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George Widmer Thorn

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 12 August 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:405

Pioneer of the artificial kidney, renal transplantation, and the treatment of Addison's disease

George Thorn was one of the few medical pioneers to make it into the history books during his own lifetime. He introduced renal dialysis, was the physician to the first kidney transplanters, and brought the Howard Hughes Medical Institute into being. He is, however, most famous for introducing the first effective treatment for Addison's disease.

The English doctor Thomas Addison first recognised the disease that bears his name in 1849, but the condition remained incurable for decades. By the 1920s, patients' lives were prolonged by injecting them with a crude extract of adrenal glands bought from abattoirs. It was impossible to remove the adrenaline (epinephrine) from it, and this made it impossible to give an effective dose.

In 1930 at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now Brigham and Women's Hospital) in Boston, Massachusetts, Thorn devised a method of making an extract of the adrenal cortex (which he called “cortin”) that was free from adrenaline …

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