Our Team

Pinar Ayata

Principal Investigator

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 Pinar’s most recent unpublished results from her postdoc reveal subsets of microglia that play opposing roles in in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) progression.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.

Thi Ngo

Lab Manager / Research Assistant

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.

Emily Boyd

Research Assistant

Emily 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.

Dvir Avnon-Klein

Undergraduate/Accelerated Master’s student

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.

Leen Aljayousi

Rotating PhD student (December 2021 – February 2022)

Leen is a first 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.

Anna Flury

Rotating PhD student (December 2021 – February 2022)

Anna is a first 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.

Erna Mitaishvili

Rotating PhD student (December 2021 – February 2022)

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.

Praveena ​Naidu

Rotating PhD student (January 2022 – March 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.

Ezekiel Willerson

Rotating PhD student (March 2022 – June 2022)

Ezekiel is a first year PhD student in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Program. He will rotate in our lab in March 2022.

Kaiming Wang

Master’s student

Kai is a Master’s student in Behavioral Neuroscience at Queens College. At Queensborough Community College, he worked with Dr. Villegas to study the effect of deep brain stimulation on attentional tasks in Alzheimer’s rats. After transferring to Queens College for his bachelor’s degree, he worked in Dr. Brumberg’s Lab to investigate the relationship between microglia and the perineuronal net during the critical period development of the somatosensory cortex. He is interested in studying how the environment alters Alzheimer’s disease-associated microglia.


Hannah Tetreault

CSURP student (Summer 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.

Swastik P G

Rotating PhD student (September – November 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.