McDonald’s five-decade-long quest in the laboratory has made a substantial contribution to medical research, specifically in the areas of histocompatibility, homotransplantations, causes of organ rejection, heterophile transplantation antigen, and human leukocyte antigen. More than 200 research articles have been published in prestigious scientific journals.

McDonald’s laboratory research began during his surgical residency in the early 1960s, when he collaborated with Dr. Theodore Drapanas, Professor of Surgery at Meyer Memorial Hospital at the State University of New York at Buffalo. These early studies (see also) were concerned with various aspects of abdominal surgery.

During his immunology fellowship from 1963-1965, McDonald, in collaboration with his mentor Felix Milgrom, worked out the distribution of histocompatibility antigens in the rabbit, developed a serodiagnostic test for allograft rejection, and performed some seminal studies on characterizing antibodies accompanying graft rejection. This research and laboratory work resulted in the publication of ten scientific articles in as few short years.

McDonald’s continued interest in histocompatibility and graft rejection led to a lengthy experiment in which he studied the leukoagglutination response of the healthy male to repeated skin allografts. Subjects in this study were inmates at the Attica State Prison in New York. Fifty healthy adult male volunteers were divided into 25 pairs. Each member of each pair was expected to donate to and receive from his partner 3 successively applied allografts of skin. In 1968, data from this study resulted in presentations at the annual meeting of the Society of University Surgeons, as well as the meeting of the Central Surgical Association. Data from this study also resulted in the publication of two journal articles, one in Surgery and the other in Surgical Forum. For more information on this study click here.

In late 1968, McDonald began his duties as Associate Professor at the Tulane University School of Medicine, where he was also the Director of their Transplantation Laboratory and Director of their Histocompatibility Testing Laboratory. He continued his immunologic research, focusing on the importance of cellular and humoral immunity, transplant rejection, and the development of methods to detect early rejection episodes. McDonald and his team of kidney transplant specialists discovered a new system that was found to be responsible for acute transplantation rejection. They called this discovery the Heterophile Transplantation Antigen or, the HTA System. Further investigation into the HTA System resulted in three grants from the National Institutes of Health and a ten-part series of journal articles published from 1973 through 1982. For further information on the HTA System, click here.
McDonald’s potential to become a distinguished researcher was recognized by the Southern Surgical Association in 1972, when he was awarded the Association’s prestigious Arthur H. Shipley Award. The Shipley Award is given for the best paper at the previous meeting of the Association; in this case, for “Mixed Lymphocyte Culture in Histocompatibility Testing for Renal Transplantation.” (See also

When McDonald assumed the chairmanship of the surgery department at the LSU Medical School in 1977, he continued his research of the HTA System previously discussed. He also conducted research with his colleagues that focused on their clinical experiences with kidney, pancreas, and liver transplantation (see also). Other research efforts were concerned with soluble HLA (see also), the role of P-selectin, the condition of donor organs, and aspects of breast cancer.

McDonald’s role as a research mentor was acknowledged in 1980, when “Risk of Sepsis in the Asplenic Adult” a paper co-authored by Barron J. O’Neal and John C. McDonald, was recognized at the Surgical Association of Louisiana as the best research performed by a surgical resident.   

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw McDonald becoming increasingly active in the creation of organ procurement networks on all levels. His leadership activities in the South-Eastern Organ Procurement Foundation, the United Network for Organ Sharing, and the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency were echoed by journal articles (see also: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5) detailing the history and progress of these organizations.



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