TORONTO, Two Canadian researchers have been awarded the prestigious “Lasker” prize for their discovery of stem cells. Ernest McCulloch and James Till, respectively a cellular biologist and a biophysicist, discovered the existence of stem cells in the early 1960’s in experiments with mice and bone marrow. Their discoveries led to successful treatments of cancer, among other illnesses, with bone marrow transplants. The two have been called the fathers of the stem cell field.

In 1963 they obtained evidence that bone marrow cells were capable of self-renewal, a crucial aspect of the definition of stem cells. Though their breakthrough work with stem cells was in the 1960’s and the two are officially semi-retired, they both maintain offices at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto where the bulk of their research has been done.

Dr. Till did not follow the usual line of journalistic enthusiasm often displayed by stem cell researchers promoting their work. “There’s hope” for breakthroughs on diseases, he said, but “it requires a lot of things to be accomplished.”

Stem cells, “have to be put in the right place [in the body]. And they have to be stimulated to do what one wants them to do. And all of these things are challenges, not accomplishments.”

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