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Jonathan Draper

Human Stem Cell Lineage Commitment
Canada Research Chair

Faculty of Health Sciences

Department of Pathology & Molecular Medicine


Research Involves

Using a range of technologies to screen, identify and investigate the factors that determine cell division during the process when human embryonic stem cells become specialized tissues

Chair Overview

Each of us started out as a single cell, too small for the eye to see. How our genes control the development from that tiny beginning into human beings with beating hearts, fingers that wiggle and legs strong enough to run marathons is largely a mystery.

Dr. Jon Draper, Canada Research Chair in Human Stem Cell Lineage Commitment, aims to unlock the secrets of human development by investigating the very beginnings of life, working with embryonic stem cells—cells which make decisions about which cells will develop into important tissues.

Draper is interested in the genetic switches that trigger or control the process by which embryonic stem cells become specialized tissues, such as lungs or pancreas.

To accomplish this, Draper is concentrating on a broad range of very specialized transcription factors, proteins that bind DNA and activate other genes. He is also labeling cells with fluorescent proteins that will turn on when a cell has acquired a specific characteristic. This helps to determine what sort of tissue that cell is and what it can become.

Draper’s goal is to find out how embryonic stem cells become specialized – a step which lays the groundwork for future drug discoveries, as well as therapeutic applications such as tissue transplantation.

And Draper already has some great success in this area. As a postdoctoral fellow at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Draper was part of a team that discovered a reliable way to direct the growth of embryonic stem cells from human embryos into liver, lung and pancreas precursor cells by adding a master gene, known as SOX17.