Stelios Manolis Smirnakis
Associate Professor of Neurology
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Jamaica Plain VA Hospital
Harvard Medical School
Dr. Ganna Palagina earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Ruhr-University Bochum (Bochum, Germany). She is studying information processing in visual sensory and associative cortical areas using two-photon calcium imaging, analysis of eye movements and behavioral assays. Her interest is to discover the rules by which neural ensembles emerge and evolve during development, learning and under the conditions of perceptual multistability.
Dr. Joseph Lombardo received his B.S. and M.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biosciences from the University of Turin (2007 and 2009) and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCL School of Pharmacy (2013). He focused his graduate and initial post-graduate studies on how the modulation of ion channels determines the cellular physiology of neurons under normal and disease states. Dr. Lombardo’s research goal in Smirnakis Lab (2017 – present) is to understand the network mechanisms underlying the generation of epileptiform activity in different epilepsy models. In particular, his current focus is to compare the engagement of the different neuronal types of the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) into pathological high frequency oscillations and how RSC neurons functional connectivity changes at different stages of the progression of temporal lobe epilepsy.
Dr. Andriani Rina was engaged in research in the field of fMRI studies of colors perception in the past four years. More specific, my master’s thesis, under the supervision of Ass.Prof.rer.nat Georgios A. Keliris and Ass.Prof.Konstantinos Moutoussis, at Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (Tuebingen, Germany) was about “the color processing and perception in the brain of normal trichromatic subjects, patients with chromatic deficiencies and total color blindness” (awarded as the best poster presentation at the 4th Panhellenic Conference in Cognitive Science, Athens, 2016). The results I get from this, formed the basis of a larger study on patients suffering from achromatopsia (ACHM, total color blindness), a stationary cone dystrophy in which there is an absence of functioning cone photoreceptors in the retina but normal rod responses. I was working in the first gene therapy study worldwide specifically aimed at totally color blind patients, under the supervision of Ass.Prof.rer.nat. Georgios A. Keliris and Prof.Dr.Dominik Fischer (at Max Planck Institute and at the Institute for Ophthalmic Research, Tuebingen, Germany) and I was responsible for performing the “fMRI measurements in the CNGA3-achromat patient”, analyzing and communicating the data. Following the completion of this project, I expect to receive my Ph.D.. In parallel, for a bit more than a year I was working as Data manager and researcher (recruiting subjects, running the experiments, analyzing the data, etc.) at the Institute of Medical Psychology & Behavioral Neurobiology (Tuebingen, Germany) on “Real-time fMRI on obese people”, as a part of the ‘Brain Train’ (EU) Project, under the supervision of Prof.Dr.Dr.hc.mult.Niels Birbaumer. I recently joined the lab of Prof.Stelios Smirnakis at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and we propose to perform “functional neuroimaging of cortical plasticity in the human visual system”. Here I will be responsible for recruiting and scanning patients and will analyze the data, mapping the visual areas and comparing subjects with lesions, with controls.
Siddhartha Javvaji is a high school senior at Irvington High School, and he has been a research assistant in the Smirnakis Lab for nearly two years. He has a keen interest in the intersection between biochemistry and neuroscience and has been working closely with Dr. Katerina Kalemaki to investigate post-translational protein modifications in rota-rod trained mice after exercise. Siddhartha is cautiously optimistic about using this derived data to potentially genetically modify a “supermouse” in the near future. Currently, he is working on this project while concurrently co-authoring a publication paper about his research. Upon the completion of this project, he is looking to continue supplementary work on tau & amyloid beta protein aggregation for Alzheimer’s disease with Dr. Kalemaki. He is also striving to bioengineer a glutamate-excitotoxicity based stroke-predicting device that can warn patients of a possible stroke-onset. With his work in the Smirnakis Lab, Siddhartha aims to deliver original results while traversing his passion in biochemical neuroscience.
My research interest is in understanding the neural basis of mind and behavior, how external sensory inputs are encoded in cortical areas? how the firing of neuronal population gives rise to perception and transforms into decision-making processes, and how normal neural circuit functions are altered or disrupted in neurological disease conditions, such as in autism models. Using visual system, I address these questions by leveraging diverse modern techniques and tools, including AAV, mice behavior, Electrophysiology, and two-photon imaging.
I have a B.Sc. Degree in Biology with scientific direction in Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology, a M.Sc. in Molecular Biology and Biomedicine in University of Crete. Following the Master program, I graduated from Ph.D program of Medical School, University of Crete. I have a strong background in molecular biology techniques and slice electrophysiology. My main interest is to understand the pathophysiology of neural circuit dysfunction that occurs in neurodegenerative and other neurological disorders, and on translating this understanding to develop new therapeutic approaches. I combine state-of-the-art 2 photon imaging methods in awake behaving animals with a recently developed high-throughput transcriptomic methodology MERFISH, opening new windows for understudying basic properties of neural circuits and circuit dysfunction in disease states. These state-of-the-art methods can be applied to dissect circuit mechanisms of dysfunction in multiple disorders ranging from AD to autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy, recovery from stroke and others, helping to identify appropriate targets for restoring function.
Dr. Amr Ellaithy earned his medical degree in 2013 from Mansoura University, Egypt. He then moved to the US where he did his PhD training in neuroscience with Dr. Diomedes Logothetis at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). As a graduate student, he used electrophysiological techniques to study G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) with a focus on metabotropic glutamate receptor 2 (mGluR2). Dr. Ellaithy is currently pursuing his neurology residency training, and has developed a special clinical interest in epilepsy. He plans to combine his clinical interests with his research background in neuropharmacology with the goal of identifying more effective therapeutics for epilepsy patients. Dr. Ellaithy will be pursuing a clinical epilepsy fellowship while undertaking research in the Smirnakis lab. His project aims to understand the mechanism of action of cannabidiol (CBD) in animal models of Dravet syndrome.
I received my PhD in Neuroscience from IGSN, Ruhr University of Bochum (Germany). My research interest is in understanding the cellular, molecular and network mechanisms of Epileptogenesis. I am interested to explore how focal seizures are spread throughout the entire brain? What are the neural circuits involved in seizures propagation? The main driving goal is to use this information to identify novel candidates for anti-epileptic drugs. I combine various techniques that include 2-photon imaging in awake behaving animals, transcriptomic methodology such as a recently developed MERFISH as well as optogenetics to dissect the neural circuits.
In my graduate study I discovered histamine-gated chloride channels in vertebrates. I identified for the first time the unusual role of histamine on GABAA receptors. I recognized that some of GABAA receptors are directly gated by histamine, and that some hetero-multimeric GABAA receptors are potentiated by the histamine.
I was a pioneer in the Tandem Affinity Purification (TAP)-tag technique in zebrafish and used TAP-tag to identify interacting partners of elipsa, a locus characterized by mutations that causes early ciliogenesis defects in zebrafish that can cause neurodegenerative eye diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa in humans.
I identified cacophony (cac), a voltage-gated presynaptic Ca2+ channel, as the strongest seizure-suppressor for bang-sensitive Drosophila mutants to date. I identified the mushroom body as an important locus to initiate and propagate seizure in Drosophila brain. I discovered the unusual role of cAMP in the suppression of seizures induced by high temperature in Drosophila. Recently, I was a co-discoverer to identify Drosophila Fezf functions a transcriptional repressor to direct layer-specific synaptic connectivity in the fly visual system.
George Touloumes is a G6 PhD student from the Biogengineering program at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). He received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University, and his M.S. in Engineering Sciences under Prof. Kit Parker in Harvard SEAS. In the Smirnakis Lab, he is co-advised by Dr. Stelios Smirnakis (Harvard Medical School) and Prof. Rob Howe (Harvard SEAS). George’s research interests span several areas of computational neuroscience, including neurological signal processing, computational modeling, statistical data analysis, and parallel computing. His dissertation focuses on understanding how specific types of neurons and cortical circuits contribute to traumatic brian injury-derived epileptogenesis.
James Gocel - Smirnakis Laboratory Manager
Dr. James Gocel earned their B.A. in Music and Ph.D. in Neurobiology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Their research efforts address the effect of brain injuries, disease, and aging on synaptic receptor function within cortical circuits in various mouse models of these conditions. Dr. Gocel combines techniques of in vivo electrophysiology and imaging to investigate the mechanisms whereby excitatory and inhibitory receptor physiology determine neuronal circuit dynamics.