Definitions

Willem Johan Kolff

Willem Johan Kolff

[kohlf, kolf]

Dr. Willem Johan (Pim) Kolff (born February 14, 1911) is a pioneer of hemodialysis as well as in the field of artificial organs.

The Netherlands

Born in Leiden, Netherlands, Kolff studied medicine in his hometown at Leiden University, and continued as a resident in internal medicine at Groningen University. One of his first patients here was a 22-year old man who was slowly dying of renal failure. This prompted Kolff to perform research on artificial renal function replacement. Also during his residency, Kolff organised the first blood bank in Europe (in 1940).

During World War II, he was based in Kampen, where he was active in the resistance against the German occupation. Simultaneously, Kolff developed the first functioning artificial kidney. He treated his first patient in 1943, and in 1945 he was first able to save a patient's life with hemodialysis treatment. In 1946 he obtained a PhD degree at University of Groningen on the subject. It marks the start of a treatment that has saved the lives of millions of acute or chronic renal failure patients ever since.

USA

Shortly afterwards - in 1950 - he left the Netherlands, sensing opportunity in the USA. At the Cleveland Clinic, he was involved in the development of heart-lung machines to maintain heart and pulmonal function during cardiac surgery. He also improved on his dialysis machine.

He became head of the University of Utah's Division of Artificial Organs and Institute for Biomedical Engineering in 1967, where he was involved in the development of the artificial heart, the first of which was implanted in 1982.

Impact

Kolff has to be considered as the Father of Artificial Organs, and is now regarded one of the most important physicians of the twentieth century. He obtained more than 12 honorary doctorates at universities all over the world, and more than 120 international rewards, among them the AMA Scientific Achievement Award in 1982, the Japan Prize in 1986, the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research in 2002, and the Russ Prize in 2003. He was a co- nominee with William H. Dobelle for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003.

References

  • Paul Heiney. The Nuts and Bolts of Life: Willem Kolff and the Invention of the Kidney Machine. Sutton Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-7509-2896-4.
  • Herman Broers. Inventor for Life: The Story of W. J. Kolff, Father of Artificial Organs. B&V Media, 2007. ISBN 90-78430-01-X.

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