Sometimes popular recognition takes time. After more than 50 years, Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch are finally getting their moment in the spotlight of public appreciation.
The Globe & Mail’s ongoing Great Canadian Inventions series, which highlights people, products and discoveries that have changed the world, today features the two great men who proved the existence of stem cells back in the early 1960s. The series runs throughout 2017 to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
The Globe’s public health reporter André Picard reports that the discovery “is considered among the most seminal medical findings of the past century, on par with the discovery of the double-helical structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.”
Stem cells have revolutionized cancer treatment and set the stage for the emergence of new therapies for a wide range of currently incurable diseases. New treatments are already succeeding in overcoming autoimmune diseases like MS.
Stem cells are also good for the economy. The article cites STEMCELL Technologies, the Vancouver-based biotech company founded by former Till & McCulloch postgraduate student Dr. Allen Eaves, as a key player in a burgeoning field that is expected to produce a $49-billion global market within four years.
James Price, President & CEO of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, notes in the Globe piece that the Till & McCulloch discovery initially didn’t get the attention it deserved. “But they set the stage for all the current stem cell research and helped make Canada a magnet for talent and investment in biotech.”
The article comes after last fall’s unveiling of the Till & McCulloch statue outside doors of BC’s Telus Science World in Vancouver. A duplicate statue is to be installed in downtown Toronto this spring. It marks a considerable turnaround in recognition. In 2004, CBC Television ran a series called The Greatest Canadian, compiling a list of the 100 greatest Canadians ever. They followed it with a 2007 series on 50 of the Greatest Canadian Inventions. While Don Cherry was featured in the former and the Wonder Bra in the latter, Till & McCulloch and stem cells were left out of both.
The Globe series, however, got right to it in recognizing Till & McCulloch: they are the second Canadians to be featured this year after a Jan. 9th article celebrated how Jacques Plante changed the game of hockey by popularizing the goalie mask.
Dr. Till, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, remains busy as a leading advocate for opening access to scientific journals. Dr. McCulloch died in 2011. The remarkable story of Till & McCulloch’s stem cell discovery and their amazing legacy is told in Dreams & Due Diligence, published by University of Toronto Press and available through their website or via Amazon books.