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June 14, 2011

Fifty years

In the scientific world, 50 years can be an eternity. Consider the fruit fly or certain cells – organisms whose lifespan is counted in hours or days. Or, it can be the blink of an eye when compared to the progression of an ice flow, for instance.

In the field of stem cells, 50 years marks a milestone worthy of celebration. Though the existence of a master cell had been posited for much longer, it was just 50 years ago that these cells and their characteristics were identified. It happened here in Canada, in Toronto, in the lab of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with our pride and respect for Till and McCulloch. Until now, we had not formally written about the 50th anniversary of their discovery and with the arrival of close to 4000 delegates to the International Society for Stem Cell Research this week in Toronto, we thought now was as fitting a time as ever.

But, we’re not the first to write or talk about this critical moment in the history of stem cells (nor are we likely to be the last). Others have done it far more eloquently and imaginatively, and others still will be speaking in the days to come. Here’s a list of things to read, view or attend in honour of two of the most important people this field has yet to see:

  • With the recent passing of Dr. McCulloch, a pair of noteworthy obituaries by former students Ron Worton and Norman Iscove.
  • A symposium in honour of Dr. McCulloch will be held on June 15 starting at 9:00am at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, in association with the ISSCR annual meeting (meeting registration required).
  • Recorded at the StemCellTalks event in 2010, here’s Jim Till talking to Janet Rossant about his early work with Dr. McCulloch.
  • Jim Till’s mini video, created by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation
  • A sneak peek at the Stem Cell Network’s annual report, which features a story about the Canadian legacy of Till and McCulloch.
  • For something a little bit different, the Super Cells: The Wonder of Stem Cells exhibition is running at the Ontario Science Centre through September 2011. The exhibit features artwork inspired by stem cells, including fashion pieces made in tribute to Till and McCulloch.

Finally, worth noting is the pending publication of a book about Till and McCulloch, which will be released this fall by the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation and the University of Toronto Press. A limited number of autographed copies can be pre-ordered. We’re excited about the arrival of this book, which tells the story not just of stem cells, but of the remarkable men behind it.



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