SEATTLE- E. Donnall Thomas, the man who pioneered the use of bone marrow transplants in leukemia patients and who won the 1990 Nobel Prize in medicine, has died at the age of 92.
According to NBC News, the father of bone marrow transplants’ death was announced by The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on Saturday. Heart disease was said to be the cause of his death.
Thomas helped improve the survival rates for some blood cancers to upward 90% from almost zero. The introduction of using bone marrow transplants and it’s sister therapy, blood stem cell transplantation, made this possible.
Thomas’ work with bone marrow transplants is one of the biggest success stories in the treatment of cancer. This year alone, according to the Hutchinson Center, there will be 60,000 transplants performed.
“Imagine coming up with an idea, making it a reality and touching that many lives,” said Dr. Fred Appelbaum, Thomas’ friend and the director of the center’s Clinical Research Division.
Thomas followed in his fathers shoes and became a doctor after getting his medical degree from Harvard. In 1956, he performed the very first bone marrow transplant.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, despite skepticsm from the medical establishment, Thomas and a group of his fellow researchers, including his wife, decided to pursue transplantations.
Thomas and his fellow researchers sought to cure blood cancers by destroying a patient’s diseased bone marrow with near-lethal doses of radiation and chemotherapy. Then they would rescue the patient by transplanting healthy marrow. By doing this, their goal was to establish a functioning and cancer-free blood and immune system.
This amazing procedure would become the standard treatment for leukemia and lymphoma patients.
“He was brilliant, he was incredibly generous and he was quick to deflect praise from himself to the individuals around him,” Appelbaum said.
“To the world, Don Thomas will forever be known as the father of bone marrow transplantation, but to his colleagues at Fred Hutch he will be remembered as a friend, colleague, mentor and pioneer,” Larry Corey, president of the research center, said in a statement.
Thomas is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.