"I didn't want to go into science, I wanted to make art," Jean-Franc ois Borel confesses readily. "I was very gifted. I wanted to go to the Beaux Arts in Paris. I had studied Latin and Greek. I thought that an artist should really be a knowledgeable person.

"But you know how art pays," said Borel, born in Zurich, the heart of practical Switzerland. "I am not the Bohemian type."

It was this reluctant scientist who discovered cyclosporin, a drug that has revolutionized the field of organ transplants by preventing the body from rejecting the foreign tissue.

Since the late 1970s, when Borel's employer, Sandoz Pharmaceutical Ltd. of Basel, Switzerland, began manufacturing cyclosporin in large amounts, 70 percent of heart transplant recipients are alive four years after surgery, and 95 percent of kidneys still function one year after the transplant. The drug also opened up the fields of liver and pancreas transplants. An estimated 150,000 people worldwide live with a transplanted organ.

All this was, however, unimaginable when Borel was struggling around 1950 to choose between his passion for art and his Swiss streak of practicality.

His father, an electrical engineer, put his foot down. No art. Borel had to pick something serious. Science was a field in which his family had dabbled for generations. His great-grandfather, Franc ois Borel, the owner of a tar factory, invented the first insulation coatings for electrical wire.

At first, the frustrated artist decided to pursue farming. "I came across the most silly idea," Borel said. He dreamed of a hacienda on his own plantation in what was then the Belgian Congo where he would "make quick money and dedicate myself to painting."

He studied argriculture but was extremely unhappy. "I wanted to do art," he complained. He soon abandoned the idea of farming and went into scientific research. "I felt that {research} would be something creative; I could find my way," he said.

In 1958, the budding scientist moved to the University of Wisconsin and later the Texas A&M University to study animal blood groups in chickens, studying immunogenetics. From there, he went to the Swiss Red Cross, studying human blood diseases.

But his attitudes toward art kept defining his pursuits in science.

"You do a painting, and you believe in it. You are the only one who can say, 'I think this is good,' " Borel said. "You spend your whole life standing by your pictures, and there is no parameter to tell you that this is good."

In research, Borel's persistence in something he believed in would pay off, though sometimes it made life difficult.

"You must have a tremendously strong personality," Borel said. "I think that is one of the reasons that artists are sometimes impossible as human beings."

In 1969, a Sandoz scientist on holiday scooped up a handful of Norwegian dirt from above the Arctic Circle and found a fungus that produced a new chemical, cyclosporin.

Sandoz scientists regularly collected dirt from all over the world, even the ocean bottom, and then screened it for bacteria and fungi that might make useful chemicals. For two years, Sandoz microbiologists tested cyclosporin for signs it could be the next penicillin. It wasn't.

The way the story is often told, cyclosporin then sat on the shelf for years until Borel rediscovered it and saved it from obscurity. But that's just another of the many myths that often spring up around great discoveries.

"That's what they say," agreed Borel. "It wasn't forgotten {in the microbiology lab}." It was in the pipeline all the time, moving toward Borel's immune modulation lab.

With the help of only eight to 10 scientists and technicians, it was Borel's job to screen 20 new compounds a week for possible effects on the immune system. The work was tedious. A live mouse would be treated for several days with the test chemical at the same time that the animal was injected with red blood cells from sheep. In a normal or untreated mouse, the sheep cell would trigger the immune system and cause the mouse to make antibodies. If the drug shut down the immune system, the mouse would not make any antibodies.

When the results on cyclosporin came back from the lab in January 1972, the mice had failed to make antibodies.

"I was astonished. I knew the technician was sometimes moody," Borel said with a chuckle, confessing that he was not sure at first whether to believe the results.

It was the beginning of a long string of triumphs and setbacks Borel would face in bringing his fledgling drug to fruition.

When Borel tried to repeat the experiment, it didn't work. It turned out that the research team had changed the cyclosporin preparation for the second round of experiments, and that change destroyed cyclosporin's activity. "I am afraid the definition of a scientist is a man who can take frustration without end," Borel said.

His struggles were not only with the chemistry of cyclosporin but also with his company, which repeatedly wanted to abandon the project. Borel, however, like an artist who believes in his paintings, was undaunted. "The first result was so strong that I felt it was not the mood of the technician. It was really impressive. I had seldom seen such a thing."

Borel and his staff began using the drug to protect skin grafts on mice. It worked. Four years of work with rats, dogs, mice and monkeys showed that the drug could control rejection and had acceptable side effects.

When Borel presented the work to his bosses, "the firm was not interested in developing that drug, because at that time, the marketing prospects were extremely unfavorable," Borel said.

No one could imagine much of a market in transplanting organs so Borel tried to promote his drug as a potential treatment for a more common problem, rheumatoid arthritis, which is an immune disorder.

Then Borel got some outside help. Sir Roy Calne, a transplant expert at Cambridge University wanted to try this newly discovered compound in pigs. In the past, pigs died about four or five days after receiving a new heart. Borel gave Calne all the cyclosporin he had -- enough to treat the pigs for four or five days. The result was remarkable: The pigs lived 60 days, even though they were only treated in the first week.

Around Christmas 1976, Calne presented his research to Sandoz officials, who were still less than enthusiastic about cyclosporin. But Calne got their attention; he was ready to try it in people.

Then, another setback. As Sandoz chemists tried to prepare cyclosporin in an oral form to meet Calne's needs, none of the preparations were absorbed by human volunteers.

"They said, 'Look, we're going to kill the program,' " Borel said. "I said 'No. You are not going to kill it. I am going to try for myself. I will take it myself with pure alcohol and {a detergent}.' "

The new preparation worked, but it contained so much alcohol -- about as much as a bottle of wine -- that, as Borel recalled, "I got a little bit tipsy."

Still, the experiment showed that cyclosporin could be swallowed and absorbed. Today, cyclosporin is dissolved usually in olive oil, and new oral forms are under development.

In June 1978, cyclosporin was used for the first time to protect transplanted kidneys. The doses, it turned out, were all wrong. Initially the dose was too high, so the drug poisoned the transplanted kidneys. Because the doctors thought rejection was the problem, they gave an even higher dose and that caused lymphomas, a cancer of white blood cells. "People were looking at me and saying, 'Now it's finished,' " Borel said.

Ultimately, with intuition and guesswork, a lower dose was found to control rejection, allow the kidneys to function and not to cause lymphomas.

By 1983, cyclosporin was approved for widespread use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration. Now, 100,000 people a year use cyclosporin to preserve the transplanted organ that has restored their lives. They will continue to take cyclosporin as long as they live, unless a better drug is found.

Borel is now a scientific hero. And what is the feeling when people say, "You saved my life"?

"I say, 'Thank you for having the courage to take my drug.' "

Five years ago, Borel took up painting again. He had been having an argument with his friend and colleague Dr. Kevin J. Lafferty, research director at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Denver: Is the creativity of art different from the creativity of science?

A decade ago when cyclosporin was used for the first time in kidney transplant patients, Borel said the two were different. Lafferty, an Australian born within 24 hours of his friend -- Borel was born July 3, 1933; Lafferty on July 4 -- said artistic and scientific creativity were the same.

Now Borel agrees. "I have come to the knowledge that I need both," he said. "I have, unfortunately, not enough time. I would, in some ways, like to quit science to do more art."

"If he has time, he goes in the attic and paints," said Ella Borel, his wife of 30 years. "The last time we were in New York, he made a sketch of Broadway. And then he turned this into an almost abstract painting. The houses and the lights and the cars."

Although there never seems to be enough time to paint, the practical part of Borel's personality still won't let him quit Sandoz. And as in most families, personalities and scenarios are played out in generation after generation.

Borel's daughter Beatrice "always knew what she wanted to do," he said. The 24-year-old woman is a physical therapist and lives on her own. But his 22-year-old son Patrick has followed Borel more closely.

"The boy is very creative," Borel said. "He is very interested in music. That is his passion. He also knows that to make a living with music is really frustrating."

So Patrick Borel now studies molecular biology near Basel, where his parents live. "I thought that going into science, he could best use his creativity," Borel said.

Is Patrick Borel reliving what happened to his father?

"Oh yes," Ella Borel said. "They have very much in common."