For years, scientists had been theorising that stem cells, building blocks for all other cells, could be used to save millions of lives. But no one could figure out how to isolate them in order to develop further research. Until Ann Tsukamoto and Irving Weissman, that is.

In 1991, the married scientists jointly discovered and patented a process for stem cell isolation. They showed that the method they developed could be used to purge all contaminating breast cancer cells from samples of bone marrow taken from cancer patients.

Their method produced a pure population of blood-forming stem cells that could be used to regenerate patients’ blood and immune systems after high-dose chemotherapy was used to kill cancer.

Tsukamoto and Weissman’s discovery has since saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Stem cell research, meanwhile, has continued to advance, with the potential to treat various cancers and other deadly diseases.

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