Neural Crest Development & Disease Unit: People


Members of Kerosuo Lab

Laura Kerosuo  - Principal Investigator

Laura Kerosuo

I received my PhD in stem cell biology from the Faculty of Medicine at The University of Helsinki, Finland. My graduate work focused on characterization of regulatory functions in mouse neural stem cells. I then continued as a Post Doctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology where I initiated my research on stem cell characteristics of the neural crest by adopting the early chicken embryo as my model system. My postdoctoral work in Professor Marianne Bronner’s laboratory demonstrated that neural crest cells, despite their transient nature, maintain a premigratory stem cell niche of self-renewing and pluripotent cells located in the dorsal neural tube. I made this discovery by creating novel techniques such as developing crestospheres, an in vitro method to maintain neural crest stem cells in a self-renewing state. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to be a part of a collaboration with biophysicists, which led to the development of Spatial Genomic Analysis, a single molecule fluorescent in situ hybridization (smFISH)-based multiplex transcriptome analysis that revealed a pluripotent stem cell niche embedded in the neural crest progenitor domain in the dorsal neural tube. By studying fate choices during early neural crest specification, I also proposed a hypothesis for onset of neuroblastoma, the pediatric neural crest derived cancer, at a much earlier time point than previously assumed. Based on these findings, I established my lab, the Neural Crest Development and Disease Unit at NIDCR in July 2018 where I continue to pursue research on the molecular mechanisms of neural crest stemness in normal development and in neurocristopathies.

Laura’s quote: “If only could I spend a day swimming in a neural crest cell to see how it all actually works.”

Karla Barbosa-Sabanero – Postdoctoral Fellow

Karla Barbosa-Sabanero

My research interest is focused on the mechanisms by which cell de-differentiation and cell identity are regulated.

During my PhD and as a postdoctoral fellow at National Eye Institute, I developed a strong interest in regenerative medicine studying the signals and mechanisms that control cell identity.

Currently, at Dr. Kerosuo’s lab I am interested in the mechanisms that maintain the pluripotent state and the cell identity of the neural crest cells, and how these mechanisms could contribute to regenerative therapies and disease. Precise understanding of the mechanisms that induce and maintain the pluripotency of the stem cell niche in neural crest cells is fundamental to model neural crest defects to develop regenerative therapeutic strategies.

Karla’s quote: “Thrilled to unravel the secrets of cell identity and pluripotency of the neural crest cells every day in the lab.”

Surangi Perera – Postdoctoral Fellow

Surangi Perera

My long-term research interest lies in understanding cellular specification and commitment during development of a cell lineage. During my graduate training in the Baker lab at the University of Cambridge, I studied the development of a derivative of the neural crest, the olfactory unsheathing cells (the specialized glial cells of the olfactory system) using a laser-microdissection and transcriptome-profiling approach. As a postdoc in the Kerosuo lab, my project studies the differentiation of neural crest derivatives in cranial sensory ganglia to gain a better understanding of neural crest cell fate decisions. I have also started to work on a project on McCune Albrigt’s Syndrome (MAS) to elucidate the role defects in neural crest derived tissues play in the disease. I started in the lab in August 2019.

Surangi’s quote: “The more I learn about neural crest cells, the more questions I have about these remarkable cells and their joyride through the embryo.”    

Zarin Zainul – Postdoctoral Fellow

Zarin Zainul

I received my PhD in Neuroscience in 2018 from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Finland. As my graduate research, I discovered novel functions of collagen XIII and XXIII in the peripheral nervous system regeneration and functional recovery in mice following peripheral nerve injury, and characterized a mouse model recapitulating the human Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome type-19 disease. In 2018, I started my first Postdoc at the College of Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville where I identified an alpha-adrenergic blocker’s (FDA approved and clinically prescribed) novel roles in myeloprotection, neuronal regeneration and muscle atrophy in a peripheral nerve injury mouse model. I joined the Kerosuo lab in September 2020, and I am performing studies on the neural crest niche formation using human in vitro models and chicken embryos. My studies also focus on understanding the neural-crest derived childhood malignancy neuroblastoma.

Zarin’s quote: "There is a saying, “The less is more” Well, in Science, it is the other way around”    

Jenny Hsin – MD/PhD Student

Jenny Hsin

I graduated in June 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology from The California Institute of Technology and joined the Kerosuo lab as a postbac. My studies focus on understanding neural crest stem cell regulation and a potential initiation mechanism for neuroblastoma using both human embryonic stem cell and chicken models. I started medical school in 2019 by joining the MD/PhD program at the University of Alabama and will return to NIH in 2022 for my PhD, which will be followed by research at the University of Cambridge, UK, via the NIH Graduate Partnership Program (GPP). Broadly, my research interests lie in developmental, stem cell, and cancer biology. Thus, in the future, my goal is to build a career in biomedicine by unraveling novel molecular mechanisms to be utilized in development of regenerative or cancer therapies.

Jenny’s quote: “My goal in life is to have as broad of a potential as the neural crest.”

Ceren Pajanoja – PhD Graduate Student

Ceren Pajanoja

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Istanbul, Turkey. I then continued my studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and graduated with a Master’s degree in Neuroscience in 2016. The aim of my PhD project in the Kerosuo Lab is to understand cell-to-cell heterogeneity within the NC stem cell niche. How do NC cells regulate their stemness at different axial levels from head to toe? Do NC stem cells already reflect their future fates? In order to answer these questions, my project uses Spatial Genomic Analysis (SGA), a novel smFISH-based imaging technique, that analyses expression of tens of genes with single cell resolution in complex tissues without compromising the cellular architecture. Multiplexing is based on serial hybridization rounds, and a machine learning algorithm-based cell segmentation together with dot counting of individual RNA transcripts guarantees high accuracy of this quantitative method. I enjoy my project that combines wet lab, high resolution imaging and a good amount of computational science.

Ceren’s quote: “My passion is to reveal secrets of neural crest heterogeneity one line of code at a time.”

Tunde Berecz – Visiting PhD Graduate Student

Tunde Berecz

I got my Bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from the University of Szeged, and Master’s degree in medical biotechnology from Pázmány Péter Catholic University in Hungary, and I’m currently a PhD student at Semmelweis University aiming to understand cellular mechanisms in DiGeorge syndrome, which is caused by the deletion of a small segment of chromosome 22. While the symptoms can vary, they often include congenital heart problems, specific facial features, frequent infections, developmental delay, learning problems and cleft palate. I have generated an in vitro disease model for DiGeorge syndrome by establishing induced pluripotent stem cell lines from members of a family with DiGeorge syndrome patients and healthy relatives. My PhD work so far has focused on the cardiovascular aspects of the disease, and I joined the Kerosuo Lab at the end of 2020 as a visiting GPP graduate student to investigate neural crest defects in the disease.

Tunde's quote: “The most fascinating thing about stem cells is the diversity of forms they can be transformed into. Looking at them in the microscope has a healing effect for my soul, like meditation.”

Bradley Olinger – NIH Postbac IRTA

Bradley Olinger

I completed a Master of Health Science in biochemistry and molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University, where I also completed their Humane Sciences program that emphasizes the use of human-based models of research. I wrote my thesis on stem cell regulation, aging, and therapeutic potential where I reviewed the mechanisms that underly mammalian aging. During my graduate study I also worked to visualize Lats1 kinase, a key protein in the Hippo signaling pathway which is intricately intertwined with stem cell proliferation pathways. My current research focuses on investigating the nature and impact of stem cell pluripotency factors in the neural crest using computational approaches such as 3D live-imaging analysis of hESC-derived ectodermal organoids as well as RNA-seq analysis with the chick embryo model. In the future I hope to continue using my computational background to elucidate the nature of the neural crest, with the hope of revealing its therapeutic potential and contributing to the field of regenerative medicine.

Bradley’s quote: “The neural crest holds great therapeutic potential, but it can also serve as a guide to life. Like the neural crest, let us strive to be diverse, a little bit mysterious, and highly prolific.”

Rita Yazejian – NIH Postbac IRTA fellow

Rita Yasejian

I graduated in June 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an emphasis in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from The University of Oregon. My undergraduate research focused on CNS development in Drosophila, specifically the role temporal identity programs play in generating neuronal progeny lineages from a single progenitor neural stem cell. My current research in the lab focuses on the role that pluripotency genes play in the development of the neural tube and what types of developmental defects can occur in response to a mutation or knockdown of these genes. After my postbac experience I plan to enroll in a Ph.D. program to study Cancer Biology.

Rita’s quote: “The most wonderful thing about science is there is always more to learn.”

Heli Takko – Part Time Student Member

Heli Takko

I graduated from the University of Helsinki with a Bachelor of Science in Theoretical Physics and programming and am currently continuing as a Master’s student preparing my thesis on quantum information (quantum mechanics, quantum computing and quantum gravity). My project in the Kerosuo Lab aside my undergraduate studies as well as a full time summer student has been to code Matlab based scripts for single cell segmentation and volumetric analysis.

Heli’s quote: “Theoretical physics challenges my mind and feeds my curiosity like nothing else and allows me to see the world in a unique way. Who needs sleep when you have quantum mechanics?”

Lab Alumni

  • Camilo Echeverria – Junior Specialist, UC Davis
  • Andrew Schiffmacher – Assistant Professor, Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, University of Maryland
Principal Investigator
Last Reviewed
December 2019