UCLA Stem Cell Researcher Wins Prestigious McCulloch and Till Award

Hanna Mikkola

Dr. Hanna Mikkola, a pioneering cancer researcher whose work has focused on improving the understanding and treatment of leukemia, has been named the 2013 recipient of the McCulloch and Till Award by the Society for Hematology and Stem Cells (ISEH) in honor of her efforts.

Established in 2004, the McCulloch and Till Award recognizes junior scientists in the area of experimental hematology and stem cells. It is bestowed annually to one scientist who is nominated and selected as an outstanding early career investigator in their field.

Mikkola, a member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, has worked to uncover the origin of hematopoietic or blood-producing stem cells and how the development of blood stem cells can act as a potential new source of cells for use in bone marrow transplantation.

Though often thought of as strictly a surgical procedure, bone marrow transplantation functions more like a blood transfusion. Within the billions of cells that are infused into a patient during the transplant process there are only a comparatively few blood stem cells, and of those only a few will survive. Yet it is these stem cells that will eventually self-renew, thus becoming the critical driving engine to developing a new generation of stem cell-based therapies to treat blood and heart diseases including leukemia.

Over the past eight years, Mikkola’s laboratory has pioneered several key discoveries related to HSCs, including how cells are generated and nurtured and the identification of critical cues in their development process. Her team also solved the long-standing mystery of the origin of HSCs with the discovery that these cells are generated and nurtured in the placenta.

Mikkola received the award at the ISEH annual meeting in Vienna, Austria, on August 25, 2013.

“I am extremely honored and humbled to receive this award,” Mikkola said. “It is very gratifying to receive recognition from my fellow scientists that we have advanced stem cell science in the field of experimental hematology. This has been made possible through teamwork of many enthusiastic and dedicated lab members and collaborators that I have had the pleasure to work with. I thank the ISEH membership and will use this recognition as incentive to continue our research with the passion, rigor and focus that has brought us this far.”

The McCulloch and Till Award was created in honor of Ernest McCulloch and James Till, who are regarded as the “fathers” of stem cell science. Professors McCulloch and Till are widely considered to be the first scientists to show that the bone marrow contains stem cells, a finding that gave rise to the field of bone marrow transplantation.

An associate professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology in the life sciences at UCLA, Mikkola has also received awards acknowledging her cutting-edge scientific research from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Society of Hematology and V-Foundation for Cancer Research. Her work is funded currently by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.