Jonathan Tilly

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Fellow, Molecular Biology, Stanford University Medical Center, 1991-3
Fellow, Molecular Biology, University of California – San Diego, 1990-1
PhD, Animal Sciences, Rutgers, the State University of NJ, (Graduate School – New Brunswick), 1990
MS, Animal Sciences, Rutgers, the State University of NJ, (Graduate School – New Brunswick), 1987
BS with Highest Honors, Cook College, Rutgers, the State University of NJ, New Brunswick, NJ, 1984

Area(s) of Expertise

Reproductive biology, stem cell biology, regenerative medicine, infertility, and aging

Research Interests

My laboratory seeks to improve women’s reproductive healthcare and overcome infertility by translating what we uncover through cellular, molecular, genetic, and epigenetic studies of female germ cells. For many years, our primary focus was on apoptosis (genetically controlled programmed cell death), leading to the discovery that premature ovarian failure and infertility resulting from anti-cancer treatments involves the activation of apoptosis in oocytes (Nature Medicine 1997). We then used this information to develop and validate an anti-apoptotic small molecule (U.S. Patents 7,195,775 and 7,850,984) that protects the ovaries from cytotoxic insults and thus preserves normal reproductive function in mice (Nature Medicine 1999, 2002) and monkeys (Fertility & Sterility 2011).

We also identified a gene that when silenced in mice, prolongs ovarian lifespan into very advanced age, thereby eliminating the ‘mouse equivalent’ of menopause (Nature Genetics 1999). This allowed us to systematically decipher the broad impact of sustained ovarian function on the aging female body (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2007).

After assembling a molecular blueprint of how mammalian germ cells die (Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology 2001), the focus of our work changed from one of cell death to cell renewal based on our studies that initially challenged (Nature 2004), and eventually overturned (Science/AAAS 2013), one of the most basic doctrines in our field by demonstrating the existence of female germline stem cells in the ovaries of mammals that support new oocyte production during adulthood (Nature Medicine 2012; Nature Protocols 2013).

These studies not only opened regenerative medicine-based avenues related to therapeutic manipulation of adult stem cells to overcome infertility and prevent ovarian failure (U.S. Patent 7,955,846) but also sparked a new line of research in my laboratory to explore other means of ‘rejuvenating’ female germ cells that target mitochondria and cellular energy pathways (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2011; Cell Metabolism 2013; U.S. Patent 8,642,329).



134 Mugar Life Sciences Building

Reproductive biology: Fertility research brings death of dogma, birth of hope

After eight years of work, a new paper by professor Jonathan Tilly, a reproductive and stem cell biologist, “puts the final nail in the dogma coffin,” toppling a long-held belief about female fertility and ovarian aging. His findings confirm that female mammals make new eggs during adult life, that ovarian stem cells are critical to the process, and that the newly formed eggs contribute directly to maintenance of ovarian function and to natural fertility.

Biology chair creates treatment, world’s first baby born with assist from stem cells

Jonathan Tilly’s infertility research has led to the birth of a baby born with an assist from stem cells. Tilly is the chair of the Department of Biology.

The lab whiz

Ellie Shin, SSH/S’16, was deter­mined to work on co-​​op in a campus research lab. She found one, and has quickly made the most of her experiences.