Junying Yuan is a cell biologist recognized for her pioneering works on the mechanisms of cell death. Her works provided pivotal insights into the fundamental mechanisms that regulate cell death in mammalian cells, including both apoptosis and necroptosis, and their relevance in major human inflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders and cancers. Yuan was born in Shanghai, China. She graduated in 1982 from Fudan University, Shanghai, China, with a B.S. degree in biochemistry and from Harvard University in 1989 with a Ph.D. in neurosciences. She was first appointed as Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School in 1992, when she became a Principal Investigator at the Cardiovascular Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. She joined the Department of Cell Biology in 1996 and was promoted to Professor of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School in 2000. In 2014, she became the first incumbent of the Elizabeth D. Hay Professorship in Cell Biology, a professorship that honors the late Professor Elizabeth D. Hay, the first female professor in the history of Harvard Medical School. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

The research in Junying Yuan's laboratory is aimed at elucidation of the molecular mechanisms regulating cell death in mammalian cells. Yuan lab has made pioneering landmark discoveries that revealed the key molecular drivers and fundamental mechanisms underlying the two major forms of cell death: apoptosis and necroptosis. In early 1990's, Yuan lab provided the first evidence for the highly conserved roles of caspases as key molecular drivers of apoptosis and the connection between Bcl-2 and caspase-mediated apoptosis in mammalian cells. Subsequently, Yuan lab published a series of classic papers in the field of apoptosis, including the discovery of caspase-11 as a key driver of inflammation and apoptosis by regulating the activation of caspase-1. In defiance of the traditional dogma that necrosis was a passive, uncontrolled form of cell death, and therefore, not amenable to therapeutic targeting, Yuan lab discovered a novel, regulated necrotic cell death pathway termed "necroptosis" in mammalian cells and the role of RIPK1 in mediating necroptosis. RIPK1 has been implicated in mediating inflammation and degeneration of major human diseases from rheumatoid arthritis and crohn's disease to neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Human clinical trials on RIPK1 inhibitors targeting necrosis have been initiated.

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Primary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology

Secondary Section

Section 41: Medical Genetics, Hematology, and Oncology