Transplant pioneer John Fung is pushing the boundaries of organ transplantation

Dr. John Fung, UChicago Medicine transplant pioneer

When asked what kind of physician John Fung is, Jeffrey Matthews, MD, the Dallas B. Phemister Professor and chair of surgery, doesn’t hold back.

“He is one of the most thoughtful, graceful, kind individuals that I’ve ever met in surgery,” Matthews said. “The balance he brings to it of being able to push boundaries doing interesting, paradigm-shifting work — and yet at the same time being so human, so professional and so warm as a person — is very unusual.”

Fung brought these skills to the University of Chicago Medicine in 2016, when he was named chief of the Section of Transplant Surgery and inaugural director of the new Transplant Institute. It was a homecoming for the surgeon, educator and researcher, who earned a medical degree and PhD in immunology from UChicago.

After completing his residency at the University of Rochester, Fung moved to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), where he honed his craft under the guidance of Thomas Starzl, MD, PhD. Starzl, widely known as “the father of modern transplantation,” performed the first human liver transplants in the 1960s and pioneered the use of modern immunosuppression drugs.

Over the next two decades at Pittsburgh, Fung cemented his reputation as a transplant pioneer in his own right. He led a large-scale clinical trial of tacrolimus, a groundbreaking immunosuppressive drug that paved the way for more widespread adoption of organ transplantation, and rose through the ranks to become chief of transplantation and serve as the inaugural Thomas E. Starzl Professor of Surgery at UPMC. He oversaw countless discoveries in transplantation immunology and contributed to more than 800 scientific publications during his tenure in Pittsburgh.

In 2004, Fung left UPMC for Cleveland Clinic, where he eventually led the health system’s transplant center. He continued to build upon his reputation in Cleveland, developing new minimally invasive liver surgery techniques and transplant procedures, instituting an intestinal transplant program, and using new preservation techniques for donor organs.

He also remained close to Starzl, who, in a letter of recommendation for a faculty position at Case Western Reserve University, echoed Matthews’ words. “John is a warm and humble individual who hardly seems to understand that his endowments are far beyond normal,” he wrote.

Fung credits Starzl for pushing him to redefine the boundaries of what is possible in organ transplantation.

“He always said to me, ‘If you believe in something, make it work and then you can figure out the details of how it worked afterwards,’” Fung said. “It’s a simplistic explanation, but I’ve adopted that philosophy because I want to change the practice.”

John Fung, MD, PhD

John Fung, MD, PhD

With more than 30 years of experience, John Fung, MD, PhD, is a renowned leader in the field of organ transplantation, including liver, kidney, pancreas, islet and intestinal transplantation.

Learn more about Dr. Fung

Leaders in Organ Transplantation

Our transplant surgeons are among the best in the world. They have conducted thousands of procedures, earning national and international recognition for their expertise and research.

Learn more about our transplant team