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E. Donnall Thomas, M.D, 1990 Nobel Laureate

Dr. E. Donnall Thomas

Photo by Susie Fitzhugh

Pioneering bone marrow transplants to cure leukemia

There was a time when a leukemia diagnosis was a death sentence. Chances of survival were little more than zero.

But thanks to a team of pioneering scientists led by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas at Fred Hutch, tens of thousands of leukemia patients now lead productive lives.

Laboring in the basement of temporary facilities in Seattle four decades ago, Thomas sought to do what others were convinced would never work. He ventured to cure leukemia and other cancers of the blood by destroying a patient's diseased bone marrow with near-lethal doses of radiation and chemotherapy and then rescuing the patient by transplanting healthy marrow. The goal: to establish a fully functioning and cancer-free blood and immune system.

Today, the success of bone-marrow transplantation stands among the world's most significant medical advances. The technique has transformed leukemia and related cancers, once thought incurable, into highly treatable diseases with survival rates as high as 90 percent.

A medical visionary, Thomas received the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for this lifesaving work.

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Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, recognized as the father of bone marrow transplantation, died on Saturday, October 20, 2012, at the age of 92. Learn more about his life and work >