In Memoriam: Dr. J. Wesley Alexander

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

J. Wesley Alexander, MD, ScD, internationally renowned pioneer in transplantation, died Saturday, July 7. He was 84 years old. 

 Dr. Alexander was named the first director of the Division of Transplantation at the University of Cincinnati (UC) in 1967, a position he held until 1999. On Dec. 11, 1967, he performed UC’s first organ transplant, a kidney transplant. He subsequently performed the first combined kidney-pancreas transplant in 1970 and first liver transplant in 1986. Additionally, Alexander played key roles in the development of UC's burn and surgical infectious disease programs. Dr. Alexander also assisted on the first adult heart transplant in Cincinnati in 1985  

Dr. Alexander was raised in a small town in west Texas and received his undergraduate degree at Texas Technological University in Lubbock. He received his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1957 and a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1964. He completed his internship and surgical residency at Cincinnati General Hospital in 1964. Following two years of duty with the United States Army, Dr. Alexander completed a fellowship in immunology with Dr. Robert Good, a leading immunologist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Alexander returned to Cincinnati in 1967 to join the UC faculty as an assistant professor. He was named a professor in 1975 and became the inaugural holder of the William A. Altemeier Professorship in Research Surgery in 2000. He was appointed professor emeritus in 2008.

Dr. Alexander established the first organ procurement agency in Cincinnati, and also served as director of the local blood bank, Hoxworth Blood Center, for several years. He also served as director of research at Shriners Hospital of Cincinnati for two decades.   

Among his most notable awards were the Harvey Stuart Allen Distinguished Service Award from the American Burn Association (1994), the George Rieveschl Award for Distinguished Scientific Research from UC (1996), the Daniel Drake Medal (1997) from the College of Medicine and the Distinguished Service Award from the Cincinnati Surgical Society (2005).

Dr. Alexander was active in many professional organizations, serving as president of the American Burn Association (1984-1985), the Surgical Infection Society (1986-1987) and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (1988-1989), and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Halsted Society (1988-1991). He also served on numerous national committees, National Institutes of Health Study Sections and as a grant reviewer.

Dr. Alexander received NIH research grant funding for more than 35 years totaling nearly $10 million and an additional $2 million in industry grants. His research efforts resulted in seven U.S. patents between 1991 and 2001 and more than 700 published scientific papers.

Dr. Alexander’s basic transplant research was focused on murine models for development of tolerance, with a focus on donor specific blood transfusions. For a substantial portion of his career he teamed with his medical colleague Roy First MD in clinical immunosuppression trials. In the latter years of his career, Dr. Alexander also focused in clinical research and pioneered the application of surgical treatment of obesity in transplant candidates and transplant recipients, work that has been continued at UC using modern metabolic surgery procedures. 

“Wes was a giant in transplantation, and in burns, infection and nutrition. It is rare in academic medicine for an individual to become such a strong intellectual force in such varied and widely disparate fields of study. But that was Wes Alexander. His life’s work was to the great benefit of the University of Cincinnati, the people of Cincinnati, and patients around the world. We will miss him greatly,” says Dr. E. Steve Woodle, Director of Solid Organ Transplantation at UC Health and current holder of the William A. Altemeier Endowed Chair in Surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Services are scheduled for 5 p.m.Friday, July 27 at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church, 1345 Grace Ave, Cincinnati Ohio