2024 INDUCTEE John E. Dick, PhD Cells, Genetics & Genomics


July 31, 1954

(Winnipeg, Manitoba)


PhD, University of Manitoba (1984)

Post-Doc, University of Toronto (1986)

Awards & Honours:

2022: McLaughlin Medal For Important Research of Sustained Excellence in Medical Science, The Royal Society of Canada

2022: Till & McCulloch Lectureship Award, Cell Therapy Transplant Canada (CTTC)

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John Dick 2 pic

Revolutionized blood cancer research by discovering leukemia stem cells

John Dick Sketch

A pioneer in blood cancer research

For nearly four decades, John E. Dick, PhD, FRS has been revolutionizing the field of cancer stem cell (CSC) biology. His discovery of leukemia stem cells, the first type of CSC to be detected and characterized by researchers, laid the foundation for new approaches to treating cancer. Since this discovery, his findings have been used to detect CSCs in human tumours such as those affecting the brain, pancreas, skin and liver. By proving that CSCs are clinically relevant, Dr. Dick transformed our understanding of the origin and nature of cancer, leading virtually all major cancer centres worldwide to explore the underlying biological characteristics and regulation of these cells. Industry leaders have followed suit, with large pharmaceutical companies like Merck and Genentech developing new drug candidates that target CSCs. For his remarkable work with several prestigious organizations as a scientist, professor and director, Dr. Dick has been honoured with numerous accolades, including the Canada Gairdner International Award (2022). He continues to lead and influence the CSC field, most recently as the Helga and Antonio De Gasperis Chair in Blood Cancer Stem Cell Research at University Health Network.

Key Facts

Developed novel cell sorting schemes that challenged the traditional textbook view of blood development and illuminated the formation of blood cellular components (human haematopoiesis)

Established that cancers are hierarchically organized and sustained by self-renewing leukemia stem cells, which led to vital new targeted drugs

Provided a foundation for understanding why human tumour cells can vary in their growth and resistance to therapy, leading to more accurate treatments

Helped create a method to identify individuals at risk for progression to acute myeloid leukemia up to 10 years in advance

Developed experimental models that characterize the genes and cells involved in the full cancer process to improve prevention and treatment

Professional timeline

Professional Timeline Title

Dr. Dick’s discovery of leukemia stem cells (LSCs) shed new light on the underlying biology of cancer and stimulated a new field of research on cancer stem cells (CSCs). His findings revealed that individual cancer cells are not equal. Rather, they are organized as a cellular hierarchy in which only rare leukemia cells exhibit self-renewal. This discovery highlighted the importance of investigating the individual properties of tumour cells, as CSCs are the only cells capable of long-term cancer propagation. The focus on CSCs has led to more effective therapies that ensure patients’ cancerous cells are eradicated.

John E. Dick Pic


  • Dr. John Dick demonstrated that detection of pre-leukemia haematopoietic stem cells can predict individuals at risk for progression to acute myeloid leukemia up to a decade in advance

    Understanding the body and disease process, Cells, Genetics & Genomics, Cancer

  • Discovered the first definitive evidence that leukemia stem cells lie at the heart of therapy failure and disease recurrence

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Conducted single cell studies that depicted a new textbook view for the organization of early human blood development


  • Dr. John Dick provided the first evidence that leukemia stem cell gene expression signatures are clinically relevant

    Understanding the body and disease process, Cancer, Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Dick 2010

    After 20 years of work to improve the xenograft assay, his research culminated in the purification of human haematopoietic stem cells at single cell resolution

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • OICR

    The province-wide Cancer Stem Cell Program in the newly organized Ontario Institute for Cancer Research was created and led by Dr. John Dick

    Building our health organizations and systems, Leadership in Organizational Development

  • Dick 2003

    Dr. John Dick identified cancer stem cells in human colon cancer

    Understanding the body and disease process, Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Princess Margaret Cancer Center

    Moved to the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre

  • Identified human leukemia stem cells, establishing that human acute myeloid leukemia was organized as a cellular hierarchy

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics, Cancer

  • Dick 1988

    Dr. John Dick developed the first xenograft assay (the implantation of human tumour cells into immunocompromised mice) for human leukemia cells

    Understanding the body and disease process, Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    Since being developed, this assay has attained worldwide acceptance as the “gold standard” for detecting human haematopoietic stem cells and leukemia stem cells.

  • Reported the first studies showing that human multi-lineage blood cells had repopulated mouse haematopoietic tissues, setting the stage for a human stem cell assay

    Blood, Cells, Genetics & Genomics, Cancer

  • Began his independent research career in the Department of Genetics at the Hospital for Sick Children and the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto

  • Published a key paper on transduction of multi-lineage haematopoietic stem cells, helping to advance the emerging field of gene therapy

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Completed his PhD with Dr. Jim Wright at the University of Manitoba and began his postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Alan Bernstein at the Ontario Cancer Institute


There are very few scientists whose work has been as influential and pioneering in the blood cancer research field as Dr. Dick’s.