Thursday, October 25, 2012

Doctor a pioneer in bone marrow transplants

A headline caught my eye as I was reading the New York Times earlier this week:

E. Donnall Thomas, who advanced bone marrow transplants, dies at 92

As the grateful recipient of a bone marrow transplant, I read this obituary with interest.

And I learned that like all transplant recipients, I owe my life to this pioneer who persevered with his research into bone marrow transplants despite skepticism from other physicians who believed that transplants would never be safe enough to be practiced.

It's hard to believe that it wasn't so long ago – the late 1950s – when transplants were seen as only a last desperate resort for patients with blood cancers. The patients usually didn't make it: Either their immune system destroyed the transplanted marrow as foreign matter or the transplanted marrow would destroy the recipient's organs.

Through years of research, Thomas and his team learned to match tissue types and use drugs to suppress the immune system.

The team performed the first matched transplant from an unrelated donor, an allogenic transplant like I had, in 1977.

In 1990, Thomas received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Today, of course, bone marrow transplants are an accepted treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers. When you are in line to get one, you don't think about those doctors who worked so hard to make it happen.

None of us wanted to get cancer, but we are lucky to be alive today when so many advances have been made thanks to the work of dedicated physicians like Thomas.

1 comment:

Robin said...

RIP. Very sad news but what an impact he made in life.