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Developmental & Stem Cell Biology

The Ellis Lab

James Ellis PhD

Senior Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program, SickKids
Professor, Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto

Dr. James Ellis began his independent research program at The Hospital for Sick Children in 1994. He has supervised eleven post-doctoral fellows, seven PhD students and seven M.Sc. students and is a popular choice as a supervisory committee member for other graduate students in the department. He teaches a portion of the fourth year undergraduate course on gene expression and a graduate course on epigenetics and transcriptional control. Dr. Ellis is Scientific Co-Director of the recently established Ontario Human Induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cell Facility.


Dr. Ellis undertook PhD studies in 1985 at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Department of Medical Genetics, University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Alan Bernstein. He completed his degree in 1990. The focus of his thesis was on the mechanism of retrovirus vector integration and he designed the first viral vectors for targeted integration (Ellis 1989; Ellis 1989; Ellis 1990). From 1990 to 1994 Ellis pursued a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr. Frank Grosveld at the National Institute of Medical Research in Mill Hill, London UK. The main focus of his research was to identify beta-globin LCR elements that function in single copy transgenic mice for use in gene therapy vectors (Ellis1996).

Research Activities

The current research objective in the Ellis Lab is to generate the safest and most effective retrovirus and lentivirus vectors for manipulating stem cells during regenerative medicine. They discover epigenetic mechanisms that control transgene expression and that silence retrovirus vectors in stem cells, and apply this knowledge to improve vector design. The study of retrovirus silencing pathways in embryonic stem cells provides a window on the epigenetic control of endogenous genes and repeat sequences. The use of insulators and other powerful regulatory elements allows us to construct effective viral vectors for gene therapy of Rett Syndrome in neural stem cells. They are now creating novel vectors that express highly in embryonic stem cells but extinguish during differentiation. These promising vectors may have exciting applications as pluripotency markers to facilitate the generation of induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells, for enhancing directed differentiation, or for ablating undifferentiated cells to prevent teratoma formation. The Ellis team is currently modeling Rett Syndrome and other disorders using mouse and patient specific iPS cells.