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V. Alessandro Gennarino, PhD                                          Full Profile

Principal Investigator

I went to the University of Palermo to study Biological Science. I then did my PhD in Medical Genetics at the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine in Naples, Italy, where I studied microRNA. For family reasons I was not thinking at all to move to USA. However, I was invited to give a talk at the Keystone Symposia, and after my talk I got an offer for a postdoctoral position at UCSD working on iPSC cell lines, at the time this was the new hot thing. Around the same time the head of TIGEM gave a talk in Houston and told Huda Zoghbi about my work. Huda called me and I realized I was very interested in understanding how to use animal models and patient information to understand human disease. So, I went to Houston and made the discoveries that form the basis of my lab's work at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

My goal is to identify and understand new neurological diseases. In my spare time, I like trying different cuisines and wines, walking, and exploring small book shops. I also love sitting in the Central Park and gazing at the sky, while in reality I am actually thinking about the next project. And of course I love Soccer. 

Alexei Chemiakine, PhD

Senior Technician/Lab Manager

Born and raised in the Soviet Union, I graduated from St. Petersburg State University with a Master's Degree in biology. I worked at the Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and Biochemistry in St. Petersburg before moving to Italy, where I gained further experience working at the Department of Animal and Human Physiology at the University of Bologna. Later, I moved to the USA and worked at the Institute for Circadian Physiology in Cambridge, MA. After that, I entered the Graduate Program at the Department of Biological Sciences at Fordham University, Bronx, NY, and graduated with a second Master's Degree. Since 2002 I have been working at Columbia University Medical Center.

In my spare time, I enjoy reading, listening to music, watching movies, and spending time with my 10-year-old son. I love traveling, and it does not have to be far away from home; almost every weekend, I go to see some new place of interest. I study languages, play chess, and collect stamps.


Nicola de Prisco, PhD

Research Associate/Postdoc

I grew up in Boscoreale a small town close to Naples, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. I got my Ph.D. in Human Genetics at Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine (TIGEM), where I worked on inherited retinal diseases and studied the transcriptomics of mammalian photoreceptors. In the Gennarino lab I investigate the cross-talk between PUM1 and PUM2 in mouse and human patient-derived cell lines. I also worked on the APA project. Curiosity drives every aspect of my life. In science, I love diving into complex biological questions and making discoveries. During my free time, I enjoy photography, especially street photography, as well as theatre, travel, and tasting different foods with my wife.

Honors: Best Poster at 2019 Genetics Retreat; Columbia Stem Cell Initiative Seed Grant (CSCI) in 2021. Second place best oral presentation at 2022 Genetics Retreat. Invited talk at the 2023 EMBO Workshop "RNA Meets Protein Decay" in Croatia.

Serena Raimo, PhD

Research Associate/Postdoc

I was born and raised in Nocera Inferiore, an Italian town on the Amalfi coast. I studied biology at Federico II University in Naples. For my PhD, I worked on lysosomal storage diseases at the Tigem Institute in Pozzuoli for four years. I moved to the USA to follow a deep desire to learn about science outside of my own country, and I worked at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for four years on a research project aimed to establish a new therapy strategy for long-chain fatty acid oxidation (LCFA) problems. I joined the Gennarino Lab in 2022, here I will try to uncover new molecular mechanisms underlying PUM1-driven neurological diseases. In my free time, I enjoy exploring new areas of the city, discover new places where I can eat cuisine from all over the world, and New York City is ideal for this. I also like to relax home with my spouse, my daughter, and two cats to watch a good TV show on the couch.

Honors: Invited for oral presentation at the 2023 Columbia Stem Cell Initiative Retreat. Invited to submit for the Early Investigator Award, National Ataxia Foundation Grant.


Paola Pastena, MD

Postdoctoral Research Associate

I hail from Sant’Angelo Dei Lombardi, a small town in Southern Italy, not far from Naples. I hold a degree in Medicine and Surgery from the International MD Program at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome. Following my passion for medical research, I moved to USA to embark on a research scholarship at Stony Brook University Hospital's Division of Cardiology, where I focused primarily on clinical studies in Heart Failure. Driven by a curiosity to delve deeper into the underlying mechanisms of diseases, I decided to transition from clinical to basic science research. I am excited to join the Gennarino and Targoff labs and be co-mentored by both PIs in pioneering projects investigating the heart-brain axis and the genetic underpinnings of cardiac regeneration.

Outside of the lab, I am an avid pianist and tennis player, and I enjoy playing chess. I also have a passion for drawing, particularly portraits, and I relish exploring the diverse culinary offerings of New York City.

Maximilian Cabaj

PhD Student in Genetics and Development, CUIMC

Originally hailing from Boston, MA, I journeyed to the sunny shores of Los Angeles, CA to receive my B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of Southern California. I next worked as a research associate at the University of California-Los Angeles for three years exploring the influence of epigenetics and chromatin architecture on cardiac disease. I am profoundly interested in exploring the ways in which genetics, molecular biology, and medicine intercalate. In my spare time, I enjoy hosting dinner parties for friends, attending live shows and concerts, and going hiking and camping in national parks.

Honors: Won TL1 fellowship, Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Science; Best Poster at the 2023 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Neurodegeneration Challenge Network (NDCN) Meeting in California; Best talk at the 2023 Genetics & Development Retreat; Best Poster at the 2024 Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS, Las Vegas).


Sabrina K. Phanor

PhD Student in Genetics and Development, CUIMC

I was raised in a small suburban town in the South Shore area of Eastern Massachusetts. In the heart of downtown Boston, I attended Suffolk University and graduated with B.S in Biochemistry. During undergraduate, I studied the oligomerization of the ICEBs1 conjugative element, ConB, and investigated the enzyme activity of two fumarase alleles that caused Fumarate Hydratase Deficiency (FHD). After college, I worked as a research technician for three years at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studying protein-DNA interactions, DNA regulatory elements, and human alternative isoforms. Because of my job and undergraduate experience, I became interested in exploring genetics and biomedical science. Besides schoolwork, I enjoy painting, reading novels, and kickboxing.

Honors: Won the Pre-Doctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Ataxia Research, National Ataxia Foundation; TL1 fellowship, Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Science.


Michael M. Mekuriaw

Undergraduate Student

I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia before I moved to Silver Spring, Maryland at seven years old. In high school, I interned at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and conducted research for two summers. Last summer I worked in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in the Liver Disease Branch with Dr. Yaron Rotman and Dr. Allison Wing studying Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This experience gave me a passion for research as a method for developing breakthroughs in medicine. I am now attending Columbia University in the City of New York pursuing a major in biology with a special concentration in public health. In my free time, I enjoy going on long runs, and spending time with friends.



Lab Mascot

I was born in Houston, Texas, and then adopted by an Italian family. I spent my life learning about life, other animals, and humans. After a year, I got two little brothers who needed a lot of help. I taught them to walk, because they tended to fall over. After five years, I moved to New York City with my family to a new apartment near Columbia University, where I love to walk, roll on the grass, and chase squirrels and pigeons. I love being around other kids in my building, not just because they give me treats. NYC is more chaotic than Houston, but when I want to stay quiet, I squeeze in between my parents and sleep with them. I love the food my mom cooks for me; that salmon with vegetables is so good. What I love most is going on vacation and jumping on the hotel bed. One of my best vacations is visiting my friend Vicky (a second mom to me) in North Carolina. She also cooks very well, and my favorite dish is the roast duck. 
Honors: Best Dog of the Year (for the last 11 years), honorary judge of Kitchen Confidential, Cover Journal Page for a Houston Vet Journal in 2014 (this one is actually true).



Winston Lee, PhD

2020 - 2023: Co-Mentored with Rando L. Allikmets, PhD.

Currently a postdoc in the Department of Ophthalmology, CUIMC.

Honors: Genetics and Development PhD program, CUIMC. Recipient of Paul Holden Foundation Award, Sigma XI Scientific Research Honor Society, and the University of Washington-Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics (SISG) Scholarship.

Lia Boyle, PhD

2018 - 2021: Co-Mentored with Wendy Chung, MD/PhD

Currently a resident in Pediatrics and Medical Genetics at Univ. of Michigan.

Honors: Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Studies PhD Program, CUIMC. TL1 Training Program fellowship, Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Science; and 2022 Gold Humanism Award. 

Salvatore Botta, PhD

2018 - 2021: Research Associate

Currently Account Manager at Promega Corporation

Honors: PhD Degree in Medical Science at the University of Campania Luigi Vanvitelli

Sarallah Rezazedeh, PhD

2021: Postdoctoral Associate

Currently Postdoctoral Fellow at Mount Sinai

Honors: Received 2021 NYSTEM Training Grant


2024, 2023: Mia Perry, Abraham Joshua Heschel School

2024: Rachel Gutierrez, Talent Unlimited High School

2023: Chloe Cho, Fort Lee High School

2022: Wesley Nielsen, New York University (NYU)

2022: Tess Brogard, McGill University

2022: Michelle Cheon, Fort Lee High School

2022: Sohana Raisa, Brown University

2019: Jacob Hess, now at the University of Pennsylvania

2019: Amanda S. Mondschein, now at the Albany Medical School

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