Dorothy Thomas, 92; key in marrow transplant study

NEW YORK — Dorothy Thomas, a partner in her husband’s Nobel Prize-winning research into bone marrow transplants, died Jan. 9 at her home near Seattle. She was 92.

Her death was announced by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where her husband, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, was the director of the clinical research division.

In 1990, E. Donnall Thomas and Joseph E. Murray, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work creating processes to transplant organs and bone marrow. Thomas was chief medical resident at the Brigham and he and Murray worked together on research and patient care in the 1950s.


E. Donnall Thomas’s research provided ways to overcome resistance to transplants by patients’ immune systems and allowed doctors to cure thousands who would otherwise have been doomed by leukemia and other blood cancers.

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Dorothy Thomas had worked so closely with her husband, helping to manage his research and write his papers, that Dr. George Santos, a transplant specialist at Johns Hopkins, said at the time that if Dr. Thomas was the father of bone marrow transplants, “then Dottie Thomas is the mother.”

Her husband, who died in 2012, once explained their partnership this way: “In the lab- oratory days, my sometime friends pointed out that Dottie, who had the library experience, would go to the library and look up all the background information for a study that we were going to do, and then she would go into the laboratory and do the work and get the data, and then with her writing skills, she’d write the paper and complete the bibliography. And all I would do is sign the letter to the editor.”

Dr. Fred Appelbaum, executive vice president and deputy director of the Hutchinson Center, recalled that “Dottie was there at Don’s side through every part of developing marrow transplantation as a science.”

She leaves their children, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas Jr., Jeffrey Thomas, and Dr. Elaine Thomas; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.


Dorothy Elaine Martin was born in San Antonio. She was a freshman at the University of Texas when her future husband, a senior, was waiting tables in the girls’ dormitory. After breakfast one morning, students encountered a surprise snowstorm.

“This girl whacked me in the face with a snowball,” E. Donnall Thomas told the Seattle Times in 1999. “She still claims she was throwing it at another fellow and hit me by mistake. One thing led to another, and we seemed to hit it off.”

They married in 1942. Dorothy Thomas was majoring in journalism when her husband was admitted to Harvard Medical School. Because she liked science, she decided to change her profession.

She enrolled in a medical technology program at New England Deaconess Hospital, became a hematology technician, and worked part time in her husband’s laboratory while their children were small.

The couple moved to Seattle in 1963. E. Donnall Thomas joined the Hutchinson Center when it opened in 1975. For the next 15 years, Dorothy Thomas served as the chief administrator for its clinical research division.


When E. Donnall Thomas was awakened at 3:40 a.m. by news of the Nobel Prize in 1990, he responded magnanimously.

“I’m pleased for my wife and for me and for my team and for the cancer center,” he said.