Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thanks to a medical hero, Dr. Ernest McCulloch

This Toronto co-discoverer of stem cells is not a household name like Dr. Jonas Salk was after 1955, when he introduced the polio vaccine. 50 years ago, McCulloch and research partner Dr. Jim Till, inadvertently discovered that stem cells exists. Their discovery has since led to treatments and cures for blood cancers like leukemia. In 1960, during the Cold War, they were asked to examine the effects nuclear radiation had on how bone marrow tissue made new blood cells. The non-radiated bone marrow had caused tiny lumps to grow in one group of mice, and it was attributed to the stem cells. Hence, a revolutionary new cancer treatment was conceived.
“They rigorously proved over the course of three or four years that the single cell that gave rise to the spleen colony bumps could self renew and could give rise to all the different types of mature blood cells,” (source: The ... "Their work in the 1960s also paved the way for bone marrow transplantation for cancer patients."

McCulloch wanted to cure leukemia, and his discovery has indeed led to many being cured from it, including this blogger. However, there is much more work to be done to improve survival rates, and reduction in graft versus host disease (gvhd), i.e., the acute and chronic side effect problems, that can be harsh. Stem cell or bone marrow transplants can save lives, allow some to lead normal lives, and cure cancer. However, transplants do not always work, because for one thing, the donor/patient match may not be compatible enough. At other times, they do work but do cause gvhd, which can be life changing.

My gratitude was given to my amazing donor, but now posthumously to Dr. McCulloch who passed away last week at the age of 85. McCulloch and Till's award winning and diligent research has given hope to many who face blood cancers.

You too can give hope and save a life, not just through being a blood donor, but being a stem cell donor. A blood test is taken and the specific (HLA) characteristics and matching criteria are recorded in a registry bank. There could well be a person who needs your exact blood match.

If interested please see the contact information below. You can find out more at the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, Canada

Canadian Blood Services
1800 Alta Vista Drive
K1G 4J5 Ottawa, Ontario
Canada TEL: +1-613-739-2435

FAX: +1-613-739-2275



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