Jennifer Kearney, PhD – Northwestern University
Jennifer Kearney, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology, focuses her research on studying the genetic modifiers that influence the clinical severity of epilepsy. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from The University of Michigan in 1997. She remained at The University of Michigan for postdoctoral training in Genetics and joined the faculty in 2002 as a Research Investigator in Human Genetics. In 2007, she moved to Vanderbilt University to join the Division of Genetic Medicine and the Institute for Integrative Genomics. In July of 2014, Dr. Kearney joined the Department of Pharmacology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Since joining Northwestern Medicine, she described a new mutation linked to severe childhood epilepsy in a paper published in the Oct. 2014 issue of Annals of Neurology. Her team found an anomaly in a potassium channel gene that causes neurons to misfire, which can lead to seizures and disrupted development. Her research program is focused on studying the genetic basis of epilepsy and epileptic encephalopathies. Isolation of epilepsy genes will help us understand the underlying pathophysiology and suggest novel therapeutic strategies for improved treatment of patients. Her lab uses classical genetic approaches to identify modifier genes in mouse models and then investigates whether the same genes contribute to epilepsy risk in human patients. One of their current projects is focused on identifying genetic modifiers of Dravet syndrome, a severe epileptic encephalopathy in which patients have intractable epilepsy accompanied by intellectual disability and autistic features. They developed a mouse model of Dravet syndrome that exhibits variable phenotype severity depending on the genetic background. Identifying genetic modifiers and understanding how they contribute to disease development and progression may suggest novel, genome-guided therapeutic strategies. The ultimate goal of her research is to translate our genetic knowledge toward precision medicine in epilepsy and improve patient outcomes.