Signals Blog

by Michael Rudnicki, Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network 

Ron Worton, Alan Bernstein and Jim Till at the Stem Cell Network's first scientific meeting in 2002

Ron Worton, Alan Bernstein and Jim Till at the Stem Cell Network’s scientific meeting in 2002

Today it was announced that Ron Worton is an inductee into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame that is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of medical heroes. As well as an accomplished and renowned scientist for his groundbreaking and seminal discoveries in genetic diseases such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Ron was the founding Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network. Ron brought together investigators from quite distinct disciplines that had never worked together previously, and forged an organization that today has led the world in multidisciplinary research in stem cells and regenerative medicine. His very forward-thinking vision was key to creating this network, as is evidenced by this article excerpt from the Stem Cell Network’s first newsletter in 2002:

But the network isn’t just about scientists, Dr. Worton says. “It is scientists, engineers, lawyers, ethicists and clinicians, and I see big opportunities here in being able to tackle projects related to diseases at different levels.”

Few fields of science have ignited as much excitement, and controversy, as stem cell research. The hope is to turn stem cells into repair tissue for diseased or aging hearts, livers and other organs. But fundamental questions remain.

“We know that it’s not just a matter of taking cells out of the bone marrow and squirting them into the heart,” Dr. Worton says. “People have done that experiment and they’ve had some exciting results, but we know that down the road that is not the way that things are going to be done.”

Instead, the goal is to develop treatments that are not only efficient, but exquisitely precise, and in order to do so, scientists need first to fully understand how stem cells work, how they renew themselves, how they differentiate into other cell types and how they can be coaxed or manipulated into turning into cells with a specific function.

“In the future, if we’re going to treat, for example, heart disease, we’ll take a well-defined population of cells, we will manipulate it to make exactly the kinds of tissue we want it to make and we’ll put it into the heart, where it will make a specific kind of muscle cell,” Dr. Worton says.

Ron is a leading scientist of the first rank who has made profound and important scholastic contributions in genetic and stem cell research, some of which are outlined in the biographical summaries on the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute web sites. His success is due to his natural leadership abilities, his capability to connect across disciplines, and his facility at understanding complex integrated problems in biomedical research. Ron possesses a rare combination of skills and leadership abilities that are ideal for studying these complex issues. Ron is also a personal mentor and friend.

We at the Stem Cell Network are very proud of Ron’s accomplishments and very grateful for everything he did to make this Network a reality. On behalf of the SCN and Canadian stem cell researchers that have greatly benefited from his vision, I would like to convey our heartfelt congratulations!

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