E. Donnall Thomas
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1990
Born: 15 March 1920, Mart, TX, USA
Died: 20 October 2012, Seattle, WA, USA
Affiliation at the time of the award: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA, USA
Prize motivation: “for their discoveries concerning organ and cell transplantation in the treatment of human disease”
Prize share: 1/2
Donnall Thomas was born in Texas. He was the son of a country general practitioner and was brought up in a small village and educated at the local school. He studied at the University of Texas in Austin, gaining degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering in 1943. He qualified in medicine in 1946 from Harvard. While a student he married Dorothy Martin. From 1963 they lived in Seattle. He retired from patient care in 1990, but he continued to work in the Seattle transplant unit, and to travel and lecture all over the world. They had three children. He died in 2012.
The formation of blood cells takes place in bone marrow, and malfunctioning of bone marrow cells can lead to illnesses such as leukemia. From the mid-1950s Donnall Thomas developed methods of providing new bone marrow cells for people through transplants. Using radiation and chemotherapy, the body’s own bone marrow cells are killed and the immune system’s rejection mechanism is subdued. Bone marrow cells from a donor are then provided through a blood transfusion.