Fast Five: Meet Dr. James Ellis

Fast 5 features quick, personal profiles of our research team members. This week, it’s Dr. James Ellis, Sr. Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, SickKids, Toronto

1. What are you reading for pleasure right now?
I prefer novels, and recently finished The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. It’s about a math professor in Japan who has an 80-minute memory span after an accident, and how his housekeeper reintroduces herself every morning using number theory and baseball. I thought it might have insight into my dad, who was a marine biology professor and is faced with home care challenges. I’m also excited to have Klara and the Sun by Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s about a sick girl’s friendship with an AI companion and gene editing. Ishiguro got his MA in Creative Writing in Norwich UK, where my Mum is from.

2. What is the most worthwhile non-monetary investment you’ve made?
My smart trainer purchased in April 2020 for my beloved BMC bike. It streams video to your TV of real bike ride footage from around the world using an app called Fulgaz. I prefer riding in the Alps and Pyrenees, while watching locals walk their dogs in the park out my window. Try the Stelvio Pass in Italy, a spectacular 1500m climb with 46 switchbacks, if you have four hours to spare. It is low-carbon, virtual travel and fantastic stress release during lockdown, and you can ride in Bogota one day and Mallorca the next. The strange part is only the back tire gets worn down!

3. What advice would you give your younger self?
I learned in grad school that, if you can’t explain all your data, then your model is wrong. What took me much longer to learn is to share results early and collaborate with perceived competitors. If you reach out to them, they can be become allies and elevate your science.

4. What prompted you to get into regenerative medicine?
In grad school I worked on developing new technologies for retrovirus vectors and gene targeting in mouse fibroblasts and ES cells. This naturally evolved into blood gene therapy interests in the 1990’s, epigenetic silencing of vectors in the 2000’s, and reprogramming for disease modelling in the 2010’s. We are now studying post-transcriptional regulation in stem cells to detect altered protein levels not predicted by steady-state RNA levels.

5. If you could buy one new toy for the lab right now – if money was not an issue – what would you get and why?
A time machine! But should it be set for 2019 or 2022?