Pediatric transplant pioneer Jean Sanders to retire

Hutchinson Center researcher built the nation's pediatric transplant program over her four-decade career; symposium June 29 will celebrate her groundbreaking achievements that have saved thousands of young lives
Dr. Jean Sanders
Dr. Jean Sanders will retire at the end of this month after a four-decade career dedicated to saving the lives of pediatric transplant patients. Center News file photo

When Dr. Jean Sanders retires this later this month, hundreds of photos of former patients will go with her. Girls in ballet tutus, kindergarteners dressed up for the first day of school and grown-ups at reunions, decades after receiving hematopoietic stem cell transplants. Regardless of age, they are her "babies," living legacies to a job done exceedingly well—for 37 years.

Symposium, reception June 29

Colleagues can help celebrate Sanders’ pioneering accomplishments Friday, June 29, at "Advances in Pediatric Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy: The Influence of a Career." The symposium honoring the Hutchinson Center’s former pediatric stem-cell transplantation program director will take place 1-5 p.m. in Pelton Auditorium (registration is required). A reception will follow 5:30-9 p.m. in the Arnold Building atrium. An online memory book is available for friends and colleagues to congratulate Sanders and share their experiences with her.

The program that Sanders built

Sanders’ quest to eliminate cancer as a cause of human suffering and death shaped the treatment of pediatric transplant patients nationwide. She devoted her career to determining which transplant treatments work best in children, investigating the long-term health effects of stem cell transplantation, providing compassionate care, and teaching more than 90 doctors.

Her groundbreaking clinical research has advanced the field of pediatric bone marrow transplantation and improved the survival and quality of life of many children undergoing this lifesaving procedure.

"Jean is the person who built our pediatric transplant program," said Dr. Fred Appelbaum, Clinical Research Division director. "She is the person who—probably more than any other single individual in this country—built the nation’s pediatric transplant program."

Reflecting her unwavering commitment to improving the quality of life for survivors, Sanders has remained active with research and patient care after passing the director baton to Dr. Scott Baker in 2011. She has been running weekly clinics for post-transplant pediatric patients living with chronic graft-vs.-host disease (GVHD), and has been working to advance understanding of GVHD, a serious complication of stem cell transplantation in which transplanted donor cells attack the recipient’s body.

Many career honors

Given in recognition of exemplary clinical medical care and compassion for hematopoietic stem cell transplant patients and their families, the Clinical Research Division’s Dr. Ali Al-Johani Award is one of many awards received by Sanders, who is also professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. Among her many honors, she has been the recipient of:

  • The Pediatric Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Consortium’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award (2009)
  • The Hutchinson Center’s Clinical Research Division Lifetime Achievement Award (2011)
  • The Gerald and Gloria Swanson Endowed Chair in Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplantation Research, Seattle Children's

In addition to authoring more than 300 scientific publications, Sanders has chaired multiple cooperative research group studies and served as adviser for many medical and scientific organizations including the Children’s Oncology Group, the National Childhood Cancer Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Institutes of Health.

But as gratifying as it is to receive accolades and retire with a long list of accomplishments, Dr. Jean Sanders will take with her something far more important. She’ll take the knowledge that her life has enabled children all over the country to dance, to grow, to dream.  

The proof is in the pictures.

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