This morning, Dr. John E. Dick, of the University Health
Network, will give the 2009 E. Donnall Thomas Lecture titled “Stem Cell Biology
Meets Cancer Research.” Created in 1992 and named after Nobel Prize laureate
and past ASH president E. Donnall Thomas, this award serves to recognize
pioneering research achievements in hematology. Dr. Dick is receiving this
prize for his groundbreaking research into the development of human leukemia,
which transformed the notion of how leukemia progresses. His research has
focused on understanding the mechanisms that regulate the developmental program
of normal and leukemic human stem cells.
Dr. Dick attributes much of his success to those he has learned from,
works with, and trains with: “My mentors, my colleagues, and especially my
trainees must share a huge part of any success I have had. Without them, I am
convinced I would not be here accepting the E. Donnall Thomas Prize.”
Initially interested in becoming an x-ray technician, Dr.
Dick discovered a fascination with biology, earning a PhD in molecular biology.
“I have been fortunate that a large part of my training and career has been
spent in Toronto.
The environment that Drs. Till and McCulloch created some 40 years ago
contributed greatly to my choice of stem cell biology and leukemia as fields of
inquiry,” Dr. Dick said. Dr. Dick is currently senior scientist at the Princess
Margaret and Toronto General Hospitals,
professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto,
and director of the Program in Cancer Stem Cells at the Ontario Institute for
Cancer Research. Additionally, Dr. Dick is a fellow of the Royal Society of
Canada, a recipient of a Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology, and a
founding member of Canada’s
Stem Cell Network. “It is a privilege as a scientist to have opportunity,
fortuitous circumstances, and remarkable trainees all align to actually add to
the compendium of scientific understanding and shed light on longstanding
Dr. Dick’s two greatest achievements, both made in his
lab, are the development of normal and leukemic stem cell assays based on
repopulation of immune deficient mice and his work to fractionate AML and LSC
and non-LSC fractions, which has stimulated a renewed interest in stem cell
concepts in cancer. He said, “We have been able to develop stem cell assays
that the field has found useful and we have been able to fill in, at least in
some small way, gaps in our understanding of leukemia biology.” The opportunity
to contribute to potentially new and more effective therapeutics is one of the
most rewarding aspects of Dr. Dick’s work.
Despite his numerous
accomplishments and their impact on hematology, Dr. Dick feels there are many
hurdles yet to overcome — the most important being whether experimental
findings are having a meaningful effect on patients battling cancer today.
Findings in the lab often take time to translate into clinical practice, even
those with enormous promise, such as Dr. Dick’s models of human AML. Dr. Dick’s
hope for the future is that stem cell concepts first developed in hematopoietic
stem cell and leukemia biology will permeate many areas of cancer research. He
also hopes that some of his team’s work, showing that it is possible to
generate experimental models of leukemogenesis in human cells using the genetic
tools that have been so important to create mouse cancer models, will become
more widely employed in many kinds of human cancers.
A former William Dameshek Prize winner, Dr. Dick said
that he is deeply honored to receive the E. Donnall Thomas Lecture and Prize,
commenting that “I am humbled when I consider that it is named for a hero of my
field and when I survey the list of luminaries who have been prior winners.”
back to top