Monya Baker has an excellent Q&A with the authors of the recent Nature Insight: Regenerative Medicine over at The Niche blog. Ken Chien, the author of Regenerative medicine and human models of human disease – see earlier post – recalls the paradigmatic story of heart transplantation and the 2 main surgeons behind, Norman Shumway and Christiaan Barnard, who are perfect representatives of the different paths of pioneering clinicians:
Sometimes in looking forward it’s good to look back. In cardiac regenerative medicine, probably the only clear success to date is heart transplantation. From the initial grant that Norman Shumway received in 1958 [to study the possibility of heart transplantation] it took more than two decades before the procedure became routine.
Shumway was a careful, thoughtful man. He not only didn’t do the first heart transplant; he didn’t do the second. He was slowed down in the United States because of the regulatory barriers and ethical concerns. Christiaan Barnard, on the other hand, went back to South Africa and decided to just go for it. Sounds familiar?
We realized very quickly that this was not working, that the science was not there. In 1968, a year after his first attempt, Barnard gave up on the procedure and considered it a failure. Everyone gave up, except Shumway. He went back to the lab and spent the next ten years figuring it out. He realized that the issue was rejection.
Then he showed that he could get successful transplantation in large animals. That was key. It wasn’t one of these ‘let’s just try it out in patients’ kind of things.