Yacoub was born in Egypt and graduated from Cairo University Medical School in 1957, trained in London and held an assistant professorship at the University of Chicago in the United States. He was appointed as the first British Heart Foundation professor of cardiothoracic surgery, which he held for over 20 years. He was a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Harefield Hospital (U.K.) from 1969-2001 and Royal Brompton Hospital (U.K.) from 1986-2001.
Yacoub established the largest heart and lung transplantation program in the world where more than 2500 transplant operations have been performed. He has also developed novel operations for a number of complex congenital heart anomalies. He was knighted for his services to medicine and surgery in 1991, awarded fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 1998, and fellowship of the Royal Society in 1999. In the same year, the U.K. secretary of state for health presented him a lifetime outstanding achievement award in recognition of his contribution to medicine.
He is founder and chairman of the Magdi Yacoub Research Network (formerly QAL Advanced Cardiovascular Network), which is a not-for-profit organization established in 2008 with the principal focus of reducing the burden of cardiovascular disease worldwide through a program of basic science and translational research. In partnership with Qatar Foundation and Hamad Medical Centre, the newly created Qatar Cardiovascular Research Centre in Doha has recently been launched. Yacoub has an active interest in global healthcare delivery with particular focus developing programs in Egypt, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Jamaica. He is founder and president of the Chain of Hope charity, treating children with correctable cardiac conditions from war-torn and developing countries and establishing training and research programs in local cardiac units.