Jeannie T. Lee

Harvard University


Election Year: 2015
Primary Section: 22, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Secondary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Membership Type: Member

Biosketch

Dr. Lee is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Professor of Genetics (and Pathology) at the Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lee is a pioneer in uncovering the functions of long noncoding RNAs (lncRNA) in epigenetic regulation.  She is known for her work on Xist, Tsix RNA, and X-inactivation, as well as for establishing an RNA interactome for Polycomb complexes.  Dr. Lee has furthermore developed novel methods in RNA therapeutics, such as “RNA-activation" for the upregulation of genes.  She was the 2010 Recipient of The Molecular Biology Prize from the National Academy of Sciences, is a Member of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was named a Distinguished Graduate Award of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  She received her A.B. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Harvard University, obtained M.D.-Ph.D degrees from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and did postgraduate training at the Whitehead Institute/MIT and at the Massachusetts General Hospital.  She has also been a Basil O’Connor Scholar and a Pew Scholar, and until recently, served on the Board of Directors of the Genetics Society of America. 

Research Interests

Dr. Lee's work focuses on how long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) function as epigenetic switches in gene regulation. Using X-chromosome inactivation as a model, her laboratory has pioneered understanding of mechanisms driving epigenetic change without a change in the DNA code.   Her investigations into lncRNAs -- now known as the “dark matter” of the genome  -- have helped to elucidate why >95% of our genome is noncoding and why the dark matter is expressed even though they do not make protein.  Her lab's work has shown that lncRNAs can exert powerful control over genes through their ability to attract and evict protein factors, as well as through their influence over chromosome architecture. Though normally silent for a lifetime, the inactive X chromosome is a reservoir of 1,000 genes.  However, Dr. Lee is investigating how to leverage the chromosomal powerhouse to treat diseases ranging from autism to cancer.  Through dissecting basic mechanisms, her lab has established a unique place in biology for lncRNAs:  Unlike proteins, lncRNAs can drive locus-specific action on single gene targets.  This laser-focus action offers a mechanism for cellular control and highly precise pharmacological interventions for the future of medicine.

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