Paul Terasaki

Name Paul Terasaki
Born September 10 1929
Died January 25 2016
Birth Location Los Angeles, California
Generational Identifier


Life scientist, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. A pioneering figure in the field of transplantation, Paul Terasaki's innovations in tissue testing, organ tracking, and organ preservation helped to greatly expand the number of subsequent transplants. With wealth generated from the commercialization of his inventions, he became a major funder of Japanese Studies and life sciences at his alma mater, UCLA.

Early Life and Wartime Incarceration

Paul Ichiro Terasaki was born in Los Angeles on September 10, 1929, the eldest child of Shuhei and Hanako (Kaya) Terasaki. Shuhei (1894–1994), who also went by "George," had first migrated to Hawai'i in 1914, before a stint attending the Art Institute of Chicago. After trying to establish himself as a painter in Los Angeles, he worked in the print shop of the Rafu Shimpo , before embarking on a string of businesses including a cafe, a liquor store and a cake shop in Little Tokyo. Hanako (1903–60) was a Kibei , born in Hawai'i, but raised in Japan until age nine, when she returned to Hawai'i. Sent to live with an aunt in Los Angeles around 1920, she graduated from Jefferson High School and worked in a garment shop. She and Shuhei married in 1927. After Paul, two more sons followed, George Katsumi (1931– ) and Richard Makoto (1934– ). The family lived in Boyle Heights, a multi-ethnic neighborhood east of downtown Los Angeles. [1]

After the attack on Pearl Harbor , Shuhei was forced to sell his successful cake shop for a pittance, and, along with all other West Coast Japanese Americans, the Terasakis were sent to concentration camps, first to the Turlock Assembly Center , then to Gila River in Arizona where the family of five, along with an aunt, shared one barracks "apartment." As was the case with many teenagers, Paul enjoyed aspects of the camp, recalling that he "was constantly playing," not fully aware of the hardships his parents' generation and even older Nisei suffered. The family eventually resettled in Chicago , where Paul finished high school while working as a busboy. He went to the University of Illinois at Navy Pier. When the family moved back to Los Angeles in 1948, Paul transferred to UCLA, where he would graduate with three degrees and spend his entire academic career. [2]

Transplantation Pioneer

Encouraged to go into medicine by his parents, Terasaki decided that he "was not suited to be a good doctor" and focused instead on laboratory research. He graduated from UCLA in 1950, going on to Master's (1952) and Ph.D (1956) degrees in zoology. While completing his graduate studies, he married a young artist, Hisako Sumioka, in 1954, and the couple went on to have four children. After his Ph.D. he was a postdoctoral fellow at University College in London under the supervision of Peter Medwar, one of the pioneering figures in the field of transplantation, and also traveled to Paris to work with Jean Dausset. [3]

Terasaki returned to UCLA's Department of Surgery, where in 1964, he invented the microcytotoxicity test, which allowed for the identification of human leukocyte antigens (HLA) and a standardization of tissue typing. The test came to be adopted as an international standard and greatly facilitated organ transplantation—particularly of kidneys—and also was used as a means for determining paternity and for finding the links between HLA and various diseases, among many other uses. To further facilitate research on kidney transplants, Terasaki was among those who created a kidney registry at UCLA in 1970 that eventually became a worldwide registry, allowing for researchers to track how various factors affect the outcome of transplants. Terasaki himself spent much of his subsequent career doing such analysis. He further contributed to the rise in kidney transplants by developing methods to keep donor kidneys feasible for longer periods of time, allowing for the shipping of kidneys to recipients far from donors. [4]

His research was initially funded by a series of federal grants, but the grants stopped in the early 1970s. Much of his subsequent research was funded by the sale of tissue-typing trays that Terasaki had developed at UCLA, under the supervision of the Food and Drug Administration. In 1980, the FDA deregulated the production and sale of the trays. While keeping his faculty position at UCLA, Terasaki struck a deal with the school to allow him to produce the trays as a for-profit venture. He started a company called One Lambda as a result. One Lambda's sale of the trays, various HLA typing tests, and other products made Terasaki a wealthy man. Originating with eight former students as employees, One Lambda now employs 270 people. [5]

The arrangement was not without controversy. In 1987, a report by the California state auditor alleged that Terasaki and UCLA violated conflict of interest laws and that Terasaki's company was using state employees and facilities rent free. The university defended Terasaki, claiming that all arrangements had been approved by the university on a temporary basis until a final deal could be negotiated. Ultimately, One Lambda paid UCLA $500,000 for the transfer of technology and reimbursed the university for state employee salaries. Terasaki retained his position in the Department of Surgery at UCLA until his retirement in 1999. He subsequently started the Terasaki Foundation in 2000 allowing him to continue his research. [6]

Honors and Philanthropy

Though not active in the Japanese American community for the bulk of his life, he was named the Nisei of the Biennium by the Japanese American Citizens League in 1970 over finalists S. I. Hayakawa and Shiro Kashiwa. In 1996, he received the Medawar Prize, the highest honor in the transplantation field, sharing the award with Jean Dausset and Jon van Rood. [7]

Late in life, he became a well-known philanthropist. Citing the need for "mutual understanding" that came out of research and presentation trips to Japan during this career, he donated $5 million to UCLA in 2006 to establish the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. The gift also established the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Chair in Contemporary Japanese Studies, which has been held since its inception by architect Hitoshi Abe. Donations to the Japanese American National Museum established the Terasaki Orientation Theater and the Garden Cafe. [8]

In 2010, he made a second major gift to UCLA, a $50 million donation to life sciences, the largest ever to the UCLA's College of Letters and Sciences. As a result of the gift, the life science building was named the Terasaki Life Sciences Building, and the Paul I. Terasaki Chair in Surgery was established at the David Geffen School of Medicine. [9] He passed away at the age of 86 on January 25, 2016.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Cecka, J. Michael. "Interview with Dr Paul Terasaki" American Journal of Transplantation 3 (2003): 1047–51.

Discover Nikkei interview by Gwenn M. Jensen, Feb. 10, 2004.

Lin, Judy. " $5 Million Gift from Paul I. Terasaki Foundation Advances Contemporary Japanese Studies at UCLA ." UCLA International Institute, March 9, 2006.

One Lambda website.

Wolpert, Stuart. " Paul Terasaki Donates $50 Million to UCLA's Life Sciences ." UCLA Newsroom, May 13, 2010.


  1. National Archives and Records Administration Microfilm Publications, Final Accountability Rosters of Evacuees at Relocation Centers, 1944–46, Roll 3, Gila River, page 273; Interview with Shuhei Terasaki by Genji Terasaki, May 27, 1991, accessed on May 5, 2014 at .
  2. WRA Form 26 Database, Densho Digital Repository, ; Paul Terasaki interview by by Gwenn M. Jensen, Feb. 10, 2004, Discover Nikkei , ; Stuart Wolpert, "Paul Terasaki Donates $50 Million to UCLA's Life Sciences," UCLA Newsroom , May 13, 2010. , all accessed on May 5, 2014; quote from the second.
  3. Wolpert, "Paul Terasaki Donates"; J. Michael Cecka, "Interview with Dr Paul Terasaki," American Journal of Transplantation 3 (2003): 1047–51; quote from the first.
  4. Cecka, "Interview with Dr Paul Terasaki"; Wolpert, "Paul Terasaki Donates"; Jensen, Terasaki interview, .
  5. Cecka, "Interview with Dr Paul Terasaki"; "Company Profile," One Lambda website, .
  6. Jess Bravin, "No Penalty Planned in UCLA Case: Professor Allegedly Misused $500,000," Los Angeles Times , July 29, 1987, ; Jess Bravin, "UCLA Names Professor in Auditor's Case," Los Angeles Times , July 30, 1987, ; Jess Bravin, "UCLA's Terasaki Denies Violation of School Rules, Misuse of Funds," Los Angeles Times , July 31, 1987, ; Elaine Woo, "Professor's Conflict-of-Interest Case Raises Broader Questions," Los Angeles Times , July 31, 1987, ; Judy Lin, "$5 Million Gift from Paul I. Terasaki Foundation Advances Contemporary Japanese Studies at UCLA," UCLA International Institute, March 9, 2006, , all accessed on May 5, 2014.
  7. "Paul Terasaki Accorded Nisei of Biennium," Pacific Citizen , July 24, 1970, 1; Cecka, "Interview with Dr Paul Terasaki."
  8. Lin, "$5 Million Gift"; "Paul Terasaki '50, M.A. '52, Ph.D. '56," 2011 Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year Award, UCLA Alumni, , accessed on May 5, 2014.
  9. Wolpert, "Paul Terasaki Donates."

Last updated Dec. 21, 2023, 3:49 a.m..