Our Team

Pinar Ayata

Principal Investigator (2020 – present)

Pinar received her BSc in Biological and Biomedical Science from Sabanci University in Turkey, where she was born and raised. During her undergraduate studies, she did summer internships at the German Cancer Research Center and Harvard Medical School. She served both as a Teaching Assistant and a Research Assistant during the final years of her undergraduate studies before embarking on her PhD thesis research in the lab of Dr. Nathaniel Heintz at The Rockefeller University. Here, she focused on understanding the interaction of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine modification and MeCP2 protein, and the pathophysiology of Rett syndrome. Upon completion of her doctoral studies, the joined the lab of Dr. Anne Schaefer at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai for her post-doctoral work. There, her work led to the identification of cerebellar microglia as a subtype of microglia that functionally specialize in the phagocytic clearance of apoptotic neurons. Her work also highlighted the epigenetic mechanisms that maintain the specification of microglial subtypes and their importance in normal brain function. Pinar’s most recent unpublished results from her postdoc reveal subsets of microglia that play opposing roles in in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) progression. She also discovered that transcriptional regulation of the population dynamics of the AD-associated microglia. Pinar’s work has received several awards including the Women and Science Graduate Fellow Award, The Rockefeller University Graduate Fellowship, NARSAD Young Investigator Award, and Robin Chemers Neustein Postdoctoral Award.

Anna Flury

PhD student (2022 – present)

Anna is a second-year PhD student in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Program. She received a BA in Molecular and Cellular Biology from UC Berkeley in 2019, where she worked in an evolutionary genetics lab with yeast. After that, she went on to work with C. elegans on another evolutionary genetics project as a Research Associate at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. She is currently interested in studying epigenetics.

Leen Aljayousi

PhD student (2022 – present)

Leen is a second-year PhD student in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Program. Her research interest revolves around exploring the role of epigenetic changes on behavior and neurodegenerative disorders. She completed her undergraduate studies in Biology at Al-Quds Bard College in Palestine. There she joined the Palestinian Neuroscience Initiative (PNI) and conducted her undergraduate research on the effects of serotonin transporter haplotypes on rule generalization in healthy individuals. She then continued to work as a research associate in the behavioral neurogenetics unit at the PNI investigating the effects of Dopamine and serotonin SNPs on cognitive functions in humans.

Thi Ngo

Lab Manager / Research Assistant (2021 – present)

Thi is deeply fascinated by how life works at the molecular level. Prior to joining the ASRC in December 2021, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UC Irvine, and went on to complete a Master’s degree in Molecular Evolution at Vanderbilt University.  Using both experimental and bioinformatics techniques, she has led projects exploring the molecular mechanisms behind nutrient sensing in fruit flies, and the pattern of molecular evolution in insect immune genes. Outside of the lab, you can find Thi engaging in various personal projects in the visual arts.

Jack Mechler

PhD student (2023 – present)

Jack is a third-year PhD student in the Biochemistry Program and he is co-mentored with Amedee des Georges at NYU. He did his undergraduate at Saint Lawrence University, where he worked in the Marano lab researching bacterial amyloid proteins. In his PhD studies, he has worked in the lab of his co-mentor Dr. Amedee des Georges, to uncover the structural stories of native membrane protein interaction, to this end, employing cutting-edge techniques in in situ cryo-electron microscopy. He is interested in leveraging these techniques to study the structural components of Alzheimer’s disease. Outside of research, Jack is an avid reader and writer.

Siaresh Aziz

Rotation PhD student (2023)

Siaresh is a first-year PhD student in the Neuroscience Biology Program. She did her undergraduate in Neuroscience at Queens College, where she joined Dr. Carolyn Pytte’s lab. She focused on trying to understand the mechanisms regulating neuron survival and neurogenesis in zebra finches. After graduating, she joined Dr. Hynek Wichterle’s lab at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where she worked on trying to understand neuronal maturation and the gene expression changes during maturation to better understand age-related neurodegenerative disorders like ALS. She is interested in studying the molecular and cellular pathways that lead to neurodegenerative diseases with the goal of developing therapeutic treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

Denice Moran

Rotation PhD student (2023)

Denice is a first-year PhD student in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology program at the Graduate Center. She graduated from CCNY magna cum laude funded by a research scholarship (MARC U STAR Fellowship). As an undergraduate, Denice conducted research in the Emerson lab, where she focused on the development and generation of cone-photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina by understanding the mechanisms of cis-regulatory elements. Denice was also an AMGEN scholar in Stanford’s Summer Research Program (SSRP), where she conducted research in a behavioral neuroscience lab focused on understanding approach and avoidance behavior in mice related to anxiety and reward. When she is not studying or doing research, she likes to dedicate her time to exploring nature and spending time with family.

Zenel Agolli

High school student (2023-present)

Zenel is a Junior at Brooklyn Technical High School. His bio is coming soon.

Former Members & Alumni

Dvir Avnon-Klein

Undergraduate/Accelerated Master’s student (2021 – 2023)

Dvir is a dedicated student researcher pursuing a Masters at Queens College Accelerated Neuroscience Masters Program. Prior joining ASRC in September 2021, he was one of 19 delegates from USA to be awarded a full scholarship by the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute to conduct immunology research in collaboration with international researchers. Afterward, Dvir developed a novel biosensor concept, becoming a finalist at the QC Pitchfest and winning first place at the JA Business Competition. Also a passionate violinist, he led his chamber ensemble to win first place at the Lincoln Center Society Competition and the Chamber Music Competition of the Manhattan School of Music Precollege. He was recently selected as a fellow for the Carnegie Hall Future Music Project. He still tours with ensembles and produces original music.

He is currently a PhD student at Rockefeller University.

Lillian Altonen

Summer undergraduate student (2023)

Lillie is an undergraduate senior at the University of Rochester studying Microbiology. She is interested in furthering preventative medicine and disease treatment. She also is minoring in Digital Media Studies and is interested in the visual display of quantitative information within biology. Apart from this, she is in a competitive collegiate A Cappella group, plays several instruments, and loves running.
She continues her undergraduate training at the University of Rochester

Laura Ejiofor

Summer undergraduate student (2023)

Laura is a biology and neuroscience double major and a chemistry minor at Macalester College. She was born in Nigeria; but raised in Queens, NY. She is a rising senior. Some of her science-related works include a research internship at HCMC and volunteer work at Jamaica Medical Hospital. And her hobbies include singing, playing the piano, writing music, dancing, and watching tv.
She continues her undergraduate training at Macalester College.

Mitali Bhate

Rotating PhD Student (Spring 2023)

Mitali is a first-year PhD student in the Biochemistry Program. After completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Biochemistry, she joined the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India, where she investigated the binding between lectin proteins and specific glycans. There, she also studied the role of autophagy in relieving neuropathic pain caused due to diabetes. Mitali is interested in studying molecular causes of neurodegenerative diseases, using the expertise and techniques from the fields of Structural Biology and Neuroscience. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, going on hikes, reading, and exploring wildlife and aquatic species.
She is currently a PhD student in Amedee des Georges’ Lab

Ayesha Khan

Undergraduate Student (2022-2023)

Ayesha Khan is a third-year student at the Sophie Davis BS/MD program, majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Public Policy. With an apparent interest in healthcare and medicine, Ayesha cares deeply about how social issues, like the climate crisis, impact human physiology and well-being. Aside from this, Ayesha is a huge podcast listener, a painter of middling talent, and a gardener who could talk about her plants for hours.
She continues her training at the Sophie Davis BS/MD Program at City College

Anastassiya (Nastya) Kim

Rotating PhD Student (Fall 2022)

Nastya is a first-year PhD student in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Program. She was born and raised in Kazakhstan. She received her BS degree from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. While there, she investigated the protein-drug interaction of a potential anti-cancer drug through biochemical analyses and molecular biology. Outside the lab, she enjoys playing guitar, kickboxing, and drawing portraits.

Suhani Yerapathi

Summer Undergraduate Student (Summer 2022)

Suhani is an undergraduate senior at Rutgers University-New Brunswick studying neuroscience. She is interested in studying the neuroimmune system and has been focusing on microglial responses in different contexts. At Rutgers, she has researched the effects of chronic fentanyl use and bacterial toxins on microglial morphology. At the Ayata Lab, she will continue to research this line of study through the effects of climate change on microglia. After her undergraduate degree, she hopes to research neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Apart from research, Suhani loves to hang out with her dog and explore new foods.
She is currently a graduate student at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Alekhya Maram

Barnard College Summer Research Institute (SRI) Undergraduate Student (Summer 2022)

Alekhya is a first year student at Barnard College of Columbia University. She’s interested in studying the impacts of climate change on human health at the cellular and molecular level. Outside of school, she enjoys reading, gardening, and listening to podcasts and music.
She continues her undergraduate training at Barnard College.

Deniz Zeynep Sönmez

Undergraduate student (Spring 2022)

Deniz Zeynep Sonmez is a student at the seven-year Sophie Davis BS/MD Program at the CUNY School of Medicine where she will receive her B.S. in Biomedical Sciences in the first three years and then go on to receive her M.D. in the last four years of the program. She is currently on her second year of the undergraduate portion and is interested in various topics regarding neuroscience and the development of neurodegeneration. She was part of a biochemistry lab at Lehman College that focused on the development of biomedical applications of aptamers from 2019-2020. Apart from this, she enjoys playing soccer and spending time with friends and family.
She continues her training at the Sophie Davis BS/MD Program at City College

Hannah Tetreault

CSURP student (2021)

Hannah is a Cellular and Molecular Biology undergraduate student at CUNY’s John Jay College. She is interested in studying cellular changes in microglia in response to high-fat diet.

She continues her undergraduate training at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Swastik P G

Rotating PhD student (Fall 2021)

Swastik completed his BS-MS dual degree from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali majoring in biology. His research interests revolve around the field of neurodegeneration, protein biology of neurons, liquid-liquid phase separation of IDPs, and epigenetics. It has been his long-standing interest to understand the effect of the environment on our central nervous system and how it plays a crucial role in the normal functioning of the brain and its dysfunction in diseases. In his free time, he likes to play soccer, table tennis, or travel the world.

He is currently a PhD student in Maria Figueiredo-Pereira’s Lab.

Erna Mitaishvili

Rotating PhD student (Winter 2021)

Erna is a first year PhD student in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Program. She received her English degree from California State University and two post-bac degrees from UCLA and Columbia University. Her research experience started at NYU investigating mitochondrial physiology and dysfunction in regular aging and neurodegeneration, using different cell lines. She then conducted her independent research project on calcium homeostasis and its role in ribosomal biogenesis. Her interests combine mitochondrial physiology and ribosome biogenesis in microglia.

She is currently a PhD student in Columba de la Parra’s Lab.

Praveena ​Naidu

Rotating PhD student (Spring 2022)

Praveena is a first year PhD student in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology Program. She received a BSc in Biomedical Science from Imperial College London in 2019 with a specialisation in infection and immunity. She then graduated with an MPhil from the University of Cambridge in 2020 studying placental macrophages across species. She spent the last year working in an RNA therapeutics lab at the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology at A*Star in Singapore, cloning plasmid constructs to validate splice-shifting oligonucleotide therapies.

She is currently a PhD student in Mandë Holford’s Lab.

Ezekiel Willerson

Rotating PhD student (Spring 2022)

Ezekiel is a first year PhD student in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Program. He received a BA in English from the City College of New York, at which time he became fascinated in neuroscience. He went on to receive a BS in psychology thereafter. During undergrad, Ezekiel spent time in a lab focused on memory and learning in rats, examining the interaction between various hormones and alcohol. More recently, his research has looked at the electrophysiological response of goldfish to startle stimuli in the presence of olfactory alarm substances.

He is currently a PhD student in Joshua Brumberg’s Lab

Emily Boyd

Research Assistant (2021)

Emily is the first member to join Ayata Lab. She is interested in studying the epigenetic changes in microglia in response to high fat diet. Prior to joining ASRC in February 2021, Emily conducted graduate-level research for one year at Columbia University where she completed a master’s thesis on disordered eating behaviors in correlation with changes in cortical thickness and gray matter volumes in the brain. She holds a Master of Science degree from Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Michigan.

She is currently a PhD student at The Medical College of Wisconsin