Through her trailblazing stem-cell research, Dr. Janet Rossant has advanced the study of children’s illnesses and laid the groundwork for future advances in regenerative medicine.
Growing up in southeast England, she was inspired to study life sciences by her female biology teacher, during a time when girls were often discouraged from pursuing science. Undeterred, she received her bachelor of arts in zoology at Oxford University, followed by a Ph.D. in mammalian development at Cambridge University. In 1977, marriage brought her to Canada, where she joined Brock University and then the University of Toronto, as an associate professor.
The goal of her research is to understand the miracle of how a single cell develops into a complex organism like a human being. She demonstrated that mouse embryonic stem cells can in fact form a healthy, living creature, if provided with supporting placental cells. This suggested that human embryonic stem cells could be a major source of cells to treat degenerative diseases.
Her groundbreaking work led to the discovery of the trophoblast stem cell, which helped understand how congenital abnormalities in the heart, blood vessels and placenta can occur. Her current research focuses on genetic control of both normal and abnormal development of embryos. These findings have been applied to the study of regenerative medicine, birth defects and cancer.
With these advances come questions about the ethical use of stem cells. She has helped lead the discussion by chairing the working group developing stem cell guidelines set by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Today, she remains at the forefront of developmental biology and stem cell research. She is president and scientific director of The Gairdner Foundation, a senior scientist and chief of research emeritus at the Hospital for Sick Children, and a deputy scientific director of the Canadian Stem Cell Network. She has also been the director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine and a member of the University of Manitoba’s Distinguished Professor Selection Committee.
Her contributions have been recognized with many national and international awards, including the Gairdner Wightman Award (2015) and the Ross G. Harrison Medal from the International Society of Developmental Biologists (2013). In 2018, she was selected as the Laureate of North America for the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award. She is also a Companion of the Order of Canada.
The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Science, honoris causa, to Dr. Janet Rossant, a world leader in the field of developmental biology.