Dr. Petersdorf completed her fellowship and residency at the University of Washington before joining Fred Hutch in 1987.
She received her M.D. in 1982 from McGill University in Montreal.
President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 1996. She is currently president of the American Society for Blood and Bone Marrow Transplantation.
Dr. Petersdorf is an oncologist who studies how genetic factors influence the success of transplants, including how to optimize the matching of patients with unrelated donors.
Almost 30 years ago, Dr. Petersdorf pioneered molecular methods to compare differences between transplant donors and recipients in a key set of genes known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes. Mismatches in these genes, which play a central role in the immune response, raise the risk of graft-vs.-host disease, a potentially life-threatening complication in which newly transplanted cells attack the patient’s body. Dr. Petersdorf has shown that precise and complete HLA typing and matching of both donor and recipient can make transplants safer. Her research has revealed how differences in specific genes contribute to outcomes like GVHD and the ability of donor cells to establish themselves in recipients’ bone marrow.
Transplants between imperfectly matched donors and recipients can also succeed, indicating that not all genetic differences have the same effects. To deepen our understanding of which mismatches boost the risk of complications and which may even reduce such risk — knowledge that would broaden the potential donor pool for patients who lack a perfect match — Dr. Petersdorf spearheaded the formation of the International Histocompatibility Working Group, a worldwide collaboration among donor registries, transplant centers and HLA laboratories.
Dr. Petersdorf is also looking beyond standard HLA typing to find new genes that may influence transplant success. She recently identified two new sites where DNA mismatches are important: a mismatch at one location increases GVHD risk, while a mismatch at the other actually enhances transplant patient survival. Plans to offer typing of these new sites to future Hutch patients and donors are underway.