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.

Heather Brown

Doctoral Candidate

Heather's research focuses on Snx3, a sorting nexin gene involved in intracellular retrograde transport of the WNT ligand, WLS. She is investigating a mechanism by which the absence of Snx3 could result in neural tube defects by investigating it's involvement in Wnt signaling and neuronal patterning in the developing mouse embryo. 

Binbin Li 
Postdoctoral Fellow 

Binbin's current interest is focused on a rarely studied gene-Tmem132a, knock out of which in mice leads to severe developmental malformations including spinal bifida. He is also interested in discovering mutations in the human population compared to mutations in mice to give a better understanding of how specific gene`s deficiency contributes to NTD occurrence. 

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. 

Eric Jaffe
Doctoral Candidate 

Eric’s research focuses on the non-neural ectoderm, and the role of the protein GRHL3, a transcription factor necessary for spinal neural tube closure. In particular he is interested in how Grhl3 may control epithelial state and the actin cytoskeleton during neural tube closure. He is also interested in understanding axial biases shown by Grhl3 mutants when compared to its family member Grhl2.

Lori Bulwith 
Professional Research Assistant

Lori executes various managerial and laboratory tasks in the Niswander lab. She specializes in murine reproduction and colony maintenance.

Sofia Pezoa
Doctoral Candidate

Sofia is interested the development of neural crest cells, a unique population of cells that is specified during neural tube closure in mouse. Recently, she helped identify an epigenetic modifier that has a craniofacial defect, suggesting a role for epigenetic regulation during neural crest cell development. To investigate her hypotheses she uses a combination of in vivo and in vitro techniques, looking at the development of cranial neural crest cells.

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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.

Mayela Gayosso

Postdoctoral Fellow

Mayela’sresearch focuses onACTR5, 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.

Marisela Gonzalez-Cruz

Predoctoral Candidate

Marisela's current research focuses on a long non-coding RNA called lncRncr3 for its potential role in causing the birth defect microcephaly. lncRncr3 is currently known as the host primary transcript of one of the most studied microRNAs in the brain called miR124a. The expression of miR124a can be regulated by a process called alternative polyadenylation (APA) of the long non-coding RNA. Her goal is to determine the importance of this APA phenomenon in embryonic neural development as well as the role of lncRncr3 in preventing microcephaly.

Past members

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

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

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 

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 

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 

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 

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

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; Postdoc and Teaching Fellowship: Univ of Alabama at Birmingham

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

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