Current Fellows

UCSF Sandler Fellows:

Mustafa Aydogan, D. Phil. Mustafa is fascinated by how biological time is regulated across different scales, with a particular interest in the regulation of organelle biogenesis. He carried out his doctoral work at the University of Oxford to study how centriole biogenesis is regulated in space and time. In particular, he discovered that an autonomous clock controls the timing of centriole formation – independently of, but in entrainment with, the principal Cdk/Cyclin cell-cycle oscillator. This finding challenges the current model of how cell cycle is regulated and opens a potential new avenue of research to explore whether other such autonomous clocks exist in the cell. The Aydogan Lab currently focuses on timing mechanisms that may be at play in the biogenesis of other organelles. They use state-of-the-art techniques in live super-resolution microscopy, combined with genetics, biochemistry, biophysics and mathematical modelling, to address biological phenomena.


 Margaux Pinney, Ph.D. Margaux received her Ph.D. from the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford University. As a graduate student in Dr. Daniel Herschlag’s lab, she studied the molecular mechanisms of enzyme temperature adaptation. This work ultimately tested and refined most existing models of enzyme temperature adaptation and identified new molecular mechanisms for enzyme stability and activity in >1000 enzyme families. Margaux then joined the laboratories of Dr. Polly Fordyce and Dr. Gavin Sherlock at Stanford to adapt and develop methods for mapping between protein function and organism fitness in high throughput. The Pinney Lab studies the molecular mechanisms that allow organisms and their proteins to adapt to new and changing environments, with a focus on temperature adaptation. They use high-throughput biochemistry and organism fitness methods to integrate information across biological scales. The central goals of this work are to: (1) reveal enigmatic aspects of protein function to inform their design principles and (2) provide a fundamental understanding of organism adaptation, which is critical for understanding processes such as adaptation to climate change.


 Mark Pownall, Ph.D. Mark received his Ph.D. in Genetics from Yale University in 2023. During this time, he worked with Dr. Antonio Giraldez studying the process of zygotic genome activation in developing zebrafish embryos. To visualize this conserved process of transcriptional activation at unprecedented resolution in vivo, Mark developed Chromatin Expansion Microscopy, a super-resolution imaging technique that physically enlarges developing embryos to dramatically improve imaging resolution without perturbing chromatin organization. This work provided insight into how pioneer transcription factors associate within individual nucleosomes in vivo, and led to a new model of enhancer-promoter interactions modulated by transcription. As a Sandler Fellow, Mark and his lab will study how chromatin structure relates to transcriptional activity during cell-fate specification in developing embryos. The lab will also continue developing advanced microscopy tools to visualize chromatin structure and function with the goal of understanding how 3D genome organization influences function.


Katherine Susa, Ph.D. Katherine received her Ph.D. from the Chemical Biology program at Harvard University. As a graduate student co-advised by Andrew Kruse and Stephen Blacklow, she used structural biology, protein engineering, and cell biology to understand mechanisms underlying B cell co-receptor complex assembly and signaling. As a Sandler Fellow, Katherine and her lab will study the molecular mechanisms underlying the function of human immune cell receptors, with the long-term goal of enabling new therapeutic approaches to modulate immune cell signaling. Work in the lab will initially focus on B cell signaling, a signaling pathway that is responsible for the production of antibodies and is frequently dysregulated in B cell cancers and autoimmune diseases. We will (1) develop new tools to identify and characterize novel regulators of early B cell signaling, (2) structurally characterize B cell receptor and co-receptor complexes to elucidate how B cell signaling is regulated, and (3) engineer cell-state-specific, modulatory antibodies that selectively target specific B cell subsets.


John Vaughen, Ph.D. John is captivated by lipids, amphiphilic macromolecules that dynamically signal and organize biochemical reactions across organelles. While we are unearthing a large combinatorial diversity of lipids across myriad cells, our understanding of lipid functions remains fragmentary. Lipid metabolism first ensnared John during his Ph.D. at Stanford (developmental biology). Under Tom Clandinin’s mentorship, John used Drosophila to dissect novel functions for a lipid hydrolase frequently mutated in Parkinson’s disease. These studies revealed that balanced sphingolipid metabolism tuned a diurnal pattern of extensive neurite growth and retraction in a circadian circuit by coupling glial catabolism with neural biosynthesis. His ongoing work combines genetics, lipidomics, microscopy, behavior, and biophysical modeling to probe the developing brain lipidome. Beginning in August 2024, John and his lab aim to 1) Identify the enzymes and signaling cascades that generate appropriate brain lipidomes; 2) Determine why and how specific lipids are deployed, such as in synaptic vesicles and glial ensheathments; and 3) Develop genetic and mass-spectrometry tools to better quantitate and manipulate lipids in the brain, which often dysregulates its lipids during aging and disease..


Caroline Vissers, Ph.D. Caroline received her PhD from the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her work in the lab of Hongjun Song was the first to show the regulatory effect of chemical modifications on mRNA, termed “epitranscriptomics,” on mammalian cortical neurogenesis. One methylation in particular, m6A, regulates neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation and allows for pre-patterning of neural stem cell fate prior to differentiation. Additionally, Caroline collaborated with Gregg Semenza to study how m6A regulates breast cancer cell response to hypoxia. She showed that stress-induced dynamics of m6A regulate cancer cell gene expression at both RNA and protein levels, with consequences in cell proliferation and metabolism. As a UCSF Sandler Fellow, Caroline will lead a research program studying how the epitranscriptome is regulated, particularly in response to endogenous (developmental signaling pathways) and exogenous (stress) stimuli. This work will be applied to studies of neural development and disease with the ultimate goal of developing new therapies for developmental and neurodegenerative disorders.


Andrew Yang, Ph.D. Andrew’s goal is to understand and engineer healthy brain homeostasis. As a graduate student in Tony Wyss-Coray's lab at Stanford University, he developed new proteome tagging and single-cell approaches to discover unexpected communication across the blood-brain barrier (BBB), mechanisms of its impairment with age, and its links to Alzheimer's disease. As a UCSF Sandler Fellow, Andrew and his lab develop new molecular approaches to decode the meaning, mechanisms, and therapeutic relevance of protein and immune crosstalk between the brain and body. The lab uses a combination of proteomics, chemical biology, single-cell sequencing, imaging, and functional approaches. By deciphering the general principles by which the periphery communicates with the brain, this work could enable new approaches to engineer greater resilience against brain aging and neurodegeneration.


Affiliated Fellows:


QBI Fellow: The QBI (Quantitative Biosciences Institute) Fellowship attracts early-career scientists who are on the cutting edge of new technologies and discovery.  The fellowship hastens their growth towards independent basic research problems relating to human health and advancement.


Willow Coyote-Maestas, Ph.D. Willow did his PhD in Daniel Schmidt’s lab at the University of Minnesota, where he developed massively parallel sequencing-based methods to study and engineer proteins. Using mutational and insertional scanning methods, Willow found these methods can be useful for identifying regions of a protein involved in functionally meaningful conformational changes, developed mechanistic models for how to assemble protein domains to create useful multi-domain protein tools, and studied the evolution of ion channel regulation. As a QBI Fellow, Willow is inventing high-throughput sequencing-based biophysics and biochemistry methods for understanding how a genetic, chemical, or physical perturbations alters the trafficking or functional state of receptors. The long-term goal of this work is to build mechanistic holistic models of how receptors break in disease and work in normal physiology.


California Academy of Sciences Fellow:

Alison Gould, Ph.D. Alison earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology where she studied theevolutionary ecology of a bioluminescent symbiosis between a coral reef fish and a luminous bacterium in the Vibrio family. Having established the foundational context with which to study this association at a more mechanistic level, she is currently developing this highly specific, binary association as a new model with which to disentangle the complex mechanisms regulating our gut microbiome. In partnership with the California Academy of Sciences, Alison will study this bioluminescent symbiosis to determine how host-microbe specificity is established and maintained from the broad evolutionary scale down to the molecular level, identifying critical pathways involved in symbiont recognition, integration, and persistence within a host.



Physician-Scientist Scholar Program: The PSSP was established by the UCSF School of Medicine in partnership with the clinical departments to identify and support young physician/scientists who engage in medical practice and have shown exceptional promise to launch an independent laboratory research program, like UCSF Sandler Fellows. Information on these Fellows can be found here.