Hutch News

Kiem becomes first Thomas Chair recipient

The Friends of José Carreras International Leukemia Foundation endowed the chair in honor of its former owner Dr. E. Donnall Thomas and Carreras, an internationally known tenor and cancer survivor

May 18, 2009
Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem

Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, the first recipient of the José Carreras/E. Donnall Thomas Endowed Chair for Cancer Research, stands with his wife, Dr. Dana Swenson, and Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, Nobel Laureate and original owner of the chair.

Photo by Dean Forbes

"What would Don do?" According to Dr. Fred Appelbaum, Clinical Research Division director, that's what he and his colleagues ask themselves whenever they face a quandary at work.

The first recipient of the José Carreras/E. Donnall Thomas Endowed Chair for Cancer Research, the Center's Dr. Hans-Peter Kiem, literally will be sitting in the Nobel Laureate's chair when he ponders the question.

In a ceremony April 23, in Pelton Auditorium, Kiem accepted the chair as Thomas and his wife, Dottie, and dozens of colleagues cheered him on. Dr. Appelbaum cited Dr. Thomas' groundbreaking bone-marrow transplantation work, for which he won the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

Internationally known tenor and cancer survivor José Carreras congratulated Kiem in a surprise address, videotaped that morning in Barcelona. "His talent and determination will make the chair a very productive source of progress in aid of the patients," Carreras said. "As a grateful former patient of the Hutch and of Professor Thomas, I am very happy this project is now a reality."

In 1987 Carreras, who was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, traveled to the Center and received a successful bone-marrow transplant. The following year he enlisted the help of noted physicians and scientists to create the José Carreras International Leukemia Foundation in Spain. The U.S. based Friends of José Carreras International Leukemia Foundation endowed the chair in honor of both Carreras and Thomas.  

At the chair award ceremony, Appelbaum compared Kiem's efforts in gene therapy to Thomas' efforts in bone-marrow transplantation. Kiem has described techniques to improve stem cell gene transfer and the expansion of blood-forming stem cells to speed up the process of engraftment after transplantation—a strategy that also holds promise for breaking down obstacles to cord-blood transplants. He has described techniques to protect blood cells from chemotherapy-induced myelosuppression, which may allow for more effective and less toxic chemotherapy and transplantation protocols for patients with certain cancers. In addition, he is pioneering the development of new methods for gene repair and the generation of induced pluripotent stem cells.

To receive the award, a nominee must be a full member of the Center's Clinical Research Division who spends at least 75 percent of his or her time in research and has an international reputation for excellence in his or her chosen field. Candidates are nominated by peers and selected by a committee chaired by Dr. Lee Hartwell, president and director. A chair recipient holds the position for no more than five years, at which time another awardee is to be chosen. 


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