Two new scientists join JAX Genomic Medicine

Date: July 9, 2012
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Farmington, Conn.—The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine has hired two additional researchers who will begin working this month at the center’s temporary laboratory facility on the campus of the University of Connecticut (UConn) Health Center in Farmington.

Frank D. McKeon, Ph.D., a native of New Haven, Conn., will serve as professor and director of quantitative cell biology at JAX Genomic Medicine. His colleague and partner, Wa Xian, Ph.D., will be an assistant professor at the facility.

Since 2008, McKeon has been a senior group leader at the Genome Institute of Singapore. He is also a professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School and serves on the Harvard University board of tutors. McKeon earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco. He has received numerous professional recognitions, including a 2005 Wall Street Journal Innovation Award for expediting federal approval of a prostate cancer test and a 2008 Scientific American 50 Award for his work in stem cell control.

Xian comes to JAX Genomic Medicine from the National University of Singapore, where she has been an assistant professor since 2009 in the departments of biochemistry and medicine. She is a permanent resident of the U.S. and a Chinese citizen. Xian earned her Ph.D. in molecular genetics from the University of Texas in Houston and completed postdoctoral training at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Her professional recognitions include a postdoctoral traineeship in breast cancer research from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Amgen Award in Basic Science Research from the University of Texas.

McKeon and Xian jointly oversee an interactive group of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and research assistants who study the cloning of stem cells of regenerative tissues. They have a strong interest in determining pathways by which these stem cells may contribute to precursors of cancers – especially in early lesions in the fallopian tube that lead to high-grade ovarian cancers and in the origins of intestinal lesions that may develop into esophageal and gastric cancers.

“Science still does not know how to handle a range of aggressive cancers, degenerative brain diseases, inflammatory conditions and metabolic diseases such as diabetes,” they write. “All of these arise from complex interactions between genes either inherited or altered in individual cells as in cancers. Genomics on these poorly controlled cancers is revealing that they have undergone dramatic rearrangements of their DNA with profound changes in signaling pathways that control cell-to-cell communication and growth. 

“Genomics is helping us to determine the precise nature of these changes as well as determining which are significant to the tumor cells and might be drug targets.  By analyzing the non-cancerous precursors of these cancers, we hope to identify the very earliest changes that indicate a cell may become cancerous and identify treatments to eradicate these cells before they become aggressive cancers.” 

They said they are drawn to JAX Genomic Medicine by its collaborative and forward-looking environment.

“JAX Genomic Medicine provides a unique opportunity for researchers to combine advanced technologies of mouse genetics, human genomics, computational methods and cell biology to address unmet needs in humans,” they say. “We are thrilled to be joining the Jackson Laboratory and looking forward to robust collaborations with colleagues at the University of Connecticut, Yale University and our ongoing collaborations in Singapore and Boston.”

Xian and McKeon will move to the Farmington area in July along with their two young children and Xian’s parents. They will begin working in leased laboratory space on the campus of the UConn Health Center, transitioning from part-time to full-time status as they relocate their existing labs. Both appointments are pending board approval.

Construction of a new 173,000-square-foot permanent facility for JAX Genomic Medicine is scheduled to begin in January 2013 on a 17-acre parcel at the UConn Health Center Campus. By 2020 the facility is projected to house 300 biomedical researchers, technicians and support staff in addition to administrative and other personnel.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution based in Bar Harbor, Maine, with a facility in Sacramento, Calif., as well as the new genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Conn. It employs a total staff of over 1,400. Its mission is to discover the genetic basis for preventing, treating and curing human disease and to enable research and education for the global biomedical community.


Joyce Peterson, 207-288-6058, The Jackson Laboratory

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