For discovery of blood cell growth factors.
Professor Don Metcalf is at the heart of one of the most famous scientific stories to emerge from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
For almost 30 years, Professor Metcalf doggedly and painstakingly pursued one task: identifying and purifying the hormones that stimulate blood cells to produce the white blood cells needed by the body to fight infection.
Professor Metcalf is regarded as the ‘father of modern haematology’ for his pioneering research, which saw him identify colony stimulating factors (CSFs) – critical molecules that tell stem cells to multiply and mature to boost the immune system.
CSFs are now widely used in clinical medicine, predominantly in the treatment of cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy. To date, Professor Metcalf’s discovery has benefited more than 20 million cancer patients worldwide.
CSFs also revolutionised transplant medicine, leading to new techniques to perform bone marrow transplants for patients with blood diseases such as leukaemia.
Professor Metcalf’s research has been supported by the Cancer Council Victoria for more than 50 years. The Cancer Council awarded him the Carden Fellowship in 1954, that fellowship has funded his work at the institute ever since.
Although Professor Metcalf officially retired in 1996, he is still an active researcher at the institute. A favourite anecdote at the institute about Professor Metcalf is that, the day after he retired, he came back to work as though nothing had changed. He has continued to do so.