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Michael Harrison and the Rise of Fetal Surgery

By Jeff Miller

Young children sometimes play games in parallel worlds, even when occupying the same space. The same can sometimes be true of science and medicine. Doctors and researchers might speak the same language and perhaps use some of the same tools, but their different “accents” (think brain surgeon and a protein structure expert) signal different origins — and often a different perspective on the big questions of human health. In short, they need a translator. This becomes obvious when an elegant scientific discovery or a searing insight fuses into a medical marvel. Only then do we truly hear the music of the spheres, as Pythagoras would say, and understand the underlying harmony behind it. UCSF’s Michael Harrison, MD, professor of surgery, pediatrics, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and director of the Fetal Treatment Center, first “made music” for the world nearly 30 years ago. Filled with the indignation of a young doctor at the death of an infant, he challenged conventional wisdom by suggesting, testing and then performing with his colleagues the world’s first open fetal surgery. In the decades since, Harrison has studied and devised remedies for a number of life-threatening fetal abnormalities. With each advance, the surgeries have become less and less invasive. And in keeping with the spirit of the times, he and his colleagues have also used stem cell transplants to treat a number of immune and enzyme deficiencies. Even now, his work — which he describes as both science and art — still excites and entices him. And in the conversation that follows, he remains as optimistic about the future as ever. Hear the conversation. * Fetal Firsts at UCSF
This list of achievements also links to a series of videos in which Harrison explains how the field of fetal surgery originated and how it is evolving. * Study Explores Using Magnets to Correct “Sunken Chest” * Pelosi Celebrates Opening of New Fetal Treatment Center * Father of Fetal Surgery Looks Ahead * Renowned Children’s Hospital Surgeon Lauded by Pediatricians, Surgeons * Pioneering Fetal Treatment Center Unveils Online Consultation * Fetal Treatment Center Patients Reunite at UCSF