Jeannie T. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., was named today as this year’s winner of the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences by the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH) for her work in uncovering the functions of long noncoding RNA (lncRNA) in epigenetic regulation.

Dr. Lee is a professor of genetics and pathology at Harvard Medical School and at Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

Her work has focused on how a whole sex chromosome can be shut down and how X-chromosome inactivation can be leveraged to treat congenital diseases—such as Rett, CDKL5, and Fragile X Syndromes—in addition to numerous cancers where an extra X-chromosomal copy often exists, such as breast, ovarian, blood, intestinal, and male germ cell tumors.

According to the Foundation, Dr. Lee’s research work has accelerated the understanding of mechanisms driving epigenetic regulation, while her discoveries have shed light on the complex interplay between lncRNA and general biological processes.

The discoveries have begun changing how researchers think about how specific genes can be turned on and off precisely, with respect to time and location. Her work has shed light on how complex human diseases arise and may eventually be cured, the Foundation added.

“I hope that we will one day be able to translate these discoveries into treatment for a multitude of diseases,” Dr. Lee said in a statement. “I am very grateful to lab colleagues who have worked tirelessly with me over the years to examine RNA functions through the lens of X-chromosome inactivation.”

The Lurie Prize is designed to recognize outstanding achievement by a promising scientist age 52 or younger. The Prize includes a $100,000 honorarium, endowed by philanthropist and FNIH Board member Ann Lurie. She is president of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Foundation, which she founded with her late husband, Robert, and the president of Lurie Holdings.

Dr. Lee will be presented with the Lurie Prize on May 18 in Washington, D.C. She was selected for the award by a jury of six distinguished biomedical researchers. The jury was chaired by Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., director-emeritus of The Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University and the FNIH’s vice chairman for science.

“Dr. Lee’s work has revolutionized the field of epigenetics,” FNIH chair Charles A. Sanders, M.D., said in a statement. “Her research has led to groundbreaking contributions, and we now have a better understanding of the unique role that long noncoding RNAs play in gene expression, which could lead to the development of new therapeutics.”

Dr. Lee received her M.D., Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her undergraduate work in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University.

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