Dr. Harold Atkins accepts the 2017 Till & McCulloch award

“This is a very special honour, Drs. Till & McCulloch have been my heroes.”

Dr. Harold Atkins joined a distinguished group of past recipients by accepting the 2017 Till & McCulloch award this afternoon in recognition for his ground-breaking research on multiple sclerosis (MS) and his 2016 research paper titled: Immunoablation and autologous haemopoietic stem-cell transplantation for aggressive multiple sclerosis: a multicentre single-group phase 2 trial.

The annual Till & McCulloch award created in honour of Canadian scientists and stem cell pioneers Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, is presented annually to one researcher in Canada, who has made an exceptional contribution to global stem cell research in that year.

Canada has the highest number of MS cases worldwide with an estimated 1 in 340 people living with the disease. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, giving patients symptoms such as dizziness, pain and numbness.

There is currently no cure for this disease however, with the strength of Canada’s research community scientists have discovered ways to not only treat MS but to stop its progression, and in some rare cases reverse debilitating affects.

Drs. Harold Atkins and Mark Freedman have developed a novel therapy using chemotherapy and stem cell transplant to treat patients with aggressive MS, like Jennifer Molson.

Jennifer was diagnosed with aggressive MS in 1996 and her prognosis was that she would live her life in a wheelchair and require constant care. However, Drs. Atkins & Freedman enrolled Jennifer in a clinical trial that took stem cells from her, purified and fortified them, and after extreme chemotherapy to knock out her immune system, returned the stem cells to rebuild a new, disease-free immune system. Now, with all traces of the disease eradicated, she is able to work and live a healthy life.

Jennifer shared her story this morning at the Till & McCulloch Meetings and thanked Dr. Atkins for giving her a second chance at life. “Harry, it is because of your courage and dedication that I am standing here in high heels telling my story.”

Today, Dr. Atkins shared with TMM attendees that this novel therapy is being used to treat eligible patients in Canada and internationally.  In fact, in the past year 10 patients have been treated in Ontario which is offered through the Ottawa Hospital. Research efforts are also underway to see if this protocol will be valuable for the treatment of some rare diseases.

The outcome of Drs. Atkins’ and Freedman’s collaborative research is a gateway for future MS research and holds tremendous promise for treating patients with this disease.

This trial was funded by the MS Society of Canada and its affiliated Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation. The research was also supported by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, The Ottawa Hospital Department of Medicine and Canadian Blood Services. Dr. Atkins is affiliated with the Stem Cell Network, the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, The Ottawa Hospital, and the University of Ottawa.


About the Till & McCulloch Meetings: The Till & McCulloch Meetings are Canada’s premier stem cell research event. As the only conference of its kind in Canada, the Till & McCulloch Meetings provide an unparalleled opportunity for you or your organization to meet and network with Canada’s leading stem cell scientists, clinicians, bioengineers and ethicists, as well as representatives from industry, government, health and NGO sectors from around the world. The conference is co-hosted by the Stem Cell Network and CCRM from November 6-8, in Mont Tremblant, Quebec.