Bone Marrow Transplantation Pioneered by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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Pioneering Bone Marrow Transplantation

Dr. E Donnall Thomas

Led by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, Fred Hutch scientists pioneered the development of bone marrow transplantation to treat leukemia and other blood cancers. Dr. Thomas and his lifesaving work were recognized in 1990 with the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

When Thomas came to Seattle in 1963, his team at the University of Washington sought to use radiation and chemotherapy to destroy a patient’s diseased bone marrow and then replace it with new marrow from a healthy patient. The goal was to establish a new, cancer-free blood and immune system.

ASCO Post cover

Read "From Small-town House Calls to Bone Marrow Transplants, Nobel Laureate Continues Father's Legacy” in this special anniversary edition of the ASCO Post.

The team spent years refining their techniques until they could be carefully used in a growing number of patients. The procedure’s early success convinced Seattle surgeon Dr. William Hutchinson to build the team a permanent home and break ground on the original Fred Hutch building.

In 1974, Thomas joined the faculty at the Hutch. Just three years later, his team published a seminal paper that tracked 110 transplant patients and showed a 16 percent long-term survival rate. During the following decades, Thomas, his research team and countless other scientists at Fred Hutch and around the world made more discoveries that further improved and expanded the procedure.

Thanks to bone marrow transplantation and its many innovations, some leukemias that once were a death sentence now have cure rates of up to 90 percent.

In 2017, the Fred Hutch Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance was recognized by the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research as one of 13 centers in the U.S. that exceeded expectations for one-year survival rates for patients receiving blood stem cell transplants from healthy donors. Our program was one of only six to have exceeded expectations for at least five years in a row.

Learn more about how bone marrow transplantation is evolving to help more people, treat more diseases and save more lives.


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 and share your remembrances.