The Jackson Laboratory had a remarkable year in 2021, with tremendous momentum for its mission to improve human health. JAX welcomed a new president and CEO, continued research and genomic surveillance of COVID-19, expanded internationally, received high-profile grants and reported milestone philanthropic achievements, and received many distinguished awards.
More than $140 million in Grants
In 2021, The Jackson Laboratory was awarded over $140 million in new federal, peer-reviewed foundation and other external funding to propel research and education programs essential to its mission. More than 115 awards cover a broad range of the independent nonprofit biomedical research institution’s focus areas, including cancer, addiction, neuroscience, education and genetics. Examples of JAX’s 2021 funding and achievements include:
- Supported by a five-year, $2.7M National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant, Olga Anczuków, Ph.D., is investigating MYC – a regulator gene in cancer – and possible treatments targeting RNA splicing.
- JAX will serve as the coordinating center for the PIVOT program to accelerate the preclinical testing and approval of pediatric cancer therapeutics.
- Guangwen “Gary” Ren, Ph.D., is studying the lung microenvironment in the presence of breast cancer, funded by a $2.4M, five-year NCI grant.
- The V Foundation for Cancer Research awarded a grant to Lucas Cheng, Ph.D., to support his studies of the immune response to cancer.
- JAX was awarded a $1M grant from the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research to study immunotherapy response rates and side effects. Funds will go toward the project, Identifying Genes Uniquely Contributing to ICI-induced Immune Related Adverse Events, led by Dave Serreze, Ph.D., and Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D., F.Med.Sci.
- Elissa Chesler, Ph.D., received a five-year, $4M grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to identify and characterize the mechanisms underlying addiction and predisposing behaviors.
- NIDA also awarded a $4.1M grant to Vivek Kumar, Ph.D., over five years to identify and characterize mouse strains that replicate behaviors and other traits seen in humans at risk for addiction.
- JAX is developing a program to introduce underrepresented minority researchers to advanced genomics methods and resources for addiction research through customized virtual and in-person summer research opportunities.
- Catherine Kaczorowski, Ph.D., received a five-year, $6M grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to identify the protective factors to improve cognitive resilience to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
- Teaching the Genome Generation™, a “teach the teachers” program originally launched in 2014, received a second grant to broaden the reach of the program to educators around the globe.
- The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) awarded Ryan Tewhey, Ph.D., a five-year, $2.5M grant in recognition of his innovative research into non-coding regions of the genome.
- NHGRI also awarded JAX $5M to form the Technology Development Coordinating Center, led by Mark Adams, Ph.D., to support advanced genome technologies efforts.
COVID-19 research and surveillance
After nearly two years in the COVID-19 pandemic, JAX remains committed to its role in COVID-19 surveillance and helping our communities. JAX utilized its CLIA laboratory in Farmington, Conn., to conduct nearly 2 million COVID-19 tests for health-care and community partners in both Connecticut and Maine. As the world faced new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, JAX identified these strains using genomic sequencing. In Connecticut, JAX sequences every single COVID-19 positive sample identified at the Lab to detect SARS-CoV-2 variants. Combined with efforts by Yale and other institutions, this results in 25-30% of the state’s positive cases being sequenced, yielding important information about viral trends. In Maine, JAX conducts the majority of variant sequencing on positive COVID-19 samples for the state through the lab of Ryan Tewhey, Ph.D.
In addition to this work, JAX is also home to important research to better understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus. JAX’s Nadia Rosenthal, Ph.D., F.Med.Sci., is leading a study in the different genetic backgrounds in mice that exhibit highly variable responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection, mirroring the large differences in COVID-19 disease severity seen in humans. This work is critical in understanding why COVID-19 is affecting people so differently around the world. JAX’s Derya Unutmaz, M.D., is working with Physician-in-Chief Juan Salazar, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues at Connecticut Children’s on an NIH-funded project to study children with COVID-19 who develop severe symptoms classified as “multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C)” to understand what causes severe chest and abdominal pains, as well as the inability of these patients to wake up or stay awake.
Awards for JAX professors and leaders
JAX professors, leaders and researchers were honored with several prestigious awards in 2021, including, but not limited to:
Albert Cheng, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor Cheng was honored with a Hartford Business Journal 40 Under Forty award. The award recognizes Cheng as one of Connecticut’s up-and-coming leaders across multiple disciplines.
James Keck, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Innovation and Product Development, Keck was recognized as JAX’s first-ever President’s Innovation Fellow. The newly established award recognizes highly impactful innovation and creation of intellectual property by non-faculty JAX employees. Keck is a scientist leading product development within JAX® Mice, Clinical & Research Services, and is honored for his inventions to accelerate drug development.
Se-Jin Lee, M.D., Ph.D.
JAX Professor and UConn School of Medicine Presidential Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Genome Sciences, Lee was recognized this year for his “out-of-this-world” research project that sent “Mighty Mice” to space. Lee was awarded the prestigious 2020 International Space Station Research Development Conference Award.
Edison T. Liu, M.D.
Professor, President Emeritus and Honorary Fellow, Liu received multiple awards in his final months as president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory. Among them were MaineBiz’s 2021 Business Leader of the Year, Hartford Business Journal’s 2021 C-Suite Honoree, Maine Magazine’s Mainers of the Year and others.
Cat Lutz, Ph.D.
Senior Director of the Rare and Orphan Disease Center, Lutz was honored with the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) Rare Impact Award. NORD honors individuals and organizations who are making important strides for individuals living with a rare disease — a disorder that impacts less than 200,000 people in the United States. Lutz was honored for her tireless efforts in rare disease research throughout her career.
Director of Government and Community Relations, Roy was a Community Innovation and Leadership finalist for the 17th annual Women of Innovation Awards, a program presented by the Connecticut Technology Council and Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology that recognizes outstanding women in STEM.
George Snell, Ph.D.
In addition to the achievements by current faculty and staff, JAX was also proud to bring home former JAX Professor George Snell, Ph.D.’s, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for providing an in-depth understanding of the immune system’s major histocompatibility complex, which made organ transplants possible.
Additionally, The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn., was recognized as a leader in Connecticut:
- JAX Genomic Medicine was acknowledged as a Gold Level Leader as part of the 2021 CTrides Transportation Leaders Program, recognizing employers who have committed to encouraging cleaner commuting options.
- JAX Genomic Medicine was chosen by the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce for their 2021 Distinguished Business of the Year Award.
JAX announced in October that it acquired Charles River Laboratories Japan’s Research Models & Services business as a wholly owned subsidiary. The Japan-based organization, which is now called The Jackson Laboratory Japan, has approximately 250 employees and three production sites in Atsugi, Hino and Tsukuba, and an administrative office in Yokohama. The acquisition advances JAX’s mission to empower biomedical research worldwide and to play an even more direct role in Japan, as well as Korea and Taiwan, while advancing JAX’s international growth strategy.
In addition to the acquisition of JAX Japan and welcoming 250 new employees abroad – JAX hired its 125th employee at the Charles E. Hewett Center in Ellsworth, Maine. The Ellsworth facility opened in 2018 to enable wider access to vital JAX mouse resources for the worldwide biomedical research community. As of 2021, JAX employs nearly 3,000 people in locations around the world.
Philanthropic gifts to The Jackson Laboratory established four new endowed chairs in 2021, bringing the total number of endowed chairs at JAX to 13. An endowed chair is the highest accolade bestowed upon a faculty or staff member. In addition to providing an important source of permanent funding for research, named endowed chairs enable JAX to recruit, retain and support the best scientists in the world. In 2021, JAX named the following as endowed chairs:
- Gregory Carter, Ph.D., was appointed to The Bernard and Lusia Milch Endowed Chair, thanks to a gift from JAX donor Lusia Milch. Carter focuses on the fundamental biology of Alzheimer’s disease, using big data to create a complete picture of the disease.
- Elissa Chesler, Ph.D., was appointed to The Ann Watson Symington Chair in Addiction Research, previously made possible with a gift from the Watson family through the Arthur K. Watson Charitable Trust. Chesler is an interdisciplinary scientist developing integrative genetics and genomics methods to address the challenges of alcohol and substance use.
- Charles Lee, Ph.D., FACMG, was appointed to The Robert Alvine Family Endowed Chair, thanks to a gift from Robert Alvine, chair emeritus of the JAX Board of Trustees. The gift permanently endows the leadership position at JAX Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn., and was established in honor of Liu and Auro Nair, Ph.D., executive vice president of The Jackson Laboratory and president, JAX® Mice, Clinical and Research Services.
- Karolina Palucka, M.D., Ph.D., was appointed to The Edison T. Liu Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. This chair was established by more than 35 donors in honor of Professor, President Emeritus and Honorary Fellow Edison Liu, M.D. Palucka specializes in human immunology with a focus on experimental immunotherapy, including vaccines that target cancer.
- Roel Verhaak, Ph.D., was appointed to the Florine Deschenes Roux Chair for Genomics and Computational Biology, one of three faculty chairs that were established by a $5M gift from technology investor (and current chairman of the Laboratory’s Board of Trustees) David Roux and his wife Barbara in 2014. Verhaak’s focus is glioblastoma, a brain cancer that is incredibly difficult to treat.
- David E. Shaw, chair emeritus of the JAX Board of Trustees, made a gift to establish The David E. Shaw Family Endowed Chair for Innovation in honor of Liu and Kenneth “Ken” Paigen, Ph.D. (1927 – 2020). Paigen served as the Laboratory’s director (the role now designated president and CEO) from 1989 to 2003. The chair will support a leader who will provide critical guidance to JAX faculty members to translate their basic science innovations to human impact especially through commercialization in line with the mission of JAX.
New benefits for JAX employees
As a nonprofit employing nearly 3,000 individuals, The Jackson Laboratory is committed to providing an excellent workplace for its staff. In 2021, JAX added to its comprehensive benefits package by including two new benefits:
- Paid Parental Leave supports employees as they welcome children into their families. Eligible parents receive up to six consecutive weeks of 100% paid parental leave.
- Volunteer Paid Time Off encourages employees to volunteer with a nonprofit organization of their choosing. In its first year, VTO was used by over 100 employees across the organization. Employees volunteered for several different organizations such as Viles Arboretum, Good Shepherd Food Bank, Hancock County 4H Leaders Association and others.
JAX gives back
JAX team members were actively engaged within our communities throughout the year.
- In both Bar Harbor and Farmington, JAX employees gathered to support Chris Brannigan on his 1,000-mile Barefoot March from Bar Harbor, Maine to Raleigh, North Carolina. Brannigan endured this effort to raise funds and awareness for Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, a rare disorder that impacts his daughter Hasti.
- 21 JAX employees attended the Relay for Life of Farmington Valley in Connecticut, raising more than $4,100 for the American Cancer Society.
- JAX sponsored the ALS Association’s Walk to Defeat ALS in Bangor, Maine with multiple JAX teams participating in the event and fundraising initiative.
- At the end of the year, four JAX campuses participated in a food drive for our local United Way chapters. In just three weeks, JAX employees donated over 4,000 pounds in non-perishable food items.