harvard Medical School as an instructor of surgery. Dr. Tilney was fascinated with the early ground-laying work in transplantation by the late Dr. Joseph E. Murray and grew increasingly interested both in the clinical advancement and the evolving science of transplantation biology. He became a senior surgeon and then the Francis D. Moore Professor of Surgery in 1992.
Dr. Tilney served as director of the Transplant Service from 1976 to 1992, and director of the Surgical Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School from 1975 to 2003. He made many scientific advances during his career, including being among the first to test the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine A in the 1970s.
Throughout nearly three decades of laboratory research, Dr. Tilney published more than 550 scientific papers and chapters, trained 40 research fellows from all over the world and authored "Transplant: From Myth to Reality;" "A Perfectly Striking Departure: Surgeons and Surgery at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, 1912-1980;" and "Invasion of the Body: Revolutions in Surgery."
"Dr. Tilney touched so many people in so many ways throughout his life, and I will remember his compassion and service with fondness and admiration," said Michael Zinner, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery. "His legacy will endure, both at the Brigham and around the world."
Dr. Tilney served as president of the New England Organ Bank, the American Society of Transplant Surgeons and the International Transplantation Society. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of Glasgow, and a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Medical University of Warsaw. Dr. Tilney retired from BWH as an honorary surgeon in 2010.
"Dr. Tilney's accomplishments, collegiality and friendliness will continue to set an example for us as clinician-scientists and researchers moving the field forward," said Tullius.
Dr. Tilney is survived by his wife, Mary Graves Tilney, who directed the Surgical Research Laboratory for 28 years; daughters Rebecca Tilney, Louise Tilney Moore, Victoria Tilney McDonough and Frances Tilney Burke; and nine grandchildren. A memorial service and reception were held last week at Harvard Memorial Church and the Loeb House.