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October 08, 2009

Nobel nominees were the founders of stem cell science

Speculation abounded earlier this week that the founders of stem cell science – James Till and Ernest McCulloch – would be honoured for their achievement with a prestigious Nobel Prize.

While it turned out that the Prize was awarded to a deserving trio of researchers for their work on chromosomes, the buzz of anticipation and conjecture over just who would win has once again thrown two very laudable Canadians into the spotlight.

Till and McCulloch proved the existence of stem cells nearly 50 years ago with their groundbreaking work that studied the effects of radiation on the body’s ability to form blood. In testing irradiated mice that were injected with bone marrow cells, Till and McCulloch discovered bumps on the surface of the spleen in numbers that were directly proportional to the number of injected cells (Radiation Research 1961).  Though they were not the first to have seen such nodules, they were the first to postulate that these nodules were the result of stem cells.

Till and McCulloch subsequently performed very elegant tests to prove the existence of stem cells. First, they created bone marrow cells, each with a unique genetic identifier (or marker) in order to show that each spleen bump was in fact a colony of cells derived from a single cell (Nature 1963). The second test demonstrated that cells within the spleen colony were capable of forming another colony – in other words, the cells were capable of self-renewal. It was the beginning of stem cell science.

Watch the video of Jim Till talking about stem cell science:

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See related article in October 11 Toronto Star: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/708640

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