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Current Members

Lee Niswander, PhD

Principal Investigator

Chair, MCDB

Jing Zhang, PhD
Research Associate
Jing’s study is particularly focused on exploring mechanisms of long noncoding RNA dynamically interplaying with protein  and other kind of noncoding RNAs (microRNAs) through specific RNA modifications and their possible functional contribution to human congenital disease.

Huili Li, MS
Research Associate
Huili's study is particularly focused on uncovering whether and how nutritional environmental factors affect neural tube closure. She studies morphological, molecular and functional interactions to understand the impacts of abnormal concentration of nutritional factors on neural tube closure. 

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David Engelhardt
Doctoral Candidate
David studies gene-environment interactions which affect the penetrance and expressivity of gene-mutations. His current research focuses on a suite of cilia gene-mutations that produce neural tube defects at rates uniquely dependent on folic acid level. David pairs in vitro and in vivo models with bioinformatic tools to investigate this relationship.


Anneke Kakebeen
Postdoctoral Fellow
Anneke is interested in studying the gene-environment interactions underlying neural tube defects. She is studying this problem by interrogating the cellular and molecular affects of micronutrient supplementation on genetic mouse models of neural tube defects. 


Joshua Fandel
Grad Student

Josh hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he grew up, went to school, and worked before moving to Japan for two years to teach English. Now in the Niswander lab, he is pursuing potential genetic causes of neural tube defects. For fun, he enjoys photography, playing taiko, running, and eating. 

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Mayela Gayosso
Postdoctoral Fellow
Mayela’s research focuses on ACTR5, an Actin Related Protein. She is investigating a mechanism by which the absence of ACTR5 could result in a severe microcephaly in the developing mouse embryo. To dissect the ACTR5 functions during the brain development in early embryogenesis she uses a combination of in vivo and in vitro techniques, looking for morphological, molecular and functional interactions.


Josiah Peter
Grad Student

I am studying the multifaceted Rett syndrome-associated protein MeCP2 and its interaction with RNAs in gene expression regulation

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Naiara Doherty Garcia
Doctoral Candidate

Nai studies how differing levels of folic acid can affect genetic disorders called ciliopathies. Her research focuses on a suite of cilia gene-mutations that produce developmental defects at rates uniquely dependent on folic acid level by pairing in vitro and in vivo models. She is interested in uncovering cilia gene regulation and its relationship to cilia signaling defects.


Chelsea Drown
Doctoral Student 
Chelsea studies neuron and brain development using differentiated IPSCs. Outside of the lab she enjoys reading, running, and skiing.

Past members

Radhika Atit, PhD- Development of the Vertebrate Dermis; Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University

Maria Barna, PhD- Genetic Control of Proximal-Distal Limb Development; Assistant Professor, Stanford University 

Heather Brown, PhD- The Role of Snx3 in Mammalian Neural Tube Closure; Application Scientist, Enzo Life Sciences

Lori Bulwith

Jianfu (Jeff) Chen, PhD- Molecular mechanisms underlying microcephaly; Assistant Professor, University of Georgia 
Cathy Chesnutt, PhD- Coordinate Regulation of Neural Tube Patterning and Proliferation by TGFβ and WNT signaling; CUNY Hunter College Urban Teacher Residency

Rebecca (Crowe) Lyczak, PhD- Delta-Notch Signaling in Cell Fate Decisions; Associate Professor, Ursinus College

Charlotte Dean, PhD- Genetic Control of Vertebrate Lung Development; Lecturer, Imperial College, National Heart and Lung Institute, London

Martin Gartz Hanson, PhD- Embryonic Neuromuscular Junction Formation 

Marisela Gonzalez-Cruz, MA- A Long Non-coding RNA as a Regulator of Neural Progenitor Cell Fate; Technician Assistant, Aspen Family Pet Hospital

Laura Harmacek, PhD- Epigenetic Regulation of Neural Tube Closure; Researcher 5, National Jewish Health

Greg Holmes, PhD- Dorsal-Ventral Patterning of the Limb; Assistant Professor, Mt Sinai School of Medicine 

Eric Jaffe, PhD- Non-neural ectoderm and neural tube closure;Teacher, Mastery Charter Schools

Tae-Hee Kim, PhD- Regulated proliferation during neurulation by Phactr4, PP1 and Rb; Assistant Professor, University of Toronto and Hospital for Sick Kids

Julie Kuhlman, PhD- Molecular Control of Limb and Kidney Development; Assistant Professor, Iowa State University 

Binbin Li, PhD

Aimin Liu, PhD- Mechanisms of Hedgehog Signaling in Neural and Limb Development; Associate Professor (with tenure), Pennsylvania State University

Amber Marean, PhD- Mechanisms of Folic Acid Action in Neural Tube Closure; Biology Professor, Pikes Peak Community College & University of Colorado Colorado Springs 

Rada Massarwa, PhD- Morphogenesis of the Neural Tube; Staff Scientist: Weizmann Institute

David McKean, PhD- Molecular Mechanisms of Forebrain Development; Postdoctoral Fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Juliette Petersen- The Role of Folic Acid and Ciliogenesis in Neural Tube Closure; AAAS S&T Policy Fellow at OSD Health Readiness Policy and Oversight|Molecular Biologist|Advocate for Science

Sofia Pezoa, PhD- Mechanistic Studies of GCN5 Acetylation During Craniofacial Development and Chondrocyte Maturation;Product Application Specialist, Invitria

Sandrine Pizette, PhD- Vertebrate Limb Development; Senior Scientist, Centre de Biochimie-Faculté des Sciences, Nice, France 

Christina Pyrgaki, PhD-Imaging of Neural Tube Closure and Grainyhead-like 2 function in epithelial regulation; Research support specialist: Rockefeller Univ

Iaroslava Rouzankina, PhD- Molecular mechanisms of feather development; Staff Scientist, Frederick Cancer Center, NCI 

Heather J. Ray, PhD- Epithelial regulation of neural tube closure; Assistant Professor, Idaho State University

Carsten Schnatwinkel, PhD- Embryonic Lung Development; Biomedical Science Liaison at Flagship Biosciences, Inc.

Karen Sears, PhD- The Evolution of Morphological Diversity in the Bat Wing; Associate Professor, University of Illinois, Professor and Chair of Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Los Angeles

Phil Spear- Role of the cytoskeleton in neural tube closure and epithelial dynamics; Research Scientist at Greffex, Inc.

John (Jay) Timmer, PhD- Tissue-specific Morphogenesis and Angiogenesis; Scientific journalist & on-line educational website editor, Ars Technica

Scott Weatherbee, PhD- Limb Development and the Acquisition of Morphological Diversity; Associate Professor, Yale University  

Jonathan J. Wilde, PhD- Molecular Mechanisms of Thalamic Development; Postdoc: McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT

Yingzi Yang, PhD- Three-Dimensional Patterning of the Limb; Professor, Harvard University 

Ying Zhang, PhD- Genetics of Spinal Bifida and Enteric Nervous System; Development CRISPR Therapeutics: Lead scientist of the Disease Program

Irene Zohn, PhD- Principal Investigator (with tenure), Children's National Medical Center. Washington, DCHongyan Zhou, MD, PhD- BMP regulation of limb growth and cell death; Associate Professor in Neuroscience and Neurosurgery, Mt Sinai School of Medicine 

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