Juan Pablo is originally from Costa Rica where he graduated with a double major in Microbiology and Clinical Chemistry from the University of Costa Rica. After that, he moved to Pamplona, to study a master’s degree in Biomedical Research at the Center for Applied Medical Research of the University of Navarra, where he later obtained his PhD in Biomedical Research under the supervision of Dr. Puri Fortes.
During his doctoral training Juan Pablo studied the dynamics of expression of a novel family of RNAs called long noncoding RNAs. In this study, Juan Pablo and colleagues analyzed the differential expression of these RNAs in tens of thousands of samples from healthy tissues and various tumor types. Then, he focused on those RNAs that were increased in tumors but not present anywhere else in the body as a way to selectively target tumor cells while sparing healthy cells, thereby preventing secondary effects from RNA-targeting therapeutics. From these analyses Juan Pablo was able to pinpoint and characterize a novel long noncoding RNA gene highly expressed in liver cancer that he termed NIHCOLE. He was able to conduct part of this research in Canada at the University of Calgary where he discovered a novel role for a long noncoding RNA in promoting the ligation efficiency of DNA breaks. Using this knowledge Juan Pablo and collaborators have targeted NIHCOLE using gene therapy and have showed that this prevents cancer cell growth, suggesting that NIHCOLE depletion could potentially improve the treatment of liver cancer patients.
For his postdoctoral training Dr. Juan Pablo Unfried will move to the lab of Prof. Igor Ulitsky at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where he will focus on understanding how these long noncoding RNA genes are able to work as master regulators of genome regulation in health and disease.