The world of haematology research is mourning the loss of one of its giants, Prof. Donald Metcalf, who has died at the age of 85.
A native of New South Wales, Australia, Prof. Metcalf received a Carden Fellowship in cancer research at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in 1954.
Starting from an interest in leukemia, Prof. Metcalf focused his research on blood cell production. Following the findings of Canada’s Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, who first isolated stem cells in 1961, Prof. Metcalf and his team discovered colony-stimulating factors (CSFs), hormones that regulate white blood cell production.
The discovery of CSFs has had a significant impact on the recovery of cancer patients after chemotherapy. The injection of CSFs can reduce susceptibility to life-threatening infections by increasing the number of blood cells responsible for fighting those infections.
“Over the past 20 years, more than 20 million cancer patients have been treated with CSFs and, as a result, have been given the best possible chance of beating their cancer. There can be no greater legacy for a medical researcher.” according to a tribute by Prof. Douglas Hilton, Director of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute Of Medical Research, and Profs. Warren Alexander and Nicos Nicola, Heads of Institute’s Division of Cancer and Haematology.
Despite many opportunities across the world, Prof. Metcalf spent 60 years as a Carden Fellow at the Institute, even after his official retirement in 1996. He received several Australian and international awards for his work. Among these were the Companion of the Order of Australia (1993), the Albert Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research (1993) and the Robert Koch Prize (1998).
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, Prof. Metcalf, also known as “the father of modern haematology,” performed his last experiment in October and died surrounded by his family on Monday.