Yacoub, Magdi (1935–)

views updated

Yacoub, Magdi

An Egyptian heart surgeon, Magdi Habib Yacoub (Majdi Habib Yaqqub) has performed more heart transplants than any other physician and has been called the leading heart surgeon in the world.


Yacoub was born in Bilbays, Egypt, on 16 November 1935. His family, Coptic Orthodox Christians, was originally from the southern town of Asyut. He began studies at the Cairo University College of Medicine at age fifteen, and was qualified as a doctor in 1957. From 1958 to 1961 he worked at Cairo University Hospital. In 1961, he moved to Denmark and worked at Copenhagen University Hospital.

Yacoub moved to Great Britain in 1962 and began working with the British National Health Service (NHS) at the London Chest Hospital. He began performing pioneering heart surgeries in 1967, and specialized in children with congenital heart problems. Yacoub performed surgery on babies as young as several days old. From 1968 to 1969, he taught at the University of Chicago in the United States. In 1969 he began practicing at Harefield Hospital in London, which went on to become Britain's leading heart hospital. He conducted Britain's first ever heart transplant in 1980, and in that same year, carried out a heart transplant procedure on a man named Derrick Morris, who ended up living until 2005, becoming Europe's longest-surviving heart transplant patient.

In 1986 he became a professor at the National Heart and Lung Institute in London, now part of the Imperial College School of Medicine. While there, he helped develop the procedures involving both heart and lung transplants. Yacoub performed Britain's first live lobe lung transplant in 1984, while performing over twenty-six hundred heart transplants, more than any other surgeon in the world. Yacoub retired from the NHS in September 2001, but he remains a professor at Imperial College, as well as a consultant and global ambassador for transplant surgery.


Yacoub's decision to become a heart surgeon was influenced profoundly by his family. His father, Habib Yacoub, was a surgeon, and young Magdi was drawn to medicine as a result. His youngest aunt died because she suffered from mitral stenosis (a narrowing of the heart valve), which also affected medicine's pull on Yacoub. Years later Yacoub said, "She was very young, in her twenties, and I was left with the impression that she didn't need to die. This motivated me to become a heart surgeon" (Royal Society Web site).

Yacoub always combined research and surgery in his effort to fight human heart failure. He has authored over eight hundred scholarly articles. In the late 1990s, Yacoub embarked upon an ambitious project, one that, if successful, could change the face of medicine: To grow a replacement human heart from stem cells. Assembling a team of over seventy-five biologists, physicists, cellular scientists, engineers, pharmacologists, and others at Harefield Hospital's heart center, he ordered them to study and decipher every aspect of how the human heart works. The aim was to be able to use such information in trying to grow replacement heart parts. In April 2007 his team announced that they successfully grew tissue from stem cells that acts like a human heart valve. If Yacoub's ongoing work proves successful in growing an entire heart valve, it would prove more resilient than artificial heart valves. As Yacoub noted, "The way a living valve functions, it anticipates haemodynamic [sic] events and responds and changes its shape and size. It's completely different from an artificial valve which will just open and shut. The heart muscle itself will appreciate something which will make it free to contract properly" (Jha, 2007).

Yacoub also combines medical and charity work. In 1995, he established Chain of Hope UK, a charity that sends doctors around the world to treat patients free of charge and also brings children to Britain for treatment. Chain of Hope also trains doctors in other countries. The group also helped establish the Maputo Heart Center in Mozambique, and hosts Mozambican doctors in Britain for further training. Yacoub also chairs the Royal Society's Role Model project that was established in 2003.


Name: Magdi Yacoub (Majdi Habib Ya'qub)

Birth: 1935, Bilbays, Egypt

Family: Married; three children

Nationality: Egyptian; carries British citizenship

Education: M.D., Cairo University College of Medicine, 1957


  • 1957: Qualifies as a doctor; works at Cairo University Hospital, Egypt
  • 1961: Works at Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark; moves to Britain; begins work at London Chest Hospital
  • 1968: Teaches at University of Chicago, United States; begins work at Harefield Hospital, London
  • 1980: Performs first successful heart transplant
  • 1984: Performs first live lobe lung transplant; becomes professor at National Heart and Lung Institute in London
  • 1992: Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II
  • 1995: Establishes Chain of Hope UK charity
  • 1999: Made fellow in Royal Society
  • 2001: Retires from surgery
  • 2004: Receives lifetime achievement award from the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation
  • 2007: Announces that his team at Harefield Hospital grew tissue from stem cells that acts like a human heart valve


In 1992 Queen Elizabeth II knighted Yacoub. In 1999 he was made a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science. In April 2004 he was given a lifetime achievement award by the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.


Magdi Yacoub will be remembered as the greatest heart surgeon in the world during the time period in which he lived. His contributions to the science of heart and lung transplants and to the study of heart ailments are unparalleled and of tremendous historical importance.


Jha, Alok. "British Team Grows Human Heart Valve from Stem Cells." Guardian (2 April 2007). Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk.

"Sir Magdi Yacoub FRS—King of Hearts." Royal Society. Available from http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=1573.

                                         Michael R. Fischbach