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Leading Edge

In Northern Ontario, old men are often called guffers, self-important people are mucky-mucks and a lively party is a wingding

Stem Cell Pioneers James Till

They have been called the most important partners in Canadian medical research since Frederick Banting and Charles Best, the co-discoverers of insulin in the 1920s. Unlike Banting and Best, however, James Till and Ernest McCulloch (MD 1948) remain largely unknown outside their field. This is both surprising and a shame, says Ottawa writer Joe Sornberger, who has written the book, Dreams and Due Diligence: The Discovery and Development of Stem Cell Science by Till and McCulloch (University of Toronto Press). Sornberger points out that the discovery, 50 years ago, of blood-forming stem cells by these U of T scientists “stands as one of the most remarkable medical-research achievements of the 20th century.”

I’ll Rassle You for a Dozen Up! Small-town Ontario English preserves older terms that have fallen out of use in the province’s larger cities If you take your packsack to the game of shinny, before going

out to party hardy, you likely grew up far from downtown Toronto, perhaps in a northern Ontario town. New research by Sali Tagliamonte, a linguistics professor at U of T, reveals how remote towns and villages in the province tend to preserve older terms (such as “up” for “draft beer”) that have fallen out of common use in urban settings, such as Toronto, where newer words originate.


Ernest McCulloch

Indeed, their discovery quickly led to the use of bone marrow transplants in leukemia patients, saving countless lives. Till and McCulloch’s legacy extends far beyond their groundbreaking discovery. Sornberger notes that the accomplished duo trained younger U of T medical researchers such as Tak Mak, a professor of medical biophysics who discovered T-cell receptors, and John Dick, a professor of molecular genetics who discovered cancer stem cells. Indeed, Dick was in the news recently for isolating – for the first time – a single human blood stem cell. Dick says the discovery is key to maximizing the potential of stem cells for use in clinical applications. – Scott anderson

For her research, Tagliamonte and students Jingwei Chen, Julia Chin and Ruth Maddeaux conducted more than 100 interviews with residents of Temiskaming Shores and Kirkland Lake in Ontario about their experiences growing up. In preparation for the fieldwork, Tagliamonte arranged visits to schools, retirement homes and community centres so the students could identify interview candidates. Their visit bore some interesting results. “We found features of English that are indeed old,” says Tagliamonte. The word “chesterfield,” for example, can be traced back to the U.K. and is more commonly used than the words “sofa” or “couch,” which are preferred by Toronto urbanites. “Northern Ontario offers a rich dialect heritage,” Tagliamonte says. “People don’t realize how much Canadiana is preserved intact in the north country.” For their part, the students learned the importance of meticulous detail in linguistics research. “We spent a month transcribing the stories verbatim,” says Chen. “You include every ‘oh,’ ‘ah,’ false starts . . . everything. For every hour of interviewing, you spend 10 hours transcribing.” – Sean Bettam

photos: Courtesy of University Health Network Photographics

U of T Magazine | Winter 2012  

U of T Magazine is the magazine for the University of Toronto community, published quarterly. Featuring news, events, research stories and p...

U of T Magazine | Winter 2012  

U of T Magazine is the magazine for the University of Toronto community, published quarterly. Featuring news, events, research stories and p...