You might say that Jim Till and Ernest McCulloch didn’t exactly go looking for stem cells, but stumbled upon them in their search to understand the effects of radiation in a new atomic age. It’s not unusual. A mixture of planning, scientific rigor, human creativity, and serendipity often coincide for breathtaking scientific discoveries-along with the insight to understand what’s in front of you, and build from there.
Their discovery happened in 1961 in Toronto, Canada while injecting bone marrow into mice. They observed small raised lumps growing on the spleens of the mice and speculated that each lump arose from a single marrow cell: perhaps a stem cell. With this new knowledge, their research provided a scientific explanation for why bone marrow transplantations work.
The team went largely without public recognition until 2005 when Till & McCulloch were awarded the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research-a deeply prestigious award. At that time, the Lasker Foundation made the importance of Till and McCulloch’s contribution indisputable: “Their work laid the foundation for all current work on adult and embryonic stem cells and transformed the study of blood-cell specialization from a field of observational science to a quantitative experimental discipline.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
See Dr. Jim Till speak about the discovery that spawned a new field of research.