Since the first award was handed out in 1901, the Nobel Prize has become globally regarded as the most prestigious recognition of intellectual achievement. What’s amazing, however, is how often the Nobel committee has glaringly overlooked researchers behind outstanding discoveries that changed the practice of medicine.
Pioneers of Medicine Without a Nobel Prize, just published by the United Kingdom’s Imperial College Press, tells the stories of giants in medical science who somehow never won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Among the 15 featured scientists are:
• heart transplant pioneers Drs. Christiaan Barnard and Norman Shumway;
• Dr. Richard Doll, who made the link between smoking and lung cancer;
• Drs. Inge Edler and Carl Helmuth Hertz, who developed ultrasound technology; and
• Dr. Akira Endo, the discoverer of statins.
One chapter of the book, written by the Foundation’s Joe Sornberger, is dedicated to Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, the “fathers of stem cell research.” The two Canadians proved the existence of stem cells in the early 1960s at the Ontario Cancer Institute, while working on the sensitivity of bone marrow cells to radiation in mice.
Dr. Till still remembers the “Eureka” moment, when his partner Dr. McCulloch showed him a piece of graph paper on which he had illustrated that the more marrow cells were transplanted, the more bumps on the spleens appeared. After two years of work, Till and McCulloch showed that the bumps were formed by individual transplanted cells, which had proliferated and given rise to blood-forming cells.
That Dr. Till & McCulloch were somehow overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is inexplicable to many. As a previous post explained, there was some thought that Dr. Till would be handed his long overdue Nobel Laureate’s wreath two years ago alongside Japan’s Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who discovered induced pluripotent stem cells. (Dr. McCulloch died in 2011, making him ineligible). Canada has not brought home a Nobel in this category in over 90 years — not since Dr. Frederick Banting, discoverer of insulin, won in 1923.
Then again, when amazing giants such as Drs. Willem Kolff and Belding Scribner, who developed the Renal Haemodialysis, are left off the Nobel list, Drs. Till & McCulloch are in brilliant company.
For those who would like the full story of this amazing Canadian success story, you can purchase a copy of Mr. Sornberger’s book, Dreams & Due Diligence, published by University of Toronto Press, here.