Educated at McGill (MD, CM 1949; PhD 1954), Axelrad was professor and head of histology in the anatomy department at University of Toronto from 1966 to 1985. He achieved international acclaim for his research in hemopoiesis and leukemia. Axelrad's research group was known worldwide for its studies on various aspects of blood cell differentiation, with special reference to the myeloproliferative disorders.
The group's work focused on finding regulatory molecules that control the proliferation of hemopoietic stem cells and investigating the genes that code for them. Axelrad published over 80 scientific papers. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1982.