Pioneer in kidney transplantation recognised in Queen’s Birthday honours

While Vernon Marshall may not be a household name in Australia, his contribution to medical science through his innovative work in kidney transplantation is known around the world.

Last month, Monash University’s Emeritus Professor Vernon Marshall was among the 68 Australians recognised as Officers in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for his distinguished service to medicine, particularly to renal transplant surgery and organ preservation, and to accreditation and professional standards, as an academic, author and clinician.

Professor Marshall was one of the first surgeons in the world to develop an artificial kidney and one of the first in Australia to perform a kidney transplant.

With his interests focused on surgical metabolism, his work was instrumental in setting up renal dialysis and kidney transplantation.

Professor Marshall has a remarkable family.  One of five children, his father was a postmaster and his mother was a teacher.

“My two brothers, Donald and Robert also became surgeons, my sister Gwen, who is now 96 years old, was a physiotherapist, and my eldest sister Betty was a GP,” Professor Marshall said. “Betty was the only proper doctor!”

In a unique situation in Australia, the three brothers worked as surgeons at Prince Henry's Hospital at the same time from 1975.

“I was Head of Monash University’s Department of Surgery and General Surgery, Donald Head of Plastic Surgery and Robert was Head of Gastrointestinal Surgery,” Professor Marshall said.

In recognition of their significant contribution to surgery, the Marshall Prize in Surgical Training was established in 2002 to encourage surgical trainees within Southern Health to pursue basic or clinical investigative projects.

Early in his surgical career in the 1960s, Professor Marshall developed the role of the artificial kidney and was one of the pioneers of kidney transplantation in Australia.

“As a young surgeon under Professor Morris Ewing, I was the first in Victoria and the second surgeon in Australia to perform a kidney transplant,” Professor Marshall said.

“The development of immunosuppression didn’t start until the 1960s, although it had improved dramatically by the mid ‘60s.”

“At that time, the results in Australia for kidney transplantation were the best in the world.”
Beyond his role as a leading surgeon, Professor Marshall also developed techniques to preserve donated kidneys outside the body.

‘Marshall’s solution’, widely used throughout the 1960s to 1980s, was used to flush donated kidneys before they were put on ice and transported around the world to a recipient.

“My solution enabled a kidney to be preserved for 24 hours while maintaining good function,” Professor Marshall said.

Professor Marshall is the author of a dozen books on surgery and surgical education, including the undergraduate surgical textbook, Clinical Problems in General Surgery, co-written with Phillip Hunt. Since retiring in 1996, Professor Marshall has maintained an active role with the Australian Medical Council.

“I became the Editor and Head of the Examination Committee for overseas doctors, and have also developed helpful books for overseas doctors and students,” he said.

Professor Marshall’s books are currently still in use as reference books for overseas doctors.  He also still works as a medico-legal consultant at e-Reports.

Of his Award, Professor Marshall said he is honoured and delighted, although he regrets his wife, Patricia, isn’t alive to share it.

And in keeping medicine in the family tradition, Professor Marshall’s daughter, Dr Catherine Marshall is an infectious diseases consultant at Monash Health.