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IDRC grantee Dr. John E. Dick joins the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

On April 13, 2024, Dr. John E. Dick, senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Canada, will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.
Photograph of Dr. John E. Dick.
Dr. John E. Dick

His pioneering research on the linkages between sleep cycles and cancer stem cells in the blood is funded through the Joint Canada-Israel Health Research Program, a partnership between IDRC, the Azrieli Foundation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Israel Science Foundation that supports leading-edge biomedical research and global health. 

Over the course of his career, Dr. Dick’s groundbreaking research revolutionized the field of blood cell biology. He is globally recognized for his discovery of leukemic stem cells, the first type of cancer stem cell detected and characterized by a research team. His collaboration with Dr. Tsvee Lapidot (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel) and Dr. Eugenia Flores-Figueroa (Instituto Mexicano Del Seguro Social, Mexico), funded by IDRC since 2016, investigated the effects of melatonin on the differentiation of blood cells. 

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the brain in response to darkness, helping with the timing of a mammal’s circadian rhythms (24-hour internal clock) and sleep. Being exposed to light at night can block melatonin production. His research showed that proper daily cycling of melatonin is crucial for blood stem cells to differentiate and meet cellular demands for blood replenishment in one day-night cycle. These findings enlarge our understanding of how the daily light/darkness cycles influence blood immune cell generation and therefore host immunity, which can have potential implications for treatment and diagnosis of blood diseases and cancers. 

For his remarkable work, Dr. Dick has been honoured with numerous other accolades, including the Canada Gairdner International Award (2022)

“Transplanting hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is a highly successful regenerative medicine, but many people cannot take advantage of this cellular therapy due to lack of HSCs from matched sources,” says Dr. Dick. “In our IDRC-supported work, we investigated what is regulating specific HSCs based on day-night cycles and physiological aging so that we can potentially reprogram HSCs to allow for HSC expansion, opening the possibility for more patients to obtain enough HSCs for therapy. IDRC’s funding was an important part of the support my lab received over the years, and it helped us to make important discoveries on what makes a stem cell function like a stem cell.” 

Established in 1994, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame is a Canadian charitable organization that honours Canadians who have contributed to the understanding of disease and improving human health. It has an exhibit hall, an annual induction ceremony, career exploration programs for youth and a virtual hall of fame.