Quest magazine

Supporting science: Dottie's Bridge

‘Mother of bone marrow transplantation’ Dottie Thomas establishes endowment to assist young researchers

By Diane Mapes

Dorothy E. “Dottie” Thomas

Dorothy E. “Dottie” Thomas

Photo by Susie Fitzhugh for Fred Hutch

Meticulous editor, tireless administrator and avid sportswoman, Dorothy E. “Dottie” Thomas has always been a force to be reckoned with, whether armed with a hunting rifle or a red pen.

The 91-year-old wife of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Nobel Prize-winning bone marrow transplant pioneer, the late Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, Dottie has been called the “mother of bone marrow transplantation” thanks to the nearly 60 years she spent working at her husband’s side.

“Dottie did it all,” said Dr. Fred Appelbaum, executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutch. “She was everything from Don’s early-on lab technician to the writer of his grants to his administrator to the person who kept all the records and reviewed all the papers.”

Dottie Thomas can now add major benefactor to her many roles, thanks to the creation of Dottie’s Bridge, an endowment designed to grow and then help young promising researchers bridge the gap between the end of their National Institutes of Health-supported fellowship and their first grant award.

“After you’ve finished your formal training, there’s a gulf between that time and the point where you have enough data and experience to really warrant a position as a full faculty member,” Appelbaum said. “That gulf is where Dottie’s contribution is going to be important. It’s the late adolescence/early adulthood of someone’s career.”

“Dottie did it all. She was everything from Don’s early-on lab technician to the writer of his grants to his administrator to the person who kept all the records and reviewed all the papers.”

- Dr. Fred Appelbaum, executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutch

The Thomases’ lifelong collaboration began at just such a time, while they were both attending the University of Texas at Austin. Shortly after an auspicious meeting (Dottie hit her future husband in the face with an errant snowball), the two became inseparable. They married in 1942, and while Don went on to Harvard Medical School, Dottie switched her field of study from journalism to medical technology.

The couple began working together fulltime in 1955 when Dr. Thomas was appointed physician-in-chief at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York. It was there that he began his first experiments in bone marrow transplantation. In 1963, the Thomases moved to Seattle. They joined Fred Hutch in 1974.

The couple hosted many young researchers at their home in Clyde Hill, often serving up game the couple had bagged themselves.

“There was a great picture of Dottie with a shotgun in one hand and a moose head in her lap,” Appelbaum said. “And Don or Dottie would often nod to the picture of her with the rifle and say, ‘I sure hope you get all of your manuscripts in on time.’”

With the establishment of Dottie’s Bridge, designed to help young physicians and clinician scientists engaged in blood-related cancer research become independent academic researchers, Dottie’s legacy of commitment, hard work and passion will carry on for years to come. In a time of shrinking federal funding, the generous seed money gifted by Dottie Thomas is more essential than ever. Her hope is that others will help grow the endowment to support and encourage the next generation of researchers.

To contribute to the Dottie Thomas Endowment, please donate online at fredhutch.org/questdonate.

If you’re interested in supporting the endowment through a planned gift, or if you have questions about Dottie’s Bridge, contact Mike Rubin, philanthropic gift advisor, at 206-667-5377 or mrubin@fredhutch.org.