In Memoriam: Willem J. Kolff, M.D. (1911-2009)

It is with great sadness that we report the recent passing of longtime friend and medical device pioneer, Willem J. Kolff, M.D.

Dr. Kolff was widely regarded as the father of artificial organs, having proved that engineers could build all sorts of artificial organs for keeping patients alive. His artificial kidney evolved into modern dialysis machines for cleansing the blood of people whose kidneys have failed, preserving countless lives.

His membrane oxygenator, which provided a way to add oxygen to blood as it passed through a machine, is still used in heart-lung machines during open-heart surgery. The principles of his artificial heart — though it carries the name of a co-worker — is still in use as a bridge to transplantation in patients with heart failure.

He moved to the University of Utah in 1967 to lead the division of artificial organs, which is where his team of physicians, surgeons, engineers, chemists and other specialists advanced the state of the art of medicine. One of these colleagues was William H. Dobelle, Ph.D., former president of Avery Laboratories, Inc. Up until his passing in 2004, Dr. Dobelle considered Dr. Kolff his mentor and instrumental in his research towards artificial vision for the blind.

The founding President of the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs, Dr. Kolff received more than 12 honorary doctorate degrees at universities all over the world and more than 120 international awards.

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