Willem Johan Kolff

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Willem Johan Kolff
Born(1911-02-14)February 14, 1911
DiedFebruary 11, 2009(2009-02-11) (aged 97)
Other namesPim Kolff
OccupationPhysician, Inventor
Awards Gairdner Foundation International Award (1966)
Harvey Prize (1972)
Wilhelm Exner Medal (1980) [1]
Japan Prize (1986)

Willem Johan Kolff (February 14, 1911  February 11, 2009), also known as Pim Kolff, was a pioneer of hemodialysis as well as in the field of artificial organs. Willem is a member of the Kolff family, an old Dutch patrician family. He made his major discoveries in the field of dialysis for kidney failure during the Second World War. He emigrated in 1950 to the United States, where he obtained US citizenship in 1955, and received a number of awards and widespread recognition for his work.



Born in Leiden, Netherlands, Kolff was the eldest of a family of 5 boys. 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 was a 22-year-old man who was slowly dying of renal failure. [2] This prompted Kolff to perform research on artificial renal function replacement. Also during his residency, Kolff organized the first blood bank in Europe (in 1940). Kolff's first prototype dialyzer was developed in 1943, built from orange juice cans, used auto parts, and sausage casings. [3] Over a two year span, Kolff had attempted to treat 15 people with his machine, but all had died. In 1945, Kolff successfully treated his first patient, a 67 year old woman, from renal failure using his hemodialysis machine.

During World War II, he was in Kampen, where he was active in the resistance against the German occupation. Simultaneously, Kolff developed the first functioning artificial kidney. [4] He treated his first patient in 1943, and in 1945 he was able to save a patient's life with hemodialysis treatment. In 1946 he obtained a PhD degree summa cum laude 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.

United States

When the war ended, Kolff donated his artificial kidneys to other hospitals to spread familiarity with the technology. In Europe, Kolff sent machines to London, Amsterdam, and Poland. Another machine sent to Dr. Isidore Snapper at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City was used to perform the first human dialysis in the United States on January 26, 1948 under the supervision of Drs. Alfred P. Fishman and Irving Kroop. [5]

In 1950, Kolff left the Netherlands to seek opportunities in the US. At the Cleveland Clinic, he was involved in the development of heart-lung machines to maintain heart and pulmonary function during cardiac surgery. He also improved on his dialysis machine. At Brigham and Women's Hospital, with funding from New York real estate developer David Rose [6] he developed the first production artificial kidney, the Kolff Brigham Artificial Kidney, manufactured by the Edward A. Olson Co. in Boston Massachusetts, and later the Travenol Twin-Coil Artificial Kidney.

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 in patient Barney Clark, who survived for four months, with the heart still functioning at the time of Clark's death. [4]

In 1976 Kolff became a corresponding member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. [7]


Kolff is considered to be the Father of Artificial Organs, and is regarded as one of the most important physicians of the 20th century. [4] He obtained more than 12 honorary doctorates at universities all over the world, and more than 120 international awards, among them the Harvey Prize in 1972, 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. In 1990 Life Magazine included him in its list of the 100 Most Important Persons of the 20th Century. He was a co-nominee with William H. Dobelle for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2003. Robert Jarvik, who worked in Kolff's laboratory at the University of Utah beginning in 1971, credited Kolff with inspiring him to develop the first permanent artificial heart. [8]

Kolff died three days short of his 98th birthday on February 11, 2009, in a care center in Philadelphia. [4] On February 29, 2012, Yad Vashem recognized Willem Johan Kolff and his wife as Righteous Among the Nations, for their part in concealing a Jewish medical colleague and his son. [9]

Related Research Articles

Nephrology medical specialty that concerns itself with the kidneys

Nephrology is a specialty of medicine and pediatric medicine that concerns itself with the kidneys: the study of normal kidney function and kidney disease, the preservation of kidney health, and the treatment of kidney disease, from diet and medication to renal replacement therapy.

Dialysis removal of nitrogenous waste and toxin from the body/ can be stopped if a kidney transplant is considered

In medicine, dialysis is the process of removing excess water, solutes, and toxins from the blood in people whose kidneys can no longer perform these functions naturally. This is referred to as renal replacement therapy.

Artificial heart Medical device

An artificial heart is a device that replaces the heart. Artificial hearts are typically used to bridge the time to heart transplantation, or to permanently replace the heart in case heart transplantation is impossible. Although other similar inventions preceded it from the late 1940s, the first artificial heart to be successfully implanted in a human was the Jarvik-7 in 1982, designed by a team including Willem Johan Kolff and Robert Jarvik.

Kidney failure Disease where the kidneys fail to adequately filter waste products from the blood

Kidney failure, also known as end-stage kidney disease, is a medical condition in which the kidneys are functioning at less than 15% of normal. Kidney failure is classified as either acute kidney failure, which develops rapidly and may resolve; and chronic kidney failure, which develops slowly. Symptoms may include leg swelling, feeling tired, vomiting, loss of appetite, and confusion. Complications of acute and chronic failure include uremia, high blood potassium, and volume overload. Complications of chronic failure also include heart disease, high blood pressure, and anemia.

Robert Koffler Jarvik, M.D. is an American scientist, researcher and entrepreneur known for his role in developing the Jarvik-7 artificial heart.

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Hemodialysis medical procedure for purifying blood

Hemodialysis, also spelled haemodialysis, or simply dialysis, is a process of purifying the blood of a person whose kidneys are not working normally. This type of dialysis achieves the extracorporeal removal of waste products such as creatinine and urea and free water from the blood when the kidneys are in a state of kidney failure. Hemodialysis is one of three renal replacement therapies. An alternative method for extracorporeal separation of blood components such as plasma or cells is apheresis.

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Home hemodialysis (HHD), is the provision of hemodialysis to purify the blood of a person whose kidneys are not working normally, in their own home.

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Renal replacement therapy (RRT) is therapy that replaces the normal blood-filtering function of the kidneys. It is used when the kidneys are not working well, which is called kidney failure and includes acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease. Renal replacement therapy includes dialysis, hemofiltration, and hemodiafiltration, which are various ways of filtration of blood with or without machines. Renal replacement therapy also includes kidney transplantation, which is the ultimate form of replacement in that the old kidney is replaced by a donor kidney.

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  1. Editor, ÖGV. (2015). Wilhelm Exner Medal. Austrian Trade Association. ÖGV. Austria.
  2. "Willem J. Kolff, M.D, Ph.D. Biography and Interview". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  3. Cooley, Denton A. (2009). "In Memoriam". Texas Heart Institute Journal. 36 (2): 83–84. ISSN   0730-2347. PMC   2676591 .
  4. 1 2 3 4 Moore, Carrie A. "Kolff, 'father of artificial organs,' dies at 97", Deseret News , February 11, 2009. Accessed February 11, 2009.
  5. John Francis Maher (1 January 1989). Replacement of Renal Function by Dialysis: A Text Book of Dialysis. Springer. p. 33. ISBN   978-0-89838-414-7.
  6. New York Times: "DAVID ROSE" July 18, 1986
  7. "Willem Johan Kolff (1911 - 2009)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  8. Milestones, Time Magazine, March 2, 2009, p.18
  9. "Yad Vashem Web Site" . Retrieved 28 July 2018.