Dr. Horace W. Magoun
Dr. Horace Winchell Magoun, a pioneering neuroscientist, was an important early influence on Dr. Starzl’s career. Starzl first encountered Magoun during the former’s sophomore year of medical school at Northwestern University, as a student in Magoun’s neuroanatomy course. Prior to their meeting in 1949, Magoun had spent the better portion of the previous decade absorbed in studies concerning how the nervous system functioned, with particular focus on the role of the lower brain. Magoun worked closely with the Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Moruzzi to further explore the brain’s sensory pathways. Previously, they had researched the perception of sensory stimuli through the nerve fiber system which passed through synapses to a specific area of the cortex. Sensing that there was a deeper system at work, Magoun offered a 23-year old Thomas Starzl a summer internship in to further explore the system of sensory stimulation.
Starzl’s first research venture was a success. He developed a system of recording sensory responses deep within the brain, opening up a new wealth of information. His research led to the discovery of the extralemnisical sensory system, which changed the way scientists understood the way in which the brain responded to stimuli from the outside world. So engrossed with his research, Starzl cancelled his courses for medical school in the fall to continue his research in Chicago, even though his mentor was leaving him behind; in the fall of 1949, Magoun relocated to the University of California in Los Angeles to become Founding Chairman of the Department of Neuroanatomy-Neuroscience. Starzl joined Magoun in Los Angeles in 1951, where he completed his Ph.D. in neurophysiology and produced the first professional articles of his career. However, by 1951, Starzl was beginning to become acutely aware of his calling as a surgeon, and returned to Northwestern in 1951 to finish medical school. Magoun helped Starzl on his way, providing glowing references for a student he considered to be “absolutely the top man that I have encountered.” (Doc. 1)
After professionally parting ways with Starzl, Magoun actively continued his neuroscience research for the next decade. One of his major accomplishments was the establishment of the Brain Research Institute at UCLA in 1959. By the 1960s, he turned his attention to more administrative matters, finally retiring from UCLA in 1972. He spent two years at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., serving as the director of the National Research Council's Fellowship Office, before returning as an emeritus professor to UCLA in 1974. In the 1980s, he helped to found the UCLA Neuroscience History Archives as part of the Brain Research Institute. He passed away in March 1991, leaving behind a long legacy of accomplishments and paradigm-altering research.
Though their period of professional collaboration was brief, Starzl held Magoun in high esteem and valued his first research experience with him deeply. In a letter to a colleague of Magoun’s, Starzl remembers him as “the shark under whose fins we all swam.” He describes Magoun’s attention to detail, his skill as a surgeon, his passion in the pursuit of an idea, and his kindness. (Doc. 2) Starzl’s deep appreciation of and fondness for his mentor is evident not only in the way he writes about him, but also in the way he pursued his own passions and career.
Dr. Magoun's letter of recommendation for Dr. Starzl at the beginning of the latter's surgical career.
Letter, December 20, 1951, Dr. Horace Magoun to Dr. Alfred Blalock, 1 page
© Dr. Horace Magoun