Dr. Barbara Murphy, a leading nephrologist specializing in advanced research focused on predicting and diagnosing kidney transplant results, died Wednesday at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where she had worked since 1997. She was 56 years old.
The cause is glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain tumor, said her husband Peter Fogarty.
Dr. Murphy has since 2012 combined a passion for kidney transplant immunology research with her role as chair of the medical division of the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine (and its broader healthcare system). She was the first woman to head a medical department at an academic medical center in New York City.
“In baseball, it’s called five-tool players,” said Dr. Dennis S. Charney, Dean of the Icahn School, on the phone. “I don’t know how many tools she had, but she was a very strong administrator, a great researcher, and a great mentor to a lot of people.”
Dr. Murphy, who was from Ireland, developed her interest in kidney transplants while studying medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin. She was particularly drawn to the way it changed patients’ lives.
“I love to see how well patients are doing afterward,” she told Irish America Magazine in 2016. “For all the years I’ve been in this profession, I’ve been drawn to the interaction between a living donor and a recipient Still proud in the recovery room. “To be a doctor and to participate in such a life-affirming moment.”
After being recruited for Mount Sinai in 1997, she and other researchers investigated the role of H.I.V. in kidney disease and helped maintain kidney transplant viability for patients with H.I.V. In a speech at the Royal College in 2018, she recalled that there had been criticism of such transplants – as if there was a “moral hierarchy when it came to donor kidneys”.
She added, “Two weeks ago we received an email from one of our patients thanking us for a kidney transplant on his 15th birthday.”
More recently, Dr. Murphy’s research in her Mount Sinai lab on genetics and genomics predicting transplant outcomes and why some kidneys are rejected.
Results reported in The Lancet in 2016 that she and her coworkers said they had identified a set of 13 genes that predicted which patients would later develop fibrosis, a hallmark of chronic kidney disease and ultimately irreversible damage to the transplanted organ. Being able to predict which patients would be at risk, they wrote, would enable treatment to prevent fibrosis.
Her research has been licensed to two companies. One, Verici DX, which is still in validation trials prior to commercial sale, is developing RNA signature tests to determine how a patient is responding and will respond to a transplant. The other company, Renalytix, uses an artificial intelligence-driven algorithm to determine a kidney disease risk score for patients. Dr. Murphy served on the boards of both companies.
“Barbara was the foundation for Verici,” said Sara Barrington, the company’s executive director, on the phone. She added, “Your laboratory will continue to submit new discoveries from its basic research.”
Barbara Therese Murphy was born in south Dublin on October 15, 1964. Her father John owned an air freight company and her mother Anne (Duffy) Murphy worked with him and also designed bridal wear.
At the age of 4, Dr. Murphy, speaking at an Irish America-sponsored health award dinner in 2016, about having to overcome harsh judgment from a teacher.
“My elementary school teacher told my mother that I was a fool and that I would never be, and that she shouldn’t even try,” she said. “Fortunately, my parents persevered.”
After studying medicine at the Royal College in 1989, Dr. Murphy completed her specialist training and a nephrology fellowship at Beaumont Hospital, also in Dublin. She was also a nephrologist in the kidney department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where she trained in transplant immunology.
In 1997 she was founded by Dr. Paul Klotman, then head of the nephrology department, was appointed director of transplant nephrology to Mount Sinai, who promoted her to his previous position in 2003 after taking over the management of Icahn’s medical department.
“She showed a lot of promise in transplant nephrology that was emerging at the time,” said Dr. Klotman, now President of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, on the phone. “Over the years she has developed good leadership qualities: She was very organized and task-oriented.”
In spring 2020, Dr. Murphy, like other medical professionals, noted with concern that Covid-19 was much more than a respiratory disease. It led to an increase in kidney failure, which resulted in a shortage of machines, supplies, and personnel for emergency dialysis.
The number of patients who need dialysis “is orders of magnitude higher than the number of patients we normally dialyze,” she told the New York Times.
One of Mount Sinai’s responses to the May pandemic was the opening of the post-Covid care center for patients recovering from the virus. At the time, Mount Sinai had treated more than 8,000 patients diagnosed with Covid-19.
“Barbara was instrumental in creating the center,” said Dr. Charney, “and she was involved in the follow-up for a kidney disease caused by Covid.”
Dr. Murphy received the 2003 Young Investigator Award in Basic Science from the American Society of Transplantation and was named Nephrologist of the Year by the American Kidney Fund in 2011. At her death, she was elected president of the American Society of Nephrology.
In addition to her husband, Dr. Murphy also her son Gavin; her sister Dr. Celine Murphy, a cardiologist who works in occupational medicine; her brother, Dr. Kieran Murphy, an interventional neuroradiologist; and their parents.
Dr. Murphy said she learned an indelible lesson about the need for strong patient-doctor relationships during her medical school.
“Scholarships alone weren’t enough,” she said at the Irish America awards ceremony. “For example, if we had a rheumatoid arthritis patient and we shook his hands and he winced, it didn’t matter how much we knew about the disease or how we were supposed to treat it, we wouldn’t have passed our exam because we did did not take into account the patient’s general well-being.