Dr. Willem J. Kolff, University of Utah artificial-organs pioneer, has been named one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century" by Life magazine.
Kolff, a distinguished professor of surgery and internal medicine and research professor of engineering at the U., is known by many as the father of artificial organs.He began his biomedical engineering work in the 1940s in the Netherlands when one of his patient's kidneys failed. Kolff constructed a dialysis machine out of cellophane tubing.
Today, hundreds of patients benefit from updated versions of the device at the U.'s Kolff Dialysis Center, and a quarter of a million people worldwide are on some form of dialysis.
Kolff, 79, is also well-known for his work on the artificial heart. He brought together the team that implanted the world's first permanent artificial heart in Seattle dentist Barney Clark in 1982.
Along with other researchers, Kolff designed the intra-aortic balloon pump in 1961. It is now the most-used cardiac-assist device, aiding 300,000 patients per year in the United States alone.
Kolff has also pioneered work on the pump oxygenator, the so-called heart-lung machine. At the U., he sponsored work on the artificial eye, ear and arm. His latest work involves the development of small artificial hearts and valves, including models for infants.
The author of hundreds of scientific papers, Kolff joined the U. faculty in 1967. He has extensive honors to his credit, including the "City of Medicine" award he received last year in Durham, N.C., and the Japan Prize awarded to him in 1986.
In receiving the recognition from Life magazine, Kolff joins the ranks of people such as polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk, the Wright Brothers and Henry Ford. The Life list was compiled with the input of more than 60 historians and includes only 21 living Americans.