Born:

April 2, 1942

(Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Education:

PhD, University of Toronto (1969)

Awards & Honours:

2012: Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal

2012: Officer of the Order of Canada

See All Awards
Picture of Ronald Worton

Discovered the gene for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Ronald Worton

A trailblazer in genetic research

Described as a “role model of one who has achieved success without either aggression or self-promotion” and “who brings to every interaction kindness, selflessness, consideration and empathy,” Dr. Worton stands out as both a scholar and a gentleman. Through a novel and ground breaking approach at a time when disease-gene discovery was in its infancy, Dr. Worton and his team identified the dystrophin gene which is mutated in boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. This was the first gene to be identified by “positional cloning” without prior knowledge of the altered protein and provided proof-of-principle for the human genome project.

Key Facts

Discovered the cause of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and enabled its definitive diagnosis and prognosis

Led the field in discovering the nature and origin of mutations that cause Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

Served as Associate Director of the Canadian Genetic Disease Network, the Head of the Canadian Genome Analysis and Technology Program and as the Founding Director of Canada’s Stem Cell Network

As Geneticist-in-Chief at Sick Kids, his department discovered the genes responsible for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Cystic Fibrosis, Tay-Sachs Disease, Wilson’s Disease and Fanconi Anemia, more than any other hospital or university department in the world

In Ottawa, created a new research institute at the Ottawa General Hospital, and following a hospital merger became CEO and Scientific Director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and VP Research at the hospital

Served on the board or council of 20 volunteer organizations including the CIHR Interim Governing Council and internationally as Vice President of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and President of the American Society of Human Genetics

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

When Dr. Worton began his research in genetics, little was known about the nature of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Today, thanks to the work of Dr. Worton, scientists can now identify the gene responsible and have a clear path to potential therapy and prevention. Beyond his basic science research, the legacy of Dr. Worton lays in his building of research programs and networks that facilitate knowledge production and exchange for the benefit of human health.

Picture of Ronald Worton

2014

  • Ronald Worton Induction

    Ronald Worton inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Kingston, Ontario

  • Dr. Worton retired from the Ottawa Hospital and maintained his interest in science through local, provincial and national boards and committees.

    He currently serves on the Board of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, having joined in 2019.

  • Following merger of four Ottawa hospitals to create The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Worton became the first CEO and Scientific Director of the new Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, and VP Research of the Ottawa Hospital

    Leadership in Organizational Development

    That same year Dr. Worton became the Founding Scientific Director of Canada's Stem Cell Network, a collaborative venture of more than 65 scientists, engineers and physicians dedicated to developing stem cell technology as the basis of the new discipline of Regenerative Medicine.

  • Ron Worton elected President of the American Society for Human Genetics

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Dr. Worton circa 1997

    New Directions

    Dr. Worton moved to Ottawa to become the Scientific Director of the new Research Institute at the former Ottawa General Hospital.

  • Dr. Worton was selected as the UK-Canada Rutherford Lecturer, and served as Visiting Professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

    Over the years Dr. Worton delivered more than 60 university seminars and was invited speaker at more than 70 national and international meetings throughout N. America, Europe and Asia.

  • Dr. Worton was appointed Director of the Canadian Genome Analysis and Technology Program which was the forerunner of Genome Canada established seven years later

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Along with Dr. Michael Hayden, Dr. Worton developed the successful proposal to create the Canadian Genetic Diseases Network (a Network of Centres of Excellence) and served as its Associate Director for 12 years.

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    One of Canada’s most successful and longest funded Networks, it played a key role in fostering a culture of cooperation among genetic researchers, linked academic researchers with industrial partners, and resulted in several spin-off companies to commercialize the research.

  • HUGO logo

    Dr. Worton joined a small group of geneticists in Geneva to create HUGO, the international Human Genome Organisation.

    Leadership in Organizational Development

    Appointed to its inaugural Governing Council he was later elected VP for the Americas

  • Dr. Worton began a ten-year term as Geneticist-in-Chief at the Hospital for Sick Children. That same year he, along with colleague Dr. Peter Ray, identified a portion of the X chromosome containing the gene responsible for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    During this time, his genetics department led the world with the discovery of genes responsible for muscular dystrophy (Worton and Ray), cystic fibrosis (Tsui), Wilson’s disease (Cox), Tay-Sachs disease (Gravel) and Fanconi anemia (Buchwald).

  • Dr. Worton devised a five year research plan to identify the gene responsible for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy using DNA from Dr. Verellen's patient.

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

    He gave up all his previous research to focus on this project.

  • Dr. Christine Verellen arrived in Dr. Worton's lab and made him aware of a European female with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, who's unique chromosome rearrangement revealed the putative location of the causative gene on the X chromosome.

  • Dr. Worton returned to Canada and joined the Department of Genetics at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto as Director of the Cytogenetics Laboratory

    Cells, Genetics & Genomics

  • Early Genetic Research

    After completing his PhD in medical biophysics under the supervision of Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, Dr. Worton moved to Yale for postdoctoral study with Dr. Frank Ruddle, a leader in somatic cell genetics.

  • Before pursing studies in human genetics, Dr. Worton earned his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in physics from the University of Manitoba

1965

He is a trailblazer in disease gene discovery.