Sunday, October 21, 2012

October 21, 2012 – Death of a Cancer Treatment Pioneer

Today, I run across an obituary for a true cancer treatment pioneer, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who died at age 92.

I’d never heard of Dr. Thomas till I read his obituary, but I’ve certainly heard of the procedure he perfected: the bone-marrow transplant.  He shared the 1990 Nobel Prize in Medicine for this work.

His obituary in today’s New York Times includes this:

“When Dr. Thomas began his research in the late 1950s, bone marrow transplants were seen as a frightening last resort. Patients suffered dangerous complications from the procedure, and survival rates were grim. The patient’s immune system would either destroy the transplanted marrow as foreign, or the transplanted marrow, which contains immune system cells, would destroy the patient's lungs, kidneys and other organs.

The only successes were in identical twins because their tissue types matched.

Many physicians abandoned the approach, believing that bone marrow transplantation would never be safe enough to be practical. Dr. Thomas persevered, despite numerous failures and the criticism that he was exposing his patients to undue risks....”

Dr. Thomas’ story reminds us of how difficult cutting-edge cancer research can be.  Sometimes – as was his experience – repeated setbacks lead some researchers to give up on a specific strategy. In such an event, only the truly committed remain in the game.

It takes a certain mix of confidence, stubbornness, and gutsy perseverance to continue to tweak the experimental treatment protocols until obstacles are finally overcome and success is achieved.

Before gladiatorial contests in the ancient Roman coliseum, the equivalent of playing the national anthem was for the combatants to stand before the Emperor and say “We who are about to die salute you.”

There are a great many cancer survivors who could very well bid farewell to Dr. Thomas with a slight variation on that theme: “We who are not about to die salute you.”

A big thank-you to all who persist in the field of cancer research, despite setbacks!


frank said...

Beautiful testimony to a true pioneer.

Susan R Wing said...
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Susan R Wing said...

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