A bunch of the team having fun at our recent outing to Go Ape in Thetford Forest.
Alix Schwiening, Research Assistant
Alix is a research assistant in the Merkle lab, specialising in the “in-vivo” aspect of the group’s work. After completing her bachelors in Biology at the University of York, Alix took on a role as animal technician within the Sanger Institute. Alix transitioned from this to take on the role of transgenic technologist within the Sanger Institute’s Research Support Facility. During her time at Sanger, Alix picked up invaluable in-vivo skills including husbandry, experimental procedures, necropsy and fine tissue manipulation. Having recently joined the Merkle lab, Alix hopes to use her skills within small animal work to aid the wider in-vivo goals of the group. In her spare time Alix enjoys walks with her dog, crocheting and spending summers in the French Alps (which she hopes to be able to do again soon!)
Andrian Yang, Ph.D., Postdoc
Andrian is a bioinformatician who is co-supervised by Florian and by John Marioni from the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK). He hails from Sydney where he double-majored in molecular biology and genetics, as well as computer science, enabling him to move freely between the “wet” and “dry” worlds of biology and bioinformatics. During his PhD studies at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in the University of New South Wales, Andrian developed multiple computational tools for analysing bulk and single-cell RNA transcriptomic data. He is currently supported by a EBPOD fellowship to study single-cell gene expression in hypothalamic neurons. When he is not working, Andrian enjoys cooking and exploring the restaurant scene in Cambridge, though COVID has put a cramp in this hobby.
Christine (Crisy) Rowley, Research Assistant
Crisy earned her bachelor’s degree in animal management and joined the Wellcome Sanger institute in 2014 as an animal technician. In 2018 she expanded her skill set to specialise in in-vivo phenotyping, experimental design, behavioural phenotyping, and data extraction. In her spare time, she enjoys caring for her ponies and talking her dogs for walks.
Diego Peretti, Ph.D., Postdoc
Diego is interested in understanding the genetic causes of neurodegeneration. He studied medicine at the University of Cordoba, Argentina and obtained a PhD in Biochemistry (University of Cordoba, Argentina) in developmental neurobiology where he studied the kinesin-related proteins role in neuronal polarity. Since then he held postdoctoral positions at Cornell University, the Weizmann Institute of Science, and the MRC Toxicology Unit-Leicester/University of Cambridge where he studied polarised membrane trafficking, lipid-transfer proteins in vesicular and non-vesicular trafficking, and cold-induced structural synaptic plasticity in neurodegeneration in vitro cell types and in in vivo mouse models. In particular, he helped discover the neuroprotective role of hypothermia-induced proteins (RBM3, RTN3) in different neurodegenerative models in vivo, and demonstrated their therapeutic potential. He recently joined the groups of Andrew Bassett (WT-Sanger institute) and Florian Merkle (University of Cambridge) to design and developed phenotypic assays to complement single cell sequencing in CRISPR screens for neurodegenerative disease in different hiPSC-derived cells, including neurons, astrocytes, and microglia.
Edward Harding, Ph.D., Postdoc
Ed studied Pharmacology and Physiology at Manchester before embarking on his PhD at Imperial College London where he was co-supervised by Prof. William Wisden and Prof. Nicholas P Franks. During his graduate studies and a short postdoctoral stint in the same laboratories, Ed used genetic and stereotaxic viral techniques to dissect the neural circuitry in the hypothalamus regulating sleep and body temperature. He also identified likely mechanisms of action of several sleep-inducing drugs, and has been awarded numerous awards for teaching and presentation. Armed with this technical and intellectual expertise, Ed will test how certain anti-obesity drugs are neuroprotective and how genes that perturb the function of hypothalamic neurons in vitro affect food intake and body weight in vivo. His work is funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
Eugene Seah, Ph.D., Laboratory Coordinator
Eugene studied Biological Sciences at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore before embarking on his PhD at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute where he was supervised by Prof. Gregory Hannon. During his graduate studies and a short postdoctoral stint in the same laboratories, Eugene used genetic and molecular biology techniques to investigate the role of long noncoding RNA during Drosophila embryogenesis. After his PhD, Eugene worked as the deputy shift lead at the Cambridge Covid-19 testing centre where he supervised staff in several laboratory settings to ensure that productivity and quality assurance targets were met. Eugene is now the laboratory coordinator for the Merkle lab where he plays an essential role ensuring its smooth operation.
Florian T. Merkle, Ph.D., Principal Investigator
Florian is a New York Stem Cell Foundation - Robertson Investigator, Sir Henry Dale Fellow (Wellcome Trust and Royal Society), and Ben Barres Early Career Investigator (Chan Zuckerberg Initiative). He majored in biology with a concentration in neuroscience from Caltech before moving to UCSF for graduate school where his work in the laboratory of Prof. Arturo Alvarez-Buylla uncovered the origin and diversity of adult neural stem cells in the mouse brain. He then worked with Prof. Kevin Eggan and Prof. Alex Schier at Harvard University and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as a postdoc to develop hypothalamic differentiation protocols, adapt CRISPR/Cas9 for use in human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), and study the genetic architecture of hPSCs. This experience forms the basis of the Merkle laboratory's efforts to use hPSC-derived cellular models to uncover the mechanistic basis of obesity and neurodegenerative diseases in order to develop new treatments. He is also passionate about mentoring and training the next generation of scientists. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, gardening, running, Kung Fu, and scuba diving (when he can).
Sendi Cernic, M.D., Research Assistant
Sendi was awarded an M.D. (with distinction) from the Faculty of Medicine Ljubljana, Slovenia. After completing her junior doctor training, she turned her focus to basic research and worked as a clinical Research Fellow at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. She is interested in understanding connections between metabolic diseases and neurodegeneration, which she intends to study in her PhD project. Outside of work, Sendi enjoys being active, reading, and undertaking arts and crafts projects.
Smriti Sanchita (Winny Kar), Master's Student
Smriti (preferred name - Winny), originally from India, majored in Physiological Sciences and minored in Biomedical Research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research focused on changes in chromatin accessibility and gene expression in subcutaneous adipose stem cells of normal-weight polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) women during adipogenesis. She also worked on differences in bone microarchitecture between obese and anorexic adolescents at Massachusetts General Hospital and the role of transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 (TRPV1) in mediating reactive oxygen species-induced sperm function at Ravenshaw University. Her hobbies include playing tennis, hiking, and philosophizing about the mysteries of life. After graduating, Winny’s epigenetic work at UCLA was halted due to the pandemic. Therefore, she has spent the past year working as a COVID volunteer in India, exploring amateur astronomy, and hiking to remote mountains in North, East and Western India to interact with indigenous populations and investigate ancient spiritual concepts.
Tendai Chisowa, Graduate Student
Tendai was the valedictorian of her high school before studying biology and chemistry at Williams College in Massachusetts (USA). She spent her summers doing research, including at Johns Hopkins and at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, before being selected for the prestigious Herchel-Smith Fellowship to pursue her PhD at Cambridge. She is now using proteomics to study signalling by the hormone leptin. In her spare time, Tendai enjoys playing drums and football (soccer). Tendai is now wrapping up her thesis remotely from Oakland, California while working full-time with a focus on business development in Africa.
Venkat Pisupati, Ph.D., Postdoc
Venkat is a developmental biologist who studied zoology and endocrinology at University of Madras, India. He then worked on the role of T-box4 gene in hind limb development for his PhD thesis at Cambridge in the laboratory of Sir Martin Evans as a Cambridge Commonwealth Scholar. Using in vitro and in vivo models, he then studied the role of genes involved in DNA repair and pathways leading to tumorigenesis with particular focus on the BRCA2 in the labs of Prof. Steve Jackson and Prof. Ashok Venkitaraman. He was involved in showing the mechanism of pathogenic BRCA2 mutations to defects in DNA damage repair pathways and germline heterozygosity for a pathogenic mutation of BRCA2 is sufficient to promote pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDACs) in a murine model. He is now working on human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) based cellular therapies for Parkinson’s disease with Prof. Roger Barker under the UK regenerative medicine programme (UKRMP). He is looking at the immunogenicity of hPSC derived dopaminergic precursors, developing universal cell lines that reduces the need for immunosuppression, and selective pressures that influences the behaviour of hPSCs in vitro. He is funded by the UKRMP.
Viviana Macarelli, graduate student
Viviana studied Biotechnology (with distinction) at University of Bologna (Italy) and then she earned a master’s degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology (with distinction) from the same university. As a part of her master’s degree, she spent a period at University of Oxford studying the role of Galectin-3 and Hippo pathway in neural fate commitment. During her PhD at Cambridge, she will investigate the role of primary cilia in regulating energy homeostasis in hypothalamic neurons by generating human hypothalamic and other neuron types in culture from stem cells.
Alumni (in alphabetical order)
Amar Sarkar, Master's student
PhD student at Harvard University with Rachel Carmody
Amit Chouhan, Postdoc
Senior scientist at Metrion Biosciences
Andrea Halsey, postdoc
Editor in science publishing
Antony Hynes-Allen, Research Assistant
Research assistant with Jelle van den Ameele, CIMR, University of Cambridge
Bas Brouwers, Ph.D., Postdoc, primary affiliation laboratory of Prof. Sadaf Farooqi
Scientist at Confo Therapeutics in Belgium.
Daniela Razolli, Ph.D., Visiting Postdoc from the group of Prof. Licio Velloso
Full Professor at Universidade São Francisco, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Frances St. George-Hyslop, M.Phil. student, co-supervised with Prof. Sadaf Farooqi
After earning her Ph.D. from the lab of Rick Livesey where she was awarded the St Catharine’s College prize for distinction in research, Frances is pursuing a medical degree at the University of Toronto.
Iman Mali, research assistant
Research assistant in the lab of our colleague Toni Vidal-Puig, who is lucky to have him!
Julia Becker, Visiting Veterinary Student
Ph.D. student with Prof. Kristian Franze, University of Cambridge
Julie Jerber, Ph.D., Postdoc, jointly supervised by Dan Gaffney (Sanger) and Oli Stegle (EMBL-EBI)
Currently seeking work in Paris, France
Laura Schmidt, visiting Master's student (Heidelberg)
About to start a terrific PhD in Berlin
Magda Jura, Ph.D., Research Assistant
Lab Manager & Associate at StemCell Technologies
Marleen van den Munkhof, Visiting Master’s student, Utrecht, Netherlands
Ph.D. student in the Netherlands in the lab of Jeroen Pasterkamp
Minjung Song, Ph.D., Research Assistant
Senior scientist at Crescendo Biosciences
Neli Atanassova, Ph.D., Postdoc, primary affiliation laboratory of Prof. Sadaf Farooqi
Project Manager at Illumina
Peter Kirwan, Ph.D., Postdoc
Analytical scientist at Pfizer in Dublin, Ireland
Sanya Aggarwal, Ph.D., Research Assistant
Scientist at Merck in Glasgow
Sophie Austin, Ph.D., Postdoc
Editor at Cell Press.
Ryan Patterson-Cross, Computational Biologist
Computational Biologist at Genomic England.
Theresa Bartels, PhD Candidate
Successfully completed her Ph.D. with Prof. David Rowitch, and is staying on for a year as a postdoc
Ying Xue, M.D., Ph.D., Visiting Researcher, Shanghai, China
Doctor at the Dept. of Endocrinology, Tongji Hospital of Tongji University, Shanghai, China