Genetics expert Jeanne Lawrence recently electrified the research world with the discovery of a way to silence the extra chromosome responsible for Down syndrome. And this from someone who didn’t originally want to be a scientist.
At the latest installment of Profiles in Innovation in December 2013, Lawrence told a packed house that she initially wanted to do clinical work but received a fellowship to train in science. She cried upon accepting her first research job, but after months of looking through microscopes, she “fell in love with chromosomes.”
Now the interim chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, she published her breakthrough on chromosome 21 last summer.
“This is not a cure for Down syndrome,” Lawrence emphasized. But her work could lead to a much better understanding of symptoms and treatment methods, and perhaps help people with the genetic disorder lead independent lives.
“What we’re thinking about is the list of conditions and medical challenges that affect an individual with Down syndrome,” she said. That list can include cognitive impairment, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure, and leukemia.
Launched by President Joseph E. Aoun in 2011, the Profiles in Innovation series brings the world’s most creative minds to Northeastern for conversations with the community. Aoun called Lawrence an innovator and praised her determination to tackle chromosomal research despite its complexities.
“You were taking a high-risk, high-reward path, but you kept going,” he said.