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About Sickkids
About SickKids

September 24, 2013

Dr. Ronald Worton to be inducted into Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

By Erin Collett

Ronald Worton

Over 25 years ago Dr. Ronald Worton, an internationally-recognized leader in human genetic research and his team at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) discovered the causal gene for Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy. Today, in recognition of his breakthrough, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame announced that he will be inducted in April 2014.

Duchenne and Becker muscular dystrophy, originally thought to be separate diseases, are caused by different mutations in the same gene. Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is the most common form and invariably fatal. Worton’s influential discovery in medical genetics has resulted in a greater understanding of the disease and revolutionized diagnosis and patient care. It led to the accurate detection of female carriers at risk for having an affected son, which in turn led to prenatal diagnosis of DMD.

“The environment at SickKids was critical to this discovery, especially the genetics clinic devoted to DMD and other muscular dystrophies,” says Worton. “This is where the first prenatal diagnosis of DMD took place.”

Among his key collaborators were Dr. Christine Verellen, who came from Belgium to work on the early stages of the project, and Dr. Peter Ray, who currently runs the Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory at SickKids.

Worton’s research team received international praise for the discovery and cloning of several human genes including those responsible for cystic fibrosis, Fanconi anaemia, Wilms' tumour and Wilson’s disease. Other work in his laboratory included the identification of the gene responsible for malignant hyperthermia and the mapping of genes responsible for inherited blindness.

“Dr. Worton’s research has had an immeasurable impact on our understanding of genetic diseases,” says Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research at SickKids. “Leading his team of SickKids scientists in the muscular dystrophy gene discovery is just one of the many ways in which he has played a pivotal role in translating knowledge into accelerated diagnosis and improved patient care. Dr. Worton’s induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame represents a proud moment for the scientific community, including the current generation of genetic researchers at SickKids and around the world, who continue to build on his groundbreaking work.”

Worton obtained his PhD in Biophysics from the University of Toronto in 1969. After a two-year postdoctoral study at Yale University, he returned to Toronto, holding several positions at SickKids, including the Director of the Diagnostic Cytogenetics Laboratory and Geneticist-in-Chief. He was also a Professor of Medical Genetics at the University of Toronto.

In 1996, he moved to the Ottawa General Hospital where he was the first Director of Research and Chief Executive Officer of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute which grew to become one of Canada’s premier health research institutes during his tenure. He held that position until 2008 when he retired after an exemplary career as a medical research scientist and scientific leader. He was also the founding scientific director of Canada’s Stem Cell Network from 2001 to 2005.

Worton will be joining a distinguished group of acclaimed SickKids researchers in the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame: Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, Dr. William Gallie, Dr. William Mustard, Dr. Robert Salter and Dr. Louis Siminovitch.

“I am so honoured to be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame amongst so many remarkable doctors,” says Worton. “I worked with an incredible team over the decade it took to realize this discovery.”

The six inductees announced today will join the ranks of 101 laureates who have gone before them in receiving this prestigious national honour. 

Read more about this year’s inductees.