Junwei Shi, Ph.D.
421 Curie Blvd
610 BRB II/III
Philadelphia , 19104-6160
The physiological effects of cancer are a manifestation of the genetic abnormalities that cause the disease. While much progress has been made in the understanding of such genetic perturbations, scientists still struggle to effectively identify, understand, and treat cancer-causing mutations. This is due to the fast-paced evolution of the disease, and the accumulation of novel mutations that permit cell survival even in the harsh environment created by a therapeutic. CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that couples the elegance of base complementarity with the enzymatic activity of a DNA nuclease in order to introduce mutations into target loci. CRISPR technologies help advance our understanding of the genetic perturbations that contribute to cancer maintenance.
Current areas of interest within the lab include: (1) Defining the functional importance of epigenetic regulators in leukemia, (2) Development and optimization of AsCas12a for multiplex genetic dropout screening, and (3) Developing new functional genomic tools.
While whole exome sequencing of the leukemia cancer genome revealed many oncogene mutations, few of these genetic alterations lead to directly actionable therapeutic opportunities. A major objective of the lab is to annotate and dissect these genetic vulnerabilities in leukemia. To approach this, we use our highly developed domain-focused CRISPR genetic knockout screening technology, where CRISPR-mediated mutagenesis is directed to gene sequences encoding critical protein domains. This method generates a larger fraction of functional null-alleles, which increase the severity in a negative selection-based genetic screen. In contrast to RNA interference-based methods or prior CRISPR-based screening approaches, this new method is not only more efficient than other screening approaches, but also has the potential to evaluate protein domain function directly from genetic screening, and may allow high-throughput identification of protein domains that are suitable drug targets in cancer. Coupling functional genomics screening, biochemical assays, and pre-clinical mouse models, we investigate the aberrant transcription signaling networks of leukemia and explore them as potential therapeutic opportunities. Since genetic screenings are only as successful as the underlying technology, a major focus of the lab is to further optimize and expand our screening toolbox. Projects are underway to engineer different Cas proteins for multiplex genetic screening using a variety of methods, including structure-guided rational design and directed evolution. Our ultimate goal is to uncover complex genetic interactions in leukemia that are therapeutically tractable.
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