Mar 2014
james till reduced pics

Till & McCulloch take a Star turn

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To mark the Toronto’s 180th birthday this week, the Toronto Star┬áhas offered its readers 180 portraits of “the people who helped shape the city” from its Muddy York beginnings to its current status as one the world’s great centres.

The list contains most of those you would expect — Father of Confederation George Brown, jazz great Oscar Peterson and business tycoon Kenneth Thomson — and a few you wouldn’t, including “Call In The Army” Mayor Mel Lastman, bank robber Edwin Alonzo Boyd and the Maple Leafs former owner and convicted fraudster Harold Ballard.

But also included are Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, lauded as “the fathers of stem cell research” and as mentors to “generations of scientists in stem cell research, a field that promises to transform medical treatment and health care.”

Despite the enormity of their achievements, Till & McCulloch are virtually unknown across Canada. When CBC ran its Greatest Canadian competition 10 years ago, the two men who discovered stem cells did not even crack the top 100. (No. 1 was Tommy Douglas, while hockey commentator Don Cherry placed seventh.) And there is nothing — no public building, no elementary school, no street, not so much as a plaque — honouring Till & McCulloch in the city where they did their remarkable research.

Also on the Star list under the category of Trailblazers and Innovators is Dr. Tak Mak, the medical scientist who discovered the T-Cell receptor. Dr. Mak is one of those who was mentored by Till and McCulloch and has gone on record as saying McCulloch “was behind me when the rest of the world thought I was crazy.” One of the world’s leading cancer researchers, Dr. Mak has been featured in this space for his recent foray into developing a “sharpshooter” drug to attack tumours.

The Star recognition is a great first step, an indication that the public is finally beginning to appreciate these two medical research giants. Now, if the powers that be could be convinced to rechristen Sherbourne Street, where their original the Ontario Cancer Institute and Princess Margaret Hospital lab was located, as Till & McCulloch Way, that would really be something.

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