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Three Canadians predicted as contenders for Nobel prizes Add to ...

Three Canadians are among an elite group being touted as possible winners of the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine, which will be announced early next month in Stockholm.

Thomson Reuters, which has been issuing predictions about Nobel Prize winners since 2002, named Ernest McCulloch and James Till of the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto and Ontario-born Douglas Coleman of the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Me., as top contenders for the prestigious award.

The company uses data from an extensive compilation of research literature to make annual predictions for Nobel Prize winners in physiology or medicine, physics, chemistry, and economics.

Since the program's inception, 19 of its citation laureates have gone on to win Nobels, including last year's winners for physiology and medicine.

“We choose our citation laureates by assessing citation counts and the number of high-impact papers while identifying discoveries or themes that may be considered worthy of recognition by the Nobel committee,” said David Pendlebury of Thomson Reuters.

“A strong correlation exists between citations in literature and peer esteem. Professional awards, like the Nobel Prize, are a reflection of this peer esteem.”

Dr. McCulloch and Dr. Till, the first to confirm the existence of stem cells in 1961, are cited with Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University and the University of California, San Francisco, for the development of induced pluripotent stem cells as described in a 2006 paper.

Mr. Pendlebury said Dr. Yamanaka's groundbreaking work has been cited about 500 times a year by other researchers, but his work would not have been possible without the seminal research of Dr. Till and Dr. McCulloch, which has been cited about 4,000 times over the intervening decades.

Dr. Till, reached Tuesday at his Toronto home, said he was told by Thomson Reuters that he and Dr. McCulloch are among the top picks for a Nobel. But Dr. Till, known for his scientific rigour, was reluctant to say much about the prediction.

“I'm skeptical,” he said. “This is just speculation based on data that Thomson Reuters gathers, citation data.”

“This kind of speculation is not something I'd like to comment on.”

Dr. Coleman, who retired as a senior scientist at the Jackson Laboratory in 1997, grew up in Stratford, Ont., and earned his bachelor of science from McMaster University in 1954. He was named a Nobel contender along with Jeffrey Friedman, a molecular geneticist at Rockefeller University, for their discovery of leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite and metabolism.

Mr. Pendlebury also chose Ralph Steinman, an immunologist from Rockefeller University, as a good bet for a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his discovery of dendritic cells, which are key regulators of the immune response.

On Tuesday, Dr. Coleman and Dr. Friedman were also named winners of the Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, which is known in scientific circles as “America's Nobel.”

Those who win the Lasker are also considered top candidates for the Nobel Prize for medicine. Dr. Till and Dr. McCulloch took it in 2005, Dr. Steinman won in 2007 and Dr. Yamanaka shared the prize last year.

All six have also won a Gairdner Award, a Canadian prize in medicine that has been dubbed the “baby Nobel” and is considered another precursor to a Nobel Prize.

The Nobel committee works in extreme secrecy and does not announce its nominees; in fact, that information is kept under lock and key for 50 years.

The Nobel Prize in medicine will be announced Monday, Oct. 4 at 11:30 a.m. Stockholm time.

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