Dr. Ernst Eichwald was an early trailblazer in the field of tissue transplantation and the founder of the lab that was eventually to become the McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls, MT.
Born in Hanover Germany, Dr. Eichwald received a medical degree from Freiburg, before moving to the United States in 1938 at the age of 25. He continued his studies in pathology and during WW II served as head of laboratory services in the U.S. Army, in various locations in the Pacific theatre. After the war, he became an Associate Professor of Pathology at the University of Utah.
Dr. Eichwald’s impact in Montana began in 1953 and lasted nearly 15 years. Recruited to run a research program at Deaconess Hospital in Great Falls, he established the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine, which evolved into McLaughlin. The work there played an important role in the eventual development of successful protocols for organ transplantation in humans.
An internationally renowned scientist, he organized the first International Transplantation Conference; founded and edited the journal Transplantation for 30 years; and chaired the Transplantation Committee of the National Academy of Sciences from 1955 to 1967. During this time he also served as a Professor of Microbiology at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman.
Eichwald continually looked to enhance the research capabilities around Great Falls. In a 1965 letter to Dr. Michael DeBakey, who had just been appointed by President Johnson to Chair the Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke, he lobbied for a specialized medical research center in Montana, telling DeBakey of the doubling of their research capabilities with the recruitment of Jack Stimpfling from Bar Harbor, ME and ending by noting, “it seems that we shall have lots of fun.”
His contributions to Montana extended beyond expanding research capabilities and attracting talent to Great Falls. One local 16-year-old high school student who volunteered to work in his pathology lab tells this story, ‘Dr. Eichwald had made a fascinating discovery: if he grafted skin from a male mouse into a genetically identical inbred female mouse, the female would reject the graft. Why does this happen? He asked me.’
‘Even though I was a B+ student, I knew it had to be about either hormones or the Y chromosome. And because Eichwald gave me free rein to do my own research, I conducted one experiment that ruled out hormones and another that explored how pre-immunizing the females with male cells led to accelerated rejection. Discovering that it was the Y chromosome hooked me on medical science,’ says Irv Weissman, one of the leading stem cell scientists in the world today.
Dr. Eichwald returned to chair the Department of Pathology at the University of Utah, soon after McLaughlin opened its doors in 1967, but maintained strong ties to his colleagues in Montana until his passing in 2007.