​​Dr. Arthur Axelrad
Flags at University of Toronto were lowered to half-staff in honour of Dr. Arthur Axelrad following his death last month. (Photo: UHN)

Colleagues recall his enthusiasm for research and his enduring contributions to science.

His family reflects on the sweetness and warmth behind a research leader in the fight against leukemia.

No matter how Dr. Arthur Axelrad is remembered, it's clear that the impact of his life will continue long after his passing at the age of 91.

"Most scientists have an almost obsessive dedication to their research interests," says Dr. James Till, Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, who along with Dr. Axelrad, was in 1957, one of the original appointees to the research staff of the Ontario Cancer Institute, now part of UHN.

"But AA's enthusiasm was especially engaging and infectious. He will be greatly missed but his contributions to science will endure."

Born in Montreal, Dr. Axelrad earned his MD and PhD degrees at McGill University. Over his career at the University of Toronto, he was a member of the departments of Molecular Genetics and Medical Biophysics as well as the Institute of Medical Science. 

Dr. Axelrad was bestowed with the title of University Professor, the highest honour awarded to a faculty member at the U of T. In 1982, he was inducted as a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 1988, Dr. Axelrad was presented with its Thomas W. Eadie Medal for his invention of a cell cloning method.

​"He has achieved international acclaim for his research in hemopoiesis and leukemia," according to The Canadian Encyclopedia. "Axelrad's research group is known worldwide for its studies on various aspects of blood cell differentiation, with special reference to the myeloproliferative disorders," a group of diseases of the bone marrow in which excess cells are produced.

In an accompanying story, Professor Peter Burns, Chair of the Department of Medical Biophysics, said Dr. Axelrad's work "changed our understanding of myeloproliferative disorders".

"He not only advanced understanding of the fundamental biology of these diseases, but also how they can be identified and treated," says Professor Burns.

"His contributions were substantial. He leaves a very distinguished research legacy."

In announcing Dr. Axelrad's death last month, the U of T Faculty of Medicine noted on Twitter, "the impact of his work will not be soon forgotten."

Professor Axelrad was also recognized as an influential and memorable educator.

"To say he was a wonderful teacher and a brilliant transmitter of information would be to understate the case," says a former student.

To honour him, U of T lowered its flags to half-staff on April 23.

But to those closest to him, Dr. Axelrad's greatest impact happened outside the laboratory.

He will be deeply missed by his wife, Barbara, and children, Rob, David and Elise, and by Rob's wife Susan, their daughters Heather and Stephanie, and David's wife, Brigitte Talevski.

Barbara, his wife of 54 years, says she's comforted they shared a life filled with art, theatre, music, travel and love.

Rob, the eldest of his three children, says: "His work as a doctor, a cancer research scientist and a professor was challenging to say the least. But to us he was just our Dad, who loved his wife, children and grandchildren.

"He was interested in us and made the world interesting for us."

Added Dr. Axelrad's son, David: "Despite being a workaholic, who we used to joke would wear a tie in the shower if he could, he was also the guy that read me Winnie the Pooh over and over again, taught me to ride a bike, engaged in long chats about life, science, my feelings, and who counseled me and loved me when I needed someone to lean on."

His daughter, Elise, recalls how her father inspired her love of science, music and ideas.​

"My Dad was warm-hearted and brilliant, a rare combination."​

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