Our Group

Principal Investigator



Naiara Akizu, PhD

Naiara Akizu, PhD

Naiara Akizu is a faculty member of the Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is member of the Neurosciences Graduate Group (NGG) and Cell and Molecular Biology (CAMB) graduate groups. 

In 2010, she received her PhD by the University of Barcelona for her studies on the role of epigenetic chromatin modifications in the nervous system development, a project that she developed in Dr. Marian Martinez-Balbas's laboratory under the comentorship of Dr. Elisa Marti. Motivated by her interest in neural development and neurological diseases, in December 2010 she joined Dr. Joseph Gleeson’s laboratory at the Univeristy of California, San Diego where she gained expertise in neurogenetics of pediatric diseases and modeling with pluripotent stem cells. She complemented her training by working with mouse models of neurological diseases under the co-mentorship of Dr. Ulrich Müller at The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla. 

Research Assistants


Garrett Otrimski

I am interested in learning more about genetic determinants of disease through investigation of animal and cell models. Specifically, I am interested in finding connections between multiple diseases and genes to draw broader conclusions which will enhance our general understanding of genetic determination of neurological development. 

Fun: I enjoy reading, rock climbing, and corny jokes. 




Post Docs



Yijing Zhou

I was trained as a developmental neuroscientist. My passion lies in using animal models to investigate the etiological mechanisms of human neuropsychiatric diseases. My current project focuses on understanding how SNX14 mutation leads to spinocerebellar ataxia. My longterm goal is to identify druggable targets of the diseases and contribute to the development of therapeutics.

Fun: I enjoy reading, watching movies and exploring different cultures.

Contact: zhouy3 [at] email.chop.edu



Graduate Students



Carolina Garcia-Diaz

I am a graduate student in the G&E program interested in how chromatin dysregulation is related to neurological diseases.

Fun: I enjoy reading, watching movies and exploring new places!





Vanessa Sanchez

I am a PhD student in the Neuroscience Graduate Group. I received my B.A. from California State University, Fullerton in Psychology with a minor in Cell and Molecular Biology. In the Akizu lab, my work looks at how loss of SNX14 in the brain affects everything from cells to behavior and I am interested in neuron-glia metabolic coupling.

Fun: Outside of lab, I am a plant mom who loves going to concerts and enjoys all things outdoors like camping and hiking.




Kelsey Walsh

I’m interested in learning more about genetically caused neurodegenerative disorders and applying this knowledge to neurodegenerative disorders with unknown causes. After I graduate, I would like to attend medical school and become a physician.


Fun: I enjoy singing and playing music, watching movies and TV shows, and drinking coffee.

Contact: kelseyaw [at] sas.upenn.edu





Come and JOIN US




Laura Ohl:  CAMB graduate student 05/19-12/21

Isabelle Heifetzh Ament: Biology rotation student 09/21-12/21

Emily Lubin: CAMB rotation student 09/21-12/21 

Jafar Bhatti:  NGG rotation student 06/21-08/21

Emma Kielsa:  SUIP student 06/21-07/21

Marco Flores-Mendez:  Postdoc  01/18-05/21

Jocasta Manasseh-Lewis:  SUIP student 06/20-07/20

Donna Yoo: UPENN undergrad student 07/17-06/20

Hiab Teshome: UPENN undergrad student 09/18-06/20

Daniel Ferrera: UFV undergrad student 02/20-07/20

Fran Amo: UFV undergrad student 02/20-07/20

Heidi Elashal: BMB rotation student 01/20-03/20

Amanda Weiss: CAMB rotation student 01/20-03/20

Roseanne Davila-Rivera: BMB rotation student 09/19-12/19

Sarah Campbell: CAMB rotation student 09/19-12/19

Carolina Garcia-Diaz: CAMB rotation student 01/19-03/19

Melissa Barton: CAMB rotation student 09/18-12/18

Mara Cowen: NGG rotation student 09/18-12/18

Laura Ohl:  CAMB rotation student 06/18-08/18

Yohaniz Ortega Burgos:  SUIP student 06/18-07/18

Olivia Romera Rincon:  UFV undergrad student 01/18-07/18

Laura Ballentine: research assistant 01/17-05/18

Samantha Ratakonda: undergrad student 06/17-05/18

Susmita Roy: undergrad student 06/17-05/18

Keri Cronin: undergrad student 11/17-05/18

Melanie Schaffler: NGG rotation student 19/17-01/18

Satch Baker: highschool student 06/17-08/17

Katelyn Sweeney: CAMB rotation student 04/17-06/17

Akansha Kapoor: master student 02/17-05/17