Dr. Jeff Dilworth studies how stem cells turn genes on and off

November 20, 2009

Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to what we might yet discovered and create.”

And discovery is what research is all about.

In particular, Dr. Jeff Dilworth’s research deals with stem cells. Stem cell-based therapies hold tremendous potential for treating many types of diseases, because a single stem cell can give rise to many types of more specialized cells, including blood cells, brain cells and muscle. But to develop these treatments, we need to understand how stem cells work and how to control them, and that’s where Dr. Dilworth’s research comes in.

While many people will have heard of the genome (the set of all genes in an individual or a cell), Dr. Dilworth studies what is called the epigenome, which is the genome of a cell, along with all the modifications that determine which genes are turned on or off in that cell. While all cells in an individual will have the same genome, a cell’s epigenome will determine whether it will behave like a skin cell, a brain cell or a muscle cell. Dr. Dilworth studies the special group of proteins that are responsible for changing the epigenome, particularly as stem cells give rise to new muscle cells. Understanding this process is important for the development of new stem cell-based therapies for muscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy.

Dr. Dilworth’s groundbreaking findings have been published in the renowned journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology (a publication that was recognized by the Faculty of 1000 Biology as an important advancement in the field). His research has provided the first evidence that epigenetic modifications occur during muscle cell development and he has deciphered the key role of a protein called Ash2L in this process. Dr. Dilworth has achieved a lot of success at an early stage in his career. When asked about what it takes to be a successful scientist, he cited “hard work and commitment, but most importantly innovative and original ideas”.

Dr. Dilworth is a Scientist at the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research in the Regenerative Medicine Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in Epigenetic Regulation of Transcription and he is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, at the University of Ottawa.

To learn more about Dr. Dilworth’s exciting research, please see his profile at

By Alessandra Pasut