McCulloch, Ernest Armstrong

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McCulloch, Ernest Armstrong

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Ernest Armstrong McCulloch was born in Toronto on April 27, 1926 and attended the University of Toronto where he graduated with honours with an MD in 1948. When he was awarded the Ellen Mickle Fellowship and the Chappell Prize in Medicine he studied for a year at the Lister Institute in London England. On his return to Canada he interned at the Toronto General Hospital from 1949 to 1952 and was assistant resident at Sunnybrook Hospital during 1952-1953.

In 1954 he joined the University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine as a clinical teacher. By 1957 he was Head, Subdivision of Hematology, Division of Biological Research at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. He as appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics in 1959 and Associate professor in 1964. He was appointed full professor in 1966 in the Department of Medical Biophysics and in 1970 became professor in the Department of Medicine.

By the 1970s he was involved in administrative activities within the University and at other research organizations. He held various positions during this period such as Graduate Secretary at the Institute of Medical Science and later was Director of the Institute (1975-1979). From 1979 to 1982 he was Assistant Dean, School of Graduate Studies. In other areas, he held positions on University committees such as Human Subjects Review Committee, Research Board and Decanal Promotions Committee of Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Arts and Science (1975-ca 1986).

Dr. McCulloch’s expertise was also sought by government and other organizations at the provincial and national levels. From 1958 on he held positions with The Banting Research Foundation, the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Royal Society of Canada, and the National Cancer Institute of Canada, to name just a few. On the international scene, Dr. McCulloch was actively involved from 1972 to 1991 in such organizations as the National Blood Club (USA), the American Society of Hematology and the Leukemia Society of America. He also was a member of editorial boards of scholarly journals such as Journal of Cellular Physiology, Blood, Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology, and Cancer Surveys

Dr. McCulloch’s career has been focused primarily on medical research centred at the Ontario Cancer Institute. Dr. McCulloch is widely known for his pioneering research in stem cells. In the early 1960’s Dr.McCulloch with his colleague, Dr. J.E. Till “created the first quantitative, clonal method to identify stem cells and used this technique for pioneering studies on stem cells. In addition to providing detailed information about blood cell development, they established the concept of stem cells and set the framework in which stem cells are studied today” [1]. In 1969 their work was recognized with the Gairdner Foundation International Award.

During his career, Dr. McCulloch has been recognized frequently for his academic and research accomplishments. In addition to the Gairdner Award in 1969, Dr. McCulloch has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1974), and received the Silver Jubilee Medal (1977). On his retirement in 1982, he was made University Professor. In 1988 Dr. McCulloch became an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1999 he was elected a member of the Royal Society. In June 2004 he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Toronto and in September he was officially inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. On 23 September 2005 he and Dr. Till were recipients of the Lasker Award for basic medical research. 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. McCulloch also served as Senior Scientist Emeritus, Division of Cellular Molecular Biology at the Ontario Cancer Institute, working on research relating to the growth of malignant blast stem cells. He died in 2011.


  1. Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. “Laureates” Dr. Ernest McCulloch


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