Everywhere, thousands of leukemia patients have a second chance at life because of the dedicated bone marrow research by Dr. E. Donnall Thomas (1920-2012).
Born on this day in Texas, Dr. Thomas was a hero in humanity's relentless quest to find a cure for cancer.
Leukemia, once almost always fatal, is curable today. Over 70% survive because of discoveries in bone marrow transplantation.
Healthy marrow injected into the bloodstream allows patients with marrow destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation to produce new cells. A miracle!
Thomas first pursued his research while in medical school. In 1956, he successfully transplanted bone marrow between a leukemic patient and his identical twin, then in 1969 between relatives who were not identical twins. From there, he tried unrelated donor matches.
Thomas' quest was not always easy because of the medical community's widespread skepticism. "Back then, we didn't know anything about histocompatibility (tissue typing)," Thomas explained.
Building blocks to success included improved tissuing techniques and the development of more sophisticated antibiotics to control transplant infections.
Finally, in 1977, patient Laura Graves successfully received marrow from an unrelated donor. This led to the creation of national and international bone marrow donor registries.
In 2015, there were 25 million people listed as potential donors internationally. In addition to leukemia, 40 other cures for diseases benefit from Thomas' findings.
In accepting the 1990 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work, Thomas credited his colleagues and donated the $350,000 award to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Only 30% of patients find a matching donor among family members.
Your bone marrow could save a life. For more information, here are some links:
Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide | American Bone Marrow Donor Registry