Dr. Monica Justice Headshot

Program Head & Senior Scientist

Genetics & Genome Biology Program
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
Email: monica.justice@sickkids.ca

Professor

Department of Molecular Genetics
University of Toronto
Email: monica.justice@utoronto.ca

 

Brief biography

Monica J. Justice, PhD, is the Head and a Senior Scientist in the Genetics & Genome Biology Program at SickKids in Toronto, Ontario. She recently moved to this position from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, where she was a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics, as well as Director of the Mouse Embryonic Stem Cell Core and the BaSH Consortium for the Production and Broad-based Phenotyping of Knockout Mice. Justice received her PhD from Kansas State University in mouse developmental genetics and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Mammalian Genetics Laboratory at the National Cancer Institute.

She is also a Senior Editor of Disease Models and Mechanisms and Current Protocols in Mouse Biology. She is the recipient of several awards, including an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Award, an NCI Director’s Service Award, the Burroughs Wellcome Innovation Award in Functional Genomics and the Michael E. DeBakey Excellence in Research Award.

Science philosophy

Justice loves better, faster and more science, so the people in her lab are exposed to a broad view of mouse genetics, molecular biology, development and cancer biology, while they are educated in a vast array of cutting edge technologies that relate to specific biological questions. She firmly believes in training the next generation of scientists, so Justice has weekly lab meetings, bi-weekly project meetings, as well as one-on-one meetings with trainees. The Justice lab attends local seminars and international conferences to stay abreast of current technologies and facilitate collaborations.

As Head of the Genetics & Genome Biology Program, Justice will further apply genetics and genomics to ameliorate diseases through interactions with researchers at SickKids and the University of Toronto working in the areas of human genetics, epigenetics, neuroscience, immunology, cancer biology and translational biology.

Research history and current focus

As a graduate student, Justice helped to pioneer the use of the supermutagen ENU, isolating new alleles in mouse t-chromatin to dissect recombination suppression, and showing that the earliest function of the myelination gene “quaking” was in blood vessel development. Justice was the first to use mouse balancer chromosomes to uncover rules in mammalian chromosomal organization, showing that essential genes are clustered. Her mouse functional genomics initiatives produced hundreds of disease models, allowing for discoveries of gene functions in diverse areas such as cancer, reproduction, neurobiology, obesity, blood, heart, and bone development. As sequencing technologies improved, Justice reasoned that genetics could uncover treatment avenues for diseases previously considered untreatable. A suppressor screen using a mouse model for Rett Syndrome revealed that cholesterol synthesis was abnormal in Mecp2 mutants, and suggested that statin drug treatment would improve symptoms, leading to clinical trials. The screen is currently at the halfway point with 24 modifier lines identified. These studies open the field of Rett Syndrome research, and broadly inform other neurological diseases.