James Edgar Till was born in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan on 25 August 1931. He took his undergraduate (BA 1952) and master’s (MA 1954) degrees at the University of Saskatchewan, specializing in physics. He was awarded scholarships by the University of Saskatchewan, Standard Oil Company of California, and the National Research Council. A fellowship from the National Cancer Institute of Canada enabled him to go to Yale where he received his doctorate in biophysics in 1957. He then went to Toronto for a year as a post-doctoral fellow at the Connaught Medical Research Laboratories. He became one of the original members of the scientific staff of Ontario Cancer Institute when it and its affiliate, the Princess Margaret Hospital, opened in 1958. Initially he was with the Physics Division but in 1967 moved to the Division of Biological Research, of which he was appointed head in 1969. He was appointed to the University of Toronto’s Department of Medical Biophysics in 1958, as associate professor in 1965 and full professor in 1968. In addition to his administrative duties as head of the Division of Biological Research for 1969 to 1982, he was Associate Dean, Life Sciences in the School of Graduate Studies from 1981-1984. For his outstanding contributions to cell biology, as applied to leukemia, he was appointed University Professor in 1984. He was a founding member of the Centre for Bioethics, and from 1989-1991 chaired the Faculty of Medicine’s Decanal Appointments Committee. He was appointed University Professor Emeritus in 1997 and has retired twice, in 1998 and 1999.
Dr. Till’s early research interests encompassed radiation physics, molecular biophysics, radiobiology and cellular biology. The most significant work, usually in conjunction with Dr. Ernest McCulloch, was on the cellular biophysics of mammalian cells, with particular emphasis on stem cells. After 1980, his research focused on cancer control, with an emphasis on the epidemiological, behavioural and ethical aspects of decision-making in oncology. Subsequently, he investigated the factors that influence the quality of life for cancer patients after treatment and issues relating to health-related knowledge transfer. In 1989 he was appointed a senior scientist in the Division of Epidemiology and Statistics. In recent years, one of Dr. Till’s major interests has been the role of the internet in fostering the dissemination and discussion of health-related information. He is the author of over 200 research publications.
Dr. Till has been a member of the Biophysical Society, Canadian Association of Physicists, Canadian Society for Cell Biology, Canadian Society for Immunology, Radiation Research Society, and has served on the editorial boards of a number of scientific journals. In 1969 he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. He was a founding director of the International Society for Health-Related Quality of Life, formed in recognition of the importance of the impact of disease and treatment on patients’ quality of life and concerned primarily with efforts to improve patient care. From 1993 to 1995 he chaired the Advisory Committee on Research of the National Cancer Institute of Canada. In 1998-1999 he chaired the Management Committee of the Cancer Information Service of the Canadian Cancer Society. Between 1998 and 2001 he was successively president and past president of the National Cancer Institute of Canada. From 2001 to 2004 he was both vice-chair of the Institutional Advisory Board, Institute of Cancer Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research and chair of the Knowledge Management Committee of the newly formed Stem Cell Network.
Over the years Dr. Till has been the recipient of many honours. His pioneering research with Dr. Ernest A. McCulloch on the multiplication of stem cells in mice earned them the prestigious Gairdner Foundation International Award in 1969, the same year he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada. In 1991 he was a co-recipient with Dr. McCulloch of the Royal Society of Canada’s Thomas W. Eadie Medal for ‘their revolutionary research in experimental hematology’. In 1993 he was the first recipient of the R. L. Noble Prize of the National Cancer Institute of Canada for ‘scientific excellence in cancer research’. The following year he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 2000 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and in 2001 received the Robert M. Taylor Award and Medal, a joint award of the National Cancer Institute of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society, for his contributions to medical research and patient care. In 2004 he and Dr. McCulloch were inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. The same year he was awarded an honorary degree (DSc) by the University of Toronto. In 2005 he and Dr. McCulloch went to New York to receive the prestigious Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. In 2009, both McCulloch and Till were nominated jointly for the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for their work relating to stem cells. The prize was awarded instead to another group for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.
Dr. Till is married to Joyce Sinclair and they have three children.