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Principal Investigator

Jeanne B Lawrence, Ph.D.

Jeanne Lawrence, PhD Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics
University of Massachusetts Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
Phone: (508) 856-6015

Jeanne Lawrence is a Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). After receiving an M.S. in Human Genetic Counseling she became intrigued by research into chromosomes and epigenetics, and thus earned her PhD in developmental biology from Brown University in 1982. She has been on the faculty of UMMS since 1985, where she also directs medical education in human genetics.

Jeanne Lawrence’s interests and background bridge the areas of human clinical genetics and developmental epigenetics in the regulation of chromosomes. Her lab has long developed approaches for visualizing single genes and RNAs within individual cells and has published extensively on compartmentalization of the mammalian cell nucleus, showing the cell-type specific organization of endogenous genes, RNAs, and proteins with specific nuclear sub-compartments. Her lab is specifically interested in non-coding RNAs, which included their demonstration that XIST RNA is a novel nuclear RNA that “paints” the inactive X chromosome, where it induces a host of heterochromatin modifications, and her recent work investigating how this unique RNA binds and restructures the chromosome. The Lawrence lab has also studied other long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs), including NEAT1 RNA, which provides precedent for an “architectural RNA” that forms the foundation for a cytological-scale structure, nuclear paraspeckles. Dr. Lawrences work includes studies of heterochromatin formation/loss and changing nuclear structure in cancer cells and during programming and reverse programming of human ES and iPS cells. 

Dr. Lawrence has received several research awards including the German Biochemical Analysis Prize (shared with David Ward for development of FISH techniques), has long served as Monitoring Editor for the Journal of Cell Biology, served on the NIH Human Genome Council and various study sections, and is an invited Honorary Founding Member of the Rosalind Franklin Society.

Recently, Jeanne’s lab has utilized the novel function of the XIST gene to show proof-of-principal for silencing the extra chromosome responsible for Down syndrome (Jiang et al 2013, Nature), which was supported by NIH funding for high-risk, high impact work. This provides the first evidence that the underlying genetic defect responsible for Down syndrome can be suppressed in vitro, and paves the way for researchers to study the cell pathologies and identify genome-wide pathways implicated in the disorder, which has so far proved elusive. Doing so will improve scientists understanding of the basic biology underlying Down syndrome which may one day help establish potential therapeutic targets for future therapies, and surmounts the first major obstacle to “chromosome therapy” in patient-derived stem cells in culture.