John A. Ronald

John A. Ronald, Scientist

Why I Became a Scientist

My parents always said I would never leave school just because of my love for learning, but it was really the loss of several family members way too early that drove me into medical research. This deeply impressed upon me the desperate need for improved ways to detect and treat disease. The idea that scientific discoveries across the globe bring us closer to improved human health is very powerful to me.

Throughout my research career I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by mentors and colleagues that are excited by the challenges (and yes frustrations) of scientific discovery. It’s amazingly fun to be a part of a team of excited intellectuals all trying to come up with solutions to unmet medical needs, to continually learn from each other, to test new ideas (often revise them many, many times!), and then disseminate your findings into the scientific community where they may inspire others. To me, discovering new science is one of the most exhilarating and enlightening things one can do and it’s just plain awesome!

Research Summary

As we enter this era of more personalized and precise medicine, new technologies are needed that can sensitively, accurately and non-invasively detect molecular activities within the body over the course of an individual’s entire life. My lab’s research focuses on pioneering novel molecular and cellular imaging technologies that will hopefully meet these needs. We have a particular interest in improved early cancer detection and treatment, as well as improved monitoring of state-of-the-art cellular therapies for cancer and other diseases. To accomplish this we are investigating the development of novel gene-based platforms that strategically integrate disease-specific activatable expression systems with both biofluid-based and multimodality imaging readouts. This work is at the interface of molecular and cell biology, imaging sciences, and nanomedicine and requires a multidisciplinary approach to devise innovative solutions to some of today’s most difficult biomedical problems.

Research Questions

Can we develop novel gene-based technologies for early disease detection and treatment?

Everyone will be affected by cancer during their lifetime; whether it be personally or through a family member or friend being diagnosed with this terrible disease. It’s well known that the prognosis of cancer patients is much better if it’s caught early, when treatments are more effective. However, current technologies often lack in the sensitivity and accuracy to find early-stage cancer when it is more treatable. We are seeking to develop a new class of early cancer detection technologies that combines fundamental advances in gene therapy vectors, the latest in tumor nanodelivery platforms, state-of-the-art molecular imaging and blood-based reporter genes, and emerging gene therapy paradigms that will allow us to detect and treat tumors much earlier than currently possible. Our efforts, over time, will be on the iterative improvement of these systems to hopefully make it possible to detect and treat the smallest of tumors. If successful, we envision revised versions of these technologies to be developed and applied to as many other biomedical conditions as possible.

Can molecular imaging be used to more effectively track cellular therapies?

In recent years, there have been many exciting advances in the ability to treat and often cure diseases with cell-based therapies. These have included stem cell therapies for regenerative medicine or immune cell therapies for battling cancer. We are interested in developing translationally-relevant tools that can be used to non-invasively visualize where these cells go in a patient, how they are behaving, and if they having the desired therapeutic effects. In the near future, these tools will allow clinicians to more precisely evaluate cellular therapy effectiveness on an individual patient basis.


B.Sc. Physiology (Hons.), University of Western Ontario, 2000
M.Sc. Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Western Ontario, 2003
Ph.D. Medical Biophysics, University of Western Ontario, 2008


Postdoctoral Fellowship in Radiology, Stanford University, 2009-2015


Canadian Institutes of Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship, 2009-2012

Canadian Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal, 2009

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada Doctoral Research Award, 2006-2008


J.A. Ronald, H-Y. Chuang, A. Dragulescu-Andrasi, S. Hori, S.S. Gambhir. Detecting Cancers Through Tumor-Activatable Minicircles that Lead to a Detectable Blood Biomarker. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(10): 3068-73, 2015.

J.A. Ronald, R. Katzenberg, C.H. Nielsen, H.J. Jae, L.V. Hofmann, S.S. Gambhir. MicroRNA-regulated non-viral vectors with improved specificity in an orthotopic rat model of hepatocellular carcinoma. Gene Therapy, 20(10): 1006-13, 2013.

J.A. Ronald, L. Cusso, H-Y. Chuang, X. Yan, A. Dragulescu-Andrasi, S.S. Gambhir. Development and validation of non-integrative, self-limited, and replicating minicircles for safe reporter gene imaging of cell-based therapies.  PLoS ONE, 8(8): e73138, 2013.

G. Liang*, J. Ronald*, Y. Chen, D. Ye, P. Pandit, M.L. Ma, B. Rutt, J. Rao.  Controlled self-assembling of gadolinium nanoparticles as smart molecular magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents.  Angew Chem Int Ed Engl, 50(28): 6283-6286, 2011. *co-authors - equal contribution.

J.A. Ronald*, J.W. Chen*, Y. Chen, A.M. Hamilton, E. Rodriguez, F. Reynolds, R.A. Hegele, K.A. Rogers, M. Querol, A. Bogdanov, R. Weissleder, B.K. Rutt.  Enzyme-sensitive MR imaging targeting myeloperoxidase identifies active inflammation in experimental rabbit atherosclerotic plaques. Circulation, 120(7): 592-599, 2009. *co-authors - equal contribution.

J.A. Ronald, Y. Chen, L. Bernas, H.H. Kitzler, K.A. Rogers, R.A. Hegele, B.K. Rutt.  Clinical field-strength MRI of amyloid plaques induced by low-level cholesterol feeding in rabbits. Brain, 132:1346-1354, 2009.

See publications by John Ronald on PubMed.

Contact Info

John A. Ronald, PhD
Scientist, Robarts Resarch Institute – Imaging
Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Biophysics, Western University
Robarts Research Institute
Western University
London, Ontario
N6A 5B7

Office: Rm. 2241A