John Dick (biologist)

John Dick

John Dick portrait via the Royal Society
Born John Edgar Dick
1957 (age 5859)
Alma mater University of Manitoba (PhD)
Thesis Studies on Ribonucleotide Reductase from Normal Senescing Human Diploid Fibroblasts (1984)
Notable awards

John Edgar Dick FRS[2] FRSC (born 1957) is Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology, Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network and Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto in Canada. Dick is credited with first identifying cancer stem cells in certain types of human leukemia.[3] His revolutionary findings highlighted the importance of understanding that not all cancer cells are the same and thus spawned a new direction in cancer research.[1][4][5][6] Dick is also known for his demonstration of a blood stem cell's ability to replenish the blood system of a mouse, his development of a technique to enable an immune-deficient mouse to carry and produce human blood, and his creation of the world's first mouse with human leukemia.[4][7][8][9][10][11][12]

Early life

Dick was raised on a farm in southern Manitoba. His early education was gained in a one-room schoolhouse. Later he moved to Winnipeg to study to become an X-ray technician. There he noticed one of his roommates was attending university and studying biology. Dick realized he was more interested in biology and decided to switch pursuits.[4]


Dick started off at the University of Manitoba specializing in microbiology[4][13] and graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1984.

In 1984, he moved to Toronto. In order to support his wife and two children, Dick worked part-time at an X-ray lab while he finished his post-doctorate work in Alan Bernstein’s lab. Bernstein, a noted cancer researcher whose Ph.D. advisor was James Till at the Ontario Cancer Institute, guided Dick to research cancers of the blood.[4]

Over the next five years, Dick developed an in vivo repopulation assay using the NOD/SCID mouse. This technique of using an immune-deficient mouse to generate human hematopoietic cells won Dick international recognition.[4][14][15]

In 1994, Nature[16] published his paper which described how cancer stem cells grow slowly. Dick explained, "Most kinds of chemotherapy are designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells. This is why leukemia can come back after treatment. To get rid of the cancer, you have to find ways of eliminating the stem cells." Many researchers dismissed Dick's discovery as interesting, but something not likely to apply to solid tumours.[4]

In 1997, Dick reported the detection of cancer stem cells at the root of three other forms of leukemia. This time he presented it as the "cancer stem-cell hypothesis". His model stated that there are different cancer cells and amongst them there is a pecking order in which the abnormal stem cell, is both the key to forming and feeding a cancer. Therefore, without an abnormal stem cell, cancers will not grow. This time his report was considered a breakthrough.[4][17]

As of 2006, Dick is a Senior Scientist in the Division of Cellular & Molecular Biology of the Toronto General Research Institute, and founding member of Canada's Stem Cell Network.[14][18]

Awards and Honours

His nomination for the Royal Society reads

Dr John Dick has transformed the study of human hematopoiesis and leukemogenesis, with his development of methodologies for transplanting human bone marrow into immune-deficient mice, with resultant multilineage repopulation of murine bone marrow and other hematopoietic tissues. Using this approach, he has identified long-term repopulating human hematopoietic stem cells and generated mouse models of leukaemia. His studies showing that a specific subset of leukemic cells are actually capable of recapitulating tumour growth are recognised as the foundation for all current work on the cancer stem cell model and its application to cancer therapy.[2]


  1. 1 2 Baker, M. (2009). "John Dick: Careful assays for cancer stem cells". Nature Reports Stem Cells. doi:10.1038/stemcells.2009.47.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Dr John Dick FRS Royal Society, London
  3. Dick, J (2013). "Q&A: John Dick on Stem Cells and Cancer". Cancer Discovery. 3 (2): 131. doi:10.1158/2159-8290.CD-ND2013-002. PMID 23400460.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Meet the A-Team of stem-cell science. Retrieved from The Globe and Mail on November 27, 2006. Archived February 20, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Canadian Cancer Society- John Dick Bio Archived May 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. University Health Network- John E Dick Bio
  7. Canadian researchers 'create' leukemia stem cell, watch disease unfold. CBC News, April 26, 2007.
  8. Bonnet, D.; Dick, J. E. (1997). "Human acute myeloid leukemia is organized as a hierarchy that originates from a primitive hematopoietic cell". Nature Medicine. 3 (7): 730–7. doi:10.1038/nm0797-730. PMID 9212098.
  9. o’Brien, C. A.; Pollett, A.; Gallinger, S.; Dick, J. E. (2006). "A human colon cancer cell capable of initiating tumour growth in immunodeficient mice". Nature. 445 (7123): 106–10. doi:10.1038/nature05372. PMID 17122772.
  10. John Dick's publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database, a service provided by Elsevier. (subscription required)
  11. Larochelle, A.; Vormoor, J.; Hanenberg, H.; Wang, J. C. Y.; Bhatia, M.; Lapidot, T.; Moritz, T.; Murdoch, B.; Xiao, X. L.; Kato, I.; Williams, D. A.; Dick, J. E. (1996). "Identification of primitive human hematopoietic cells capable of repopulating NOD/SCID mouse bone marrow: Implications for gene therapy". Nature Medicine. 2 (12): 1329–37. doi:10.1038/nm1296-1329. PMID 8946831.
  12. Clarke, M. F.; Dick, J. E.; Dirks, P. B.; Eaves, C. J.; Jamieson, C. H. M.; Jones, D. L.; Visvader, J.; Weissman, I. L.; Wahl, G. M. (2006). "Cancer Stem Cells--Perspectives on Current Status and Future Directions: AACR Workshop on Cancer Stem Cells". Cancer Research. 66 (19): 9339–44. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-06-3126. PMID 16990346.
  13. Dick, J. E.; Wright, J. A. (1985). "On the importance of deoxyribonucleotide pools in the senescence of cultured human diploid fibroblasts". FEBS Letters. 179 (1): 21–4. doi:10.1016/0014-5793(85)80182-4. PMID 3965302.
  14. 1 2 "Black Box" of Cancer Breaks Open. Retrieved from American Society of Hematology website on November 27, 2006.
  15. 1 2 3 New Research Breakthroughs at UHN January 2003. Retrieved from University Hospital Network website on November 27, 2006.
  16. Lapidot, T; Sirard, C; Vormoor, J; Murdoch, B; Hoang, T; Caceres-Cortes, J; Minden, M; Paterson, B; Caligiuri, M. A.; Dick, J. E. (1994). "A cell initiating human acute myeloid leukaemia after transplantation into SCID mice". Nature. 367 (6464): 645–8. doi:10.1038/367645a0. PMID 7509044.
  17. Stem Cells May Be Key to Cancer. Retrieved from The New York Times on November 27, 2006.
  18. Governor Schwarzenegger Highlights California-Canada Partnership on Life-saving Stem Cell Research. Press Release, May 30, 2007
  19. Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation - Premier's Summit Award

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