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1927 - 2018

Marshall J. Orloff, M.D., 1927 - 2018

On November 6, 2018, the UC San Diego community said goodbye to a towering figure in American surgery, Marshall J. Orloff, MD, Distinguished Professor of Surgery Emeritus and founding chair of the Department of Surgery at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Dr. Orloff passed away after a brief hospitalization at the age of 91.

For more than five decades, Dr. Orloff was a fixture in the community, joining the School of Medicine faculty in 1965—before there was an actual campus or inaugural student class.

In the following decades, Orloff’s translational and clinical research changed the understanding of the physiology and consequences of portal hypertension (increased blood pressure within the portal vein that carries blood from the digestive organs to the liver) and helped define the role of surgical shunting procedures for this potentially life-threatening condition.

He was a leader on the UC San Diego campus from the very beginning. As a member of our community, Marshall created and developed one of the finest departments of surgery in the nation, built upon clinical excellence, committed teaching and the translation of basic research into the clinical arena. His sustained commitment to patients and to advancing his field are best exemplified by the scope and length of his active research, from the first of his more than 450 publications in 1949 to his last in 2015—an astounding span of 67 years.

In recognition of his substantive contributions, Orloff received the Society of University Surgeons’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Orloff was born in Chicago on October 12, 1927. He received his BS, MS and MD degrees from the University of Illinois. (He was valedictorian of each class.) After completing an internship at UC San Francisco, Orloff conducted his residency in general and thoracic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, with a two-year interruption (1953-55) when he served in Germany with the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He finished at Pennsylvania as chief resident in 1958. Orloff’s first post-training faculty position was assistant professor of surgery at the University of Colorado, where he was honored as a Markle Scholar in Medical Science. Three years later, UCLA recruited him to be a full professor of surgery and chief of surgical services at Harbor General Hospital. At the time, he was just 34 years old.

Over the next four years, numerous institutions would attempt to lure him away, among them Yale, Columbia and the universities of Chicago and Texas. But his next move would be his last, accepting position as first chair of surgery at UC San Diego’s fledgling school of medicine. He was the youngest surgical chair in the United States and would serve in this role for the next 16 years, stepping down in 1981, though he would continue as an active, committed clinician, researcher and educator until his death.

Orloff’s interests and accomplishments were many and enduring, encompassing liver physiology, portal hypertension, cancer, immunology, obesity, diabetes and the nascent field of solid organ transplantation. His research was continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for almost half a century, from 1956 to 2004, amounting to roughly $22 million.

He received many awards, including honorary doctorates and professorships from universities in Korea, Greece and Sweden. He was a visiting professor more than 250 times at more than 90 institutions around the world and an esteemed mentor, honored with outstanding teacher awards at Pennsylvania, Colorado, UCLA and eight times at UC San Diego. The M.J. Orloff Family Endowed Chair in Surgery was created in 2007 with contributions from more than 200 former surgical trainees.

Orloff is survived by three sons and three daughters, who have followed in their parents' inspiring footsteps: Three are professors of surgery, one is a juvenile defense attorney, one a high school teacher and one a research medical social worker and rehabilitation counselor.