Paul Ichiro Terasaki, a pioneer in organ transplant medicine, will be awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s highest honor, at the UCLA College of Letters and Science commencement ceremony on June 15.
Terasaki, a professor emeritus of surgery who earned three degrees at UCLA, was the first to devise a method to perform “tissue typing” and to develop antibodies to be used in that procedure, which assesses the compatibility of organ donors and recipients. In 1984, with eight former graduate students, he launched a company, One Lambda, that has played a central role in the development and advancement of tissue typing.
The UCLA Kidney Transplant Registry, which was established by Terasaki in the 1970s, was the first and largest in the world until the establishment of federal registries.
“Dr. Terasaki is an outstanding scientist and inspirational role model who has contributed to UCLA’s excellence and to society in so many ways, including his monumental accomplishments in transplant medicine,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “As I have come to know Dr. Terasaki, I have been inspired by his generosity and his humility. His vision and abiding belief in UCLA’s continued excellence are truly exceptional.”
Terasaki, a longtime UCLA supporter, donated $50 million to the UCLA Division of Life Sciences, the largest gift ever received by the College of Letters and Science. In recognition, the Terasaki Life Sciences Building, opened in fall 2010, was named in his honor. The building includes 33 laboratories, where hundreds of scientists conduct innovative research integrating such fields as cell biology, neuroscience, genomics and stem cell research.
The gift included $2 million to endow the Paul I. Terasaki Chair in Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, whose funds are initially supporting two postdoctoral fellowships in transplantation.
Terasaki’s generosity to UCLA goes back years and has benefited many parts of the university. In 2001, he established an endowed chair in U.S.–Japan relations, and in 2006, he and his wife contributed $5 million to UCLA to promote better understanding between the U.S. and Japan at the renamed Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at the UCLA International Institute. They also established the Nibei Foundation to encourage fellowship and partnership between Japanese and Japanese American professors and doctors.
Earlier this month, Terasaki was honored as the Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year by the UCLA Alumni Association. On June 1, the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a forum titled “New Visions of Japan.”
Terasaki earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. from UCLA in zoology. He then received a postdoctoral fellowship in London for a year, where he worked under Peter Medawar, who later received a Nobel Prize and is often considered the founder of the field of transplantation. (Terasaki later won the Medawar Prize from the Transplantation Society.)
After being promoted from researcher, Terasaki served as a UCLA professor of surgery from 1969 until 1999, when he retired. Within a year, he resumed his academic pursuits with the creation of the Terasaki Foundation Laboratory, a research center dedicated to the study of antibodies to transplants.
A member of the World Health Organization and the British Transplantation Society, Terasaki has served as president of the International Transplantation Society and the American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics.
The UCLA Medal is bestowed on those with exceptionally distinguished academic and professional achievement whose body of work or contributions to society illustrate the highest ideals of UCLA. Recipients have included national and international leaders in government, education, science, industry and the arts, Nobel laureates, and men and women who have advanced UCLA’s development into one of the world’s preeminent universities.
Previous recipients include President Bill Clinton, UCLA alumnus and former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, former basketball coach John Wooden, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, and UCLA alumnus and former astronaut Anna L. Fisher.