TORONTO, Feb. 1 /CNW/ - Fifty years ago today, two young, unknown scientists at the fledgling
Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) published accidental findings that
proved the existence of stem cells - cells that can self-renew
repeatedly for different uses.
Today, acclaimed the world over as the "fathers of stem cell science",
Drs. James Till, a biophysicist, and Ernest McCulloch, a haematologist,
and both also Professors Emeriti at the University of Toronto, are
being honoured by the next generation of scientific peers, colleagues
and students on the anniversary of their pivotal discovery. The
occasion will also honour the memory of Dr. McCulloch who died Jan. 20.
"It's impossible to overstate the enormity of Till's and McCulloch's
discovery and long-time collaboration. Their work changed the course of
cancer research and lit the way to what we now call regenerative
medicine - the use of stem cells for bone marrow transplants and many
other types of disease research," says Dr. Christopher Paige,
Vice-President, Research at University Health Network, which includes
OCI, the research arm of Princess Margaret Hospital.
Over the years, international excitement generated by the stem cell
discovery has inspired and attracted many talented scientists to
Toronto the study with Till and McCulloch at OCI and the University.
"Toronto is truly the city where stem cell science was born, thanks to
Till and McCulloch," says Dr. Paige.
"The promise of stem cell research for healing and helping humanity is
the great living legacy of Professors Till and McCulloch. The
outstanding community of innovative stem cell researchers here in
Toronto is testimony to the enduring impact of their work," said
Catharine Whiteside, Dean, Faculty of Medicine at University of
The bright promise of their initial discovery shines constantly among
the next generation who are also devoting their life's work to
advancing stem cell science. Two examples: Dr. John Dick, who
pioneered the field of cancer stem cells when he discovered them first in human leukemia and next in
colon cancer; and Dr. Gordon Keller, a stem cell scientist lured home
to Canada from New York City to lead Toronto's McEwen Centre for
Regenerative Medicine, which focuses on harnessing the power of stem
cells to advance treatment of a wide range of debilitating diseases
including heart, lung and diabetes, and spinal cord and
neurodegenerative disorders. Drs. Dick and Keller, both senior
scientists at OCI and the McEwen Centre, are Professors at U of T who
also hold Canada Research Chairs to further understand stem cell
And the story behind the discovery Dr. Till always describes as
"accidental"? It is really a testament to the elegance of basic
scientific research - using keen powers of observation, and diligently
and systematically testing each hypothesis, says Dr. Paige.
When Till and McCulloch began collaborating in the late 1950s, they were
studying radiation sensitivity by injecting bone marrow cells into
irradiated mice. They observed visible nodules in the spleens of the
mice in proportion to the number of bone marrow cells injected. They
named the nodules spleen colonies, and speculated that each nodule
arose from a single marrow cell - perhaps a stem cell.
This discovery, for which Till and McCulloch won the coveted Gairdner
Foundation International Award in 1969, laid the foundation for bone
marrow transplantation. The scientists, both appointed Officers of the
Order of Canada, were inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame
in 2004. The next year they received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic
Medical Research - considered the most prestigious medical science
award in the United States. In 2007, they received the National Cancer
Institute of Canada Diamond Jubilee Award.
From the outset, Till and McCulloch set down the rules of their
partnership and agreed to alternate authorship of published results.
Dr. McCulloch described the agreement as "a plan that insured them
against arguments about priority that could well sour their cordial
For more than 50 years after beginning their fruitful collaboration, the
bond remained strong between the revered, world-renowned scientists who
first put Toronto on the map as the birthplace of stem cell science.
The landmark paper, first published in Radiation Research, established a quantitative method for the study of individual stem
cells. To mark the 50th anniversary, the journal has republished the original paper at http://www.rrjournal.org/doi/abs/10.1667/RRXX28.1
Established in 1827, the University of Toronto has assembled one of the
strongest research and teaching faculties in North America, presenting
top students at all levels with an intellectual environment unmatched
in breadth and depth on any other Canadian campus. U of T faculty
co-author more research articles than their colleagues at any
university in the US or Canada other than Harvard. As a measure of
impact, U of T consistently ranks alongside the top five U.S.
universities whose discoveries are most often cited by other
researchers around the world. The U of T faculty are also widely
recognized for their teaching strengths and commitment to graduate
Princess Margaret Hospital and its research arm Ontario Cancer
Institute, which includes The Campbell Family Cancer Research
Institute, have achieved an international reputation as global leaders
in the fight against cancer. Princess Margaret Hospital is a member of
the University Health Network, which also includes Toronto General
Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital. All three are research hospitals
affiliated with the University of Toronto. www.uhn.ca
SOURCE University Health Network
For further information:
Jane Finlayson, Senior Public Affairs Advisor, Princess Margaret Hospital, University Health Network
Phone: (416) 946-2846 email@example.com
Paul Cantin,Associate Director, Strategic Communications & Public Relations,Faculty of Medicine,University of Toronto
Phone: (416) 978-2890 firstname.lastname@example.org