Photo of E. Donnall Thomas

E. Donnall Thomas

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For his pioneering work in the science and application of transplantation biology to successful bone marrow transplantation in man for the treatment of cancer and related conditions.

E. Donnall Thomas had a rather unusual work-life balance — that is, he worked all the time, and his family often worked with him, too. Thomas’ wife Dottie was a tireless partner in the lab as the two pursued a way to cure leukemia through bone marrow transplants, essentially raising their three children at Seattle’s Fred Hutch Research Center.

A 1940s graduate of Harvard Medical School and winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize, Thomas and his team of researchers completed one of the first bone marrow transplants, and in their research made crucial discoveries relevant to other types of surgeries. Tissue type, for instance, is now known to be as crucial as blood type, and Thomas also found out that methotrexate is effective in combating potentially fatal side effects. Additionally, Thomas pioneered the graft-versus-tumor effect, in which donor cells fight a patient’s cancer.

But Thomas was always conscious of the fact that his accomplishments were the result of collaboration within the medical community, and from his lifelong partnership with Dottie. When a reporter woke him up at 4 a.m. in 1990 with news of the Nobel Prize, Thomas informed his wife that “we” had won.

By Lauren Clason