Signals Blog

For the second year running, mainstream media in Canada and abroad has picked up on Nobel buzz surrounding stem cell scientists James Till and Ernest McCulloch, both Senior Scientists at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. Speculation surrounding a Nobel prize can be traced back to 2005, when the pair were awarded the Lasker Prize, often touted as America’s Nobel and viewed as a predictor of future Nobel success.

The particular interest generated in the past two years have been based largely on annual predictions from media giant Thomson Reuters. Reuters has been predicting Nobel Laureates in chemistry, medicine, economics and physics since 2002 using citation data, and while their predictions have not always been accurate – the Nobel Assembly keeps their nominees list under tight wraps – they have correctly identified 19 Laureates using their citation methodology.

So, is this the year for Till and McCulloch? From the standpoint of science, they are eminently deserving of the prize – the groundbreaking work they did in the early 1960s formed the basis of life-saving therapies that have been used to treat thousands of patients with leukemia and other blood disorders, and has defined an entire lexicon and understanding from which the entire field of stem cell science has been built.

Oddly enough, the prize could be seen as being even more important in terms of building awareness and pride in Canada. The fact that two brilliant researchers, who have contributed so much to our current understanding of medicine and disease, are largely unknown in mainstream society is shameful. Till and McCulloch should be on the list of every top 10 influential Canadians. School children should be learning about their discovery and finding inspiration in their methods. Yes, we should be waving the Till and McCulloch flag. But we’re not. At least not yet.

Maybe this will all change on Monday. It couldn’t happen to two better Canadians.

– Lisa Willemse

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Stem Cell Network