Leanne Jones, PhD

Leanne  Jones, Ph.D. 

Professor, Department of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology


Leanne Jones, Ph.D., studies how stem cell behavior is regulated by the microenvironment that supports and surrounds the cells; this microenvironment is called the stem cell ‘niche.’  In particular, she is interested in understanding how the relationship between stem cells and their niche changes during the aging process. Through this work, she aims to identify the causes of degenerative age-related diseases and develop potential strategies to treat them.

Using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model, Jones discovered that as humans age, the support stem cells receive from the niche drops off. This environmental change diminishes stem cells’ ability to regulate the process of self-renewal, in some cases making them less capable of maintaining and regenerating tissue and organs and in others causing the cells to multiply uncontrollably. Over time, this disruption in normal stem cell function can lead to a host of age-related diseases, including muscle wasting and cancer. Jones hopes to identify the precise factors that cause age-related changes to the niche in order to develop therapies to target or counter them.

Specifically, Jones is working to discover drugs that can counteract the age-related degeneration of the cells that line the intestine. She hopes this work will result in better treatments for diseases related to increased intestinal inflammation, including inflammatory bowel disease and colitis.

Jones’ work also has major implications for the development of any therapy that uses stem cell transplantation to treat diseased or injured tissues. Because many aspects of stem cell function are regulated by the niche, transplanting young stem cells into an older environment may not be very effective unless the other cell types that make up the niche are transplanted as well. Research from Jones’ lab is informing this process and may also lead to the development of drugs that rejuvenate the transplant recipient’s stem cell niche so that it can provide adequate support to the transplanted cells.

Jones earned her doctorate in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Harvard University. She completed additional training at the University of Sheffield and Stanford University School of Medicine.  


Honors & Affiliations


  • Research Scholarship, American Cancer Society, 2007-2011


  • The International Society for Stem Cell Research
  • Genetics Society of America
  • American Association for Cancer Research


Jones’ research is funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, both at the National Institutes of Health, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.