The team having fun at Go Ape in Thetford Forest.
Some of us braving the heat before formal dinner at Viviana and Winny’s college, Lucy Cavendish
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!)
Ann is a developmental neurobiologist who loves imaging and enjoys working with stem cell-derived models. She studied Natural Sciences (Physiology, Development and Neuroscience) at the University of Cambridge and did her Bachelor research project in Christine Holt’s Lab where she became fascinated by axons and passionate about imaging. Next, Ann completed her MPhil in Andras Lakatos’s Lab in Cambridge where she explored the role of extracellular vesicles in stem cell-derived and cortical organoid models of ALS/FTD. Ann then worked in glioma research as a Research Assistant at the University of Freiburg, investigating the role of synaptic proteins in glioblastomas. In her free time Ann loves attending scientific talks and hiking.
Adrian Yang, Ph.D.
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
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.
Cortina (Hsiao-Jou) Chen Ph.D.
Cortina double-majored in biomedical science and developmental biology at the University of Queensland, Australia before pursuing her PhD there in the laboratories of Prof. Nickolas Lavidis and Prof. Conrad Sernia. Her work focused on the effects of physical stress on the molecular stresses experienced by neurons in the brain, and their link to neurodegeneration. After authoring 5 papers as first author during this time and receiving numerous awards, she undertook a postdoctoral position in the Woodruff laboratory investigating the underlying neuroinflammatory pathogenesis of dipeptide repeat proteins. Her other research aims to examine how stress can also potentiate neuroinflammatory priming. Cortina is now studying the time course of diet-induced neuroinflammation to reveal the cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to neuronal stress and damage.
Diego Peretti Ph.D.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Simone Mazzaferro Ph.D.
Simone is an enthusiastic electrophysiologist and his intrigued in studying the mechanism underling diseases caused by ion channel dysfunction. He studied Biology at the university of Calabria and earned a Master degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Milan. Simone obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular Neuroscience under the guidance of Professor Isabel Bermudez at Oxford Brookes University. During his Ph.D. Simone combined whole-cell electrophysiology, chemical modification, and protein engineering to study the molecular basis of ligand sensitivity between nicotinic acetylcholine receptors. During his Ph.D. Simone finding led to two first-author and four co-author publications, and a one-year Early Career Research Fellowship in Molecular Neuroscience awarded by Oxford Brookes University. For his postdoc, Simone joined the laboratory of Professor Steven Sine at the Mayo Clinic where he mastered single-channel electrophysiology and studied the biophysical mechanisms of activation and modulation of the α4β2 acetylcholine receptor and its role in congenital epilepsy, leading to four first-author and three co-author publications. In Cambridge Simone is using human Pluripotent Stem Cells to determine the molecular mechanisms underling the excitability of hypothalamic neurons and in how to restore the function of these neurons in disease by selective drugs. Outside of the lab Simone enjoys playing/coaching football, fishing and reading.
Tian Tian Ph.D.
Tian is a developmental biologist who studied Biological Sciences at Fudan University, China, followed by a M.Sc. by Research in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Tian obtained her PhD in Biomedical Sciences (Integrative Physiology) under the supervision of Prof David Price at the University of Edinburgh. She studied Pax6, the well-known master regulator gene of early neuroepithelial progenitor development, and discovered its novel cell-autonomous effects on the structural and functional development of neurons in the mouse prethalamus. This work has led to a first-author paper in Development. After her PhD, Tian joined Prof Matthew Nolan’s group at the University of Edinburgh as a postdoc and was trained as a slice electrophysiologist. During this time, Tian also set up an imaging system enabling 1-photon kilohertz frame rate voltage imaging. This work has led to a first author paper and contributed to a successful application to the Wellcome Trust Technology Development Grant. In the Merkle lab, Tian aims to find out the combinations of transcription factors that give rise to specific types of hypothalamic neurons and the conditions that would facilitate stem cell-derived neurons mature better and faster in vitro. In her free time, Tian enjoys cooking, gardening, travelling, and watching sunsets.
Swetha is interested in genetic engineering and medical genetics. She studied her Bachelor’s in Genetic engineering from SRM University in India. For her bachelor’s thesis, she worked as an exchange student intern with Prof. Hannele Ruohola-Baker at the University of Washington, Seattle, where she contributed to work showing that hESCs and iPSCs undergo a state of diapause when the mTOR complex is inhibited. For her master’s thesis at the University of Glasgow, she worked under the guidance of Prof. Mhairi Copland in a bioinformatics-based project to understand the role of mTOR pathway in chronic myeloid leukemia using microarray and RNAseq data analysis. After her graduation, she worked as an associate scientist in CRISPR screening in a biotech company based in Oxford to develop stably Cas12a expressing cell lines. She hopes to make use of her knowledge in medical genetics for the treatment of genetic disorders using stem cells. Swetha is passionate about singing, cooking, and exploring new places.
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 working in venture capital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Venkat Pisupati P.h.D.
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 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