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Hello from Dr. Keith Humphries

February 6, 2013

Hello, my name is Dr. Keith Humphries and I have had the privilege of working at the BC Cancer Agency as a researcher for just shy of 30 years.

Looking back, I still find it curious that a prairie boy raised in Edmonton and seemingly destined to pursue a career in physics ended up with an MD then a PhD and a lifelong pursuit of the mysteries of leukemia and blood cell production.

My formative years were shaped by an older brother blazing the trail in nuclear physics and I found myself pursuing a BSc in physics at the University of Alberta with every intent of going on to do research in solid state physics. But an almost chance conversation with the Chair of the Physics Department brought me to being introduced to a former graduate of the U of A, Dr. Rick Miller. After doing a PhD in Astrophysics, Dr. Miller had taken up a faculty position in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto. I was intrigued by his career shift to the study of biology and was enticed to begin graduate studies in his lab.

The Ontario Cancer Institute in those days (circa 1970) was a hotbed of a totally new field of “stem cell biology” and discoveries of primitive cells involved in blood cell production and applications of bone marrow stem cell transplantation for leukemia were coming at a furious rate. I was hooked on stem cell biology and quickly realized that I wanted to get my MD to better appreciate human biology and disease. Within a year of moving to Toronto I found myself in medical school at UBC.

Following a bit more clinical training in Montreal, I was back to research and pursuing my PhD in the stem cell area – as it happens, I did this in Vancouver at the fledgling BC Cancer Agency Research Centre then housed in what was affectionately called “the bakery.” Postdoctoral studies at the National Institutes of Health in Washington gave me grounding in what was then a totally new field of recombinant DNA technology (cloning, gene transfer and such). With that I was fortunate to gain a position as a scientist in the newly created Terry Fox Laboratory here at the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre and in the Department of Medicine at UBC.

The rest as they say is history – building a research team, training an outstanding cadre of graduate and post graduate students, embarking on an exciting range of research efforts focused on better understanding how normal blood cell production is maintained and how genetic changes can result in cancers of the blood, notably acute myeloid leukemia; more about that later.