We discover chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is a cancer of B cells.

Professor Jacques Miller and Dr Graham Mitchell have revealed that there are different types of lymphocytes in the immune system, called B and T cells. Dr Doug Wilson, a haematologist working with Sir Gustav Nossal, decides to apply this knowledge to understand the origins of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a common form of blood cancer.

B cell cancer

“He saw us working with these various markers and asked a simple question: 'Are the lymphocytes of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia T cells or B cells?' The results, published in The Lancet in 1971, were very clear-cut. This historic disease was a B cell disease.” Nossal recalls.1

Our discovery that chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is a cancer of B cells is a crucial piece of information for researchers worldwide who are studying this disease. 

“I was genuinely surprised when this simple paper became a 'citation classic', being cited in the scientific literature far more frequently than other contemporary work from my laboratory that was much more demanding!" Nossal says.

Forty years later, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia remains in our researchers’ spotlight. Potential new anti-cancer agents called BH3-mimetics show promise in clinical trials for treating chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.


1. Nossal GJV (2007) Diversity and Discovery: The History of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1965–1996. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press.