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Photo of Adam Becker at his desk smoking a pipe
Adam Becker. Photo courtesy of Sandra Becker Sielaff

Andrew John Becker Helped Identify Stem Cells

His work also enabled researchers to identify, map and sequence genes

In the 1960s, Andrew John Becker was a young graduate in medical biophysics whose work had a profound effect: his early research with U of T scientists Ernest McCulloch and James Till helped identify stem cells. The discovery led to the use of bone marrow transplants in leukemia patients, saving countless lives.

Becker’s work on stem cells identified new ways to diagnose and treat many diseases. He also helped develop recombinant DNA technology, which allows researchers to identify, map and sequence genes to understand their function. “He made key discoveries in stem cell research. With Marvin Gold, he discovered how human disease genes such as those for cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy can be cloned,” says Prof. Paul Sadowski of molecular genetics.

Becker, who held both an MD and PhD from U of T, joined the university as a professor in 1967. He remained in medical genetics until his retirement in 2000. “Andy was a gentle person, blessed with an incredible capacity to understand everybody around him,” says Prof. Helios Murialdo. “He was always willing to listen, as if his time was of no importance. I learned from him science and humanity.”

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