National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
October 30, 2012 • Volume 9 / Number 21

Page Options

  • Print This Page
  • Print This Document
  • View Entire Document
  • Email This Document


In Memoriam: Dr. E. Donnall Thomas

Dr. E. Donnall Thomas (Photo by Susie Fitzhugh) Dr. E. Donnall Thomas (Photo by Susie Fitzhugh)

Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who received the 1990 Nobel Prize in Medicine for perfecting bone marrow transplantation, died October 20 in Seattle at the age of 92. The procedure is widely credited with saving the lives of many thousands of people with leukemia and other blood diseases.

When Dr. Thomas began his research in the 1950s, people with leukemia and other blood cancers had little hope of survival. Dr. Thomas; his wife and research partner, Dottie; and a small team of fellow researchers studied transplantation despite skepticism among many prominent physicians of the day.

In leukemia, blood stem cells that reside in the bone marrow turn cancerous. Chemotherapy treatments available in the 1950s could kill the cancerous cells but left patients without healthy stem cells to make new blood cells and rarely led to remission. Doctors could introduce new bone marrow from a donor, but in many cases the patient's body would reject the foreign marrow or the donor cells would attack the patient's own organs, a condition known as graft-versus-host disease.

In 1956, hoping to avoid such complications, Dr. Thomas conducted the first bone marrow transplant in a leukemia patient using donor cells from the patient's identical twin. And in September 1957, he published his seminal paper on bone marrow transplantation in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A major breakthrough came when Dr. Thomas showed that comprehensive human leukocyte antigen matching could make transplants viable for many more people, including those who are not closely related. He also found ways to counteract the graft-versus-host reaction and render bone marrow transplants safer.

Today, bone marrow transplants are standard treatment for leukemia. The procedure is also used to treat lymphoma, multiple myeloma, a number of autoimmune diseases, aplastic anemia, and myelofibrosis.

Dr. Thomas received his bachelor's and master's degrees in chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduating from the Harvard School of Medicine in 1946, he served for 2 years in the U.S. Army. In 1963, Dr. Thomas moved to Seattle to become the first chief of the oncology division at the University of Washington School of Medicine. In 1974, he became the first director of medical oncology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He stepped down as director of the clinical research division in 1990 and retired in 2002.

Further reading:

Board of Scientific Advisors to Meet November 5

The NCI Board of Scientific Advisors will meet November 5 in Bethesda, MD. The board provides scientific advice on program policy, progress, and future directions for NCI's extramural research programs and concept review of extramural program initiatives.

In addition to a report from NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus, attendees will hear presentations on the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research, the Provocative Questions project, and The Cancer Genome Atlas. The meeting will also address proposed NCI organizational changes, NCI's Early Experimental Therapeutics Network, the Cooperative Human Tissue Network, and the Adult Brain Tumor Consortium.

The meeting is open to the public, and the full agenda is available online. The meeting will also be videocast.

Cyber-Seminar: Adapting and Using Evidence-Based Programs with Community Partners

Research to Reality banner

The November 13 NCI Research to Reality (R2R) cyber-seminar will highlight three R2R Mentorship Program projects that are working with community partners to adapt and implement evidence-based interventions.

Kiameesha Evans, program director at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, is adapting a diet and nutrition program to include physical activity and is piloting the intervention with several faith-based organizations. Venice Haynes, program coordinator at the Morehouse School of Medicine, has partnered with a local foundation to adapt a cervical cancer awareness program for African American faith-based communities in Atlanta. Finally, Charlene Mitchell, an infection prevention practitioner at St. Luke's Medical Center in Idaho, adapted a sun-safety program for use at rural Idaho public pools.

Evans, Haynes, and Mitchell will share overviews of their projects, outcomes, and lessons learned about partnership, adaptation, and implementation relevant to other communities and researchers interested in these types of cancer control interventions.

To learn more about the R2R Mentorship Program, the projects, and to read the mentees' stories, visit the program's website.

For more information and to register, visit the R2R website, where you can join discussions. All R2R cyber-seminars are archived on the website about 1 week after the presentation. For more information on the cyber-seminar series, please e-mail

< Previous Section