Dr. Hyejung Won was recruited to the Department of Genetics and the Neuroscience Center at UNC Chapel Hill in 2018. Her up-and-coming research program integrates innovative genomic approaches with basic neurobiology to develop a systematic understanding of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Dr. Won’s scientific career began at KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea where she earned a B.S. in Biology and graduated as valedictorian in 2008. She then went on to complete her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology in 2013, KAIST earning several awards including a Graduate Research Scholarship for Science and Engineering and a National Junior Research Fellowship from the National Research Foundation of Korea and the Distinct Doctoral Dissertation Award from KAIST. Dr. Won then did her postdoc in the field of neurogenetics in the lab of Daniel Geschwind at UCLA. During her postdoc, Dr. Won was awarded a Glenn Foundation for Medical Research Postdoctoral Fellowship from the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) and obtained an esteemed K99/R00 NIH Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) titled “Connecting gene regulatory mechanisms in human brain to psychiatric illness” to fund the last year of her postdoc and transition into the first few years of her independent research program at UNC.
Over the past 3 years, Dr. Won has led a highly successful and up-and-coming research program marked by collaborations, over 45 publications and numerous awards and grants, including a newly funded 5-year $9.25 million UM1 Functional Characterization Center as part of the Impact of Genome Variation on Function consortium funded by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at NIH. Importantly, Dr. Won is also dedicated to mentoring graduate students and postdocs. She is an active member of several PhD curricula at UNC including Neuroscience, Genetics & Molecular Biology, Pharmacology, and Bioinformatics & Computational Biology. Nancy Sey, a graduate student in the Won lab and Dr. Won were recently selected as a student-advisor pair for the distinguished HHMI Gilliam Fellowship.
The research program in the Won lab bridges the gap between genetic risk factors of psychiatric, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders and underlying neurobiological mechanisms by (1) identifying functional regulatory variants from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and (2) predicting the functional consequence of risk variants. They use genome-wide approaches such as Hi-C (chromosome conformation), expression quantitative trait loci (eQTLs, regulatory variation), (single-cell) RNA-seq, and massively parallel reporter assays (MPRA). The Won lab has developed a computational framework, H-MAGMA, that incorporates chromatin interaction profiles to identify putative target genes of GWAS risk variants (Sey et al, 2020, Nat Neurosci). They also conducted the first MPRA on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) GWAS, which led to the discovery of a novel ASD risk gene, DDHD2 (Matoba et al, 2020, Transl Psychiatry). Dr. Won also worked closely with the PsychENCODE consortium to create the most comprehensive molecular resource of the human brain to date (Wang et al, 2018, Science; Hu et al, 2021, Nat Commun).
Dr. Won’s research program has been highly successful in obtaining both external and internal funding including a R21 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at NIH to apply H-MAGMA to identify neurobiological effects of genetic risk factors for smoking and alcohol use traits. She is also Co-PI on an R01 from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) with Drs. Doug Phanstiel and Todd Cohen to determine how causal variants for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) alter transcriptional control in AD microglia and a U01 with Dr. Jason Stein as part of the PsychENCODE to identify genetic influences on chromatin architecture during human cortical development. Internal funding and awards at UNC include a NeuroSpark Research Award from the School of Medicine (SOM), a Junior Faculty Development Award from the Office of the Provost, a NC TraCS pilot award for her project titled “Chromosomal Disorganization in Down Syndrome. External awards include a National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation for her project titled “Deciphering non-coding variation in schizophrenia” and a grant from the Simons Foundation to explore integrative analysis of common variation associated with ASD. Dr. Won was also awarded the prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award from the NIMH for her project titled “Deciphering Cell-type Specific Regulatory Landscape in Human Brain” to develop a novel technology which enables the cell-type specific deconvolution of regulatory relationships in the human brain.
To learn more about Dr. Won’s research program at UNC Chapel Hill, visit her lab website at https://www.wonlab.org/