History of the Division of Renal Medicine

Historic Firsts

The Renal Division of Brigham and Women’s Hospital has been the site of many historic firsts in nephrology:

  • The founding director of the Renal Division, Dr. John Merrill, was a co-founder of nephrology as a subspecialty.
  • The early dialysis machine was perfected at the Brigham and named the Kolff-Brigham dialyzer to recognize the contributions of Dr. Merrill to the design.
  • Outpatient commercial dialysis was developed by Brigham nephrologists.
  • Angiotensin converting enzyme inhibition as a therapy for chronic progressive kidney disease was developed at the bench and translated to the bedside by Dr. Barry Brenner, who was Chief of the Division.
  • Many kidney transporters were cloned by Dr. Steve Hebert which led to development of cinacalcet which is used to treat CKD and patients with phosphate issues.
  • The gene for polycystic kidney disease and its functional characteristics were identified in the Division.
  • The causes of a number of forms of glomerular disease were identified by Dr. Martin Pollak.
  • The discovery of genetic variation in APOL1 as a predisposing factor for the development of glomerular disease in African Americans.
  • The current chief, Dr. Joseph Bonventre, has discovered and characterized an important biomarker of kidney injury and kidney cancer and has defined how the kidney repairs after injury.

History of Dialysis

View historical documents: "The Role of PBBH/BWH in the Development of Dialysis Therapy." Presentation written by J. Michael Lazarus, MD.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Nobel Prize in Medicine

December 23, 1954

The first successful human organ (kidney) transplant was performed at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Brigham and Women’s predecessor. It was a watershed event in medicine — one that, over the years, has led to new hope for thousands of patients with end stage renal disease.

The first transplant was remarkable not only for the medical breakthrough, but also for the courage and steadfastness of the surgical team (surgeons Joseph Murray and J.H. Harrison, nephrologist J.P. Merrill, and pathologist Gustave Dammin), under the leadership of Chief of Surgery, Francis Moore, and Chief of Medicine, George Thorn, who supported transplantation in a time of commonly-held skepticism within the medical community. And for his unwavering belief in the potential of transplantation, his perseverance and contributions to transplantation and immunosuppressive drug research, Dr. Joseph Murray was honored with the Nobel Prize in 1990.

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