PerspectiveSCI COMMUN

E. Donnall Thomas (1920–2012)

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Science  30 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6111, pp. 1163
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232395

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With the death of E. Donnall (Don) Thomas on 20 October, the field of oncology lost an inspiring figure and the individual most responsible for developing human bone marrow transplantation. Don had what seemed to him a simple idea: Because normal marrow was easily destroyed by irradiation, shouldn't it be possible to destroy an abnormal marrow and replace it with marrow from a normal donor? Although simple in concept, Don's struggle to make marrow transplantation a clinical reality was long and difficult. Early attempts were unsuccessful, either because the transplanted marrow was rejected, or because the marrow rejected its new host. These failures led many to criticize Don's efforts as dangerous and futile. But his persistence paid off in the development of a therapy that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.