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Willem Johan Kolff (February 14, 1911 – February 11, 2009)

Willem Johan “Pim” Kolff is from an old Dutch patrician family. He was a pioneer bio-medical engineer, who invented kidney dialysis machine. With his student Robert Jarvik, Kolff co-designed and led the medical team on Dec. 2, 1982, which implanted the first artificial human heart in Barney Clark. Kolff is widely considered the “father of artificial organs.”

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He earned his M.D. (1938) from the University of Leiden, and Ph. D (1946) from the University of Groningen. His major discovery was made During World War II. His effort in creating  the first artificial kidney, paved the way for the creation of the first dialysis machine. Dialyser cleansed the blood of patients struggling with acute renal failure. In 1945 he did first successful dialysis on human and is still going on saving millions of people since.

After the war he came to America (1950), where he designed a membrane oxygenator used in bypass surgery, an intra-aortic balloon pump used to repair arterial failure, and in 1975, a portable, “wearable” artificial kidney. He became head of the University of Utah’s Division of Artificial Organs and Institute for Biomedical Engineering in 1967.

Kolff was a founding member of the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs and was the recipient of 12 honorary doctorates at universities all over the world, and more than 120 international awards, notably the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, which he shared in 2002. In addition, Kolff designed other artificial organs, including eyes, ears, and limbs, until his retirement in 1997.

Kolff died on February 11, 2009, in a care center in Philadelphia.


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