E. Donnall Thomas, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who helped put the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on the map with his pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation, died on Saturday. He was 92.
Thomas had been suffering from cardiovascular disease, according to his obituary in The Seattle Times.
Thomas was a legend at the Seattle-based Hutchinson Center, where he mentored and inspired a generation of scientists who turned it into one of the nation’s top biomedical research centers. And his impact went way beyond the laboratory. Bone marrow transplantation and a related treatment, blood stem cell transplantation, have boosted survival rates from nearly zero to up to 90 percent for some blood cancers, according to a statement from the Hutchinson Center. An estimated 60,000 transplants will be performed worldwide this year, and about 1 million such transplants have been performed since Thomas began his work in the field in the 1950s, according to the Times obituary.
“He was the most influential person in my life, and I’m positive there are many, many scientists in the fields of leukemia, blood diseases and transplantation who would say exactly the same thing,” said Fred Appelbaum, the director of the Hutchinson Center’s Clinical Research Division, in an interview with the Times.
I personally didn’t get to know Thomas, as he retired in 2002 when I was just beginning to ramp up coverage of biotech in Seattle. But his influence in the Seattle research community, and in the biotech industry, was deep and long-lasting. “As a long time National Marrow Donor Program volunteer who had the pleasure of being around Don, I can say that the world has lost one its real heroes,” said David Schubert, a venture partner with Seattle-based Accelerator. “Don was a brilliant and compassionate man who left this planet far better than he found it.”
If you would like to share a favorite anecdote or memory of Dr. Thomas, please leave a comment at the end of this post below. For those interested in making a donation in Dr. Thomas’ memory, you can click here at the Hutchinson Center’s website. and make a gift to the Clinical Research Division.