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


Laura Ballentine

I currently utilize an Ampd2 and Ampd3 double knockout mouse model to study their role and fuction in neurodegeneration. In the future I hope to pursue graduate school in a scientific field. 

Fun: I enjoy swimming, traveling, reading poetry, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and people-watching.

Contact: ballentinl [at] email.chop.edu

Post Docs


Marco Flores

I am interested in protein synthesis, purine nucleotide metabolism and protein aggregations. My interest in these topics is determine if presence of aggregates called rods and rings are related with neurodegeneration. For this purpose, I am using neural progenitor cells (NPC) and mutant mice. Since protein aggregation is the centerpiece of many neurodegenerative diseases we consider that this approach has the potential for wide-ranging therapeutic impact.

Fun: Besides science, I enjoy dancing, exercising, traveling and cooking!

Contact: floresm1 [at] email.chop.edu



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



Come and JOIN US






Donna Yoo

I am interested in learning more about the function of SNX14 in cerebellar degeneration and intellectual disability. I aspire to be a Physician.

Fun: I enjoy dancing, listening to music, and eating food.

Contact: yoodo [at] sas.upenn.edu




Samantha Ratakonda

My research in the lab is focused on genotyping mouse models of several neurodevelopmental diseases that we have and setting up cell culture protocols for research projects that we are working on. After graduating, I want to be in the health care field as a physician and/or work on improving health care access for those with disabilities.

Fun: I enjoy playing the tennis and guitar with my sister. I also appreciate learning languages and writing poetry.

Contact: sratak [at] sas.upenn.edu


Susmita Roy

My research focuses on examining the SNX14 gene and seeing if there is a correlation between the degeneration of the cerebellum and the knockout of this particular gene. After graduating, I hope to get involved in healthcare consulting or investment with a goal to be involved in the improvement of healthcare.

Fun: Outside of lab, I love playing and watching almost any sport. I also enjoy watching movies and binge-watching tv shows and exploring any city I’m in. 

Contact: suroy [at] sas.upenn.edu


Keri Cronin

I am using a double knockout mouse model and induced pluripotent stem cells to study the development of corticospinal neurons in two neurodevelopment diseases known as Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia and
Heredity Spastic Paraplegias. In the future, I hope to pursue my interest in neuroscience as a physician.

Fun: I enjoy running, swimming, doing yoga, reading, and going to the beach!

Contact: kmcronin [at] haverford.edu




Melanie Schaffler

Current graduate student with University of Pennsylvania's Neuroscience Graduate Group.

Satch Baker

Current high school student at Haverford School.

Katelyn Sweeney

Current graduate student in the Shalem Laboratory.

Akanksha Kapoor

Current medical school student at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.