As a Ph.D. student in Feng Zhang’s Laboratory at MIT, Julia Joung’s research involves developing genetic screens using methods such as CRISPR. She developed the first CRISPR activation screening method for long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) and identified lncRNAs that confer drug resistance in melanoma cells. Since most lncRNA has not been conclusively characterized, this screening approach provides a capable CRISPR toolkit to systematically search for lncRNA with key functionalities in cell development and disease.
She performed the first CRISPR activation screen to gain insight into the cellular processes that govern tumor immune evasion. Her mechanistic investigations highlighted the importance of glycosylation in tumor and T-cell interactions and identified potential targets for cancer immunotherapy.
In addition, she built a comprehensive transcription factor (TF) barcoded ORF library and developed a platform to screen TFs. She overexpressed all TFs in human stem cells and profiled the resulting cell states, showing that many TFs can reprogram stem cells into other cell types.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Dr. Joung developed the first streamlined, CRISPR-based diagnostic for COVID-19 detection, STOPCovid. Compared to conventional PCR tests, STOPCovid has a sensitivity of 93.1% and a specificity of 98.5%, and test results can be obtained within 18 minutes in a portable device, making it a more compact and user-friendly test method for Coronavirus.
Her research achievements span many fields, which can be translated into new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.