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Dirk van Bekkum (1925-2015)

Dirk van Bekkum, MD

Dirk van Bekkum, MD, was one of the pioneers of bone marrow transplantation. In the 1950s and 60s, his laboratory made critical observations of "a secondary disease" after transplantation, now known as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). In 1956, his team also demonstrated that the curative effect of bone marrow is due to the engraftment of stem cells rather than humoral factors - a finding simultaneously shown by American and British scientists.

In the succeeding years, Dr. van Bekkum’s research group used purification techniques to study the morphological and phenotypical characteristics of hematopoietic stem cells. Medical applications developed under his leadership include the use of purified stem cells for the treatment of infants with combined immune deficiency, the technique of T-cell depletion to prevent GVHD, and the treatment of intractable autoimmune diseases with autologous stem cell transplantation. In 1967, Dr. van Bekkum co-wrote the book Radiation Chimaeras, which helped define the practice of clinical bone marrow transplantation.

He received numerous honors throughout his career. In 1973, Dr. van Bekkum was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Netherlands and later was named a Knight of the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands