Working in the Tsai lab, Dr. Meharena has devoted himself to Down syndrome research, particularly in developing patient-derived stem cell brain models to understand the consequences of Trisomy 21 on the nuclear architecture, function and how these alterations result in the phenotypic differences associated with the pathologies observed in Down syndrome. Meharena has become an up-and-coming leader in the field. He has presented some of his discoveries at the T21RS Conference, Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference, and at the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress annual conference. Meharena has also forged a partnership with the LuMind Research Down Syndrome Foundation to explore the possibilities of utilizing CRISPR technology to mitigate some of the genome-wide disruptions induced by Trisomy 21.
Dr. Mullen is a post-doctoral researcher in the Amon lab, studying the link between an imbalance in chromosome number and cancer. Individuals with down syndrome have an increased risk of developing blood cancers during early childhood and a decreased risk of developing solid tumors throughout their lives. Recent work from the Amon lab has shown that cells with an imbalanced chromosome number can be selectively targeted by the immune system. This finding is significant because most cancer cells are chromosomally imbalanced, and yet are able to evade immune detection. Dr. Mullen aims to understand how trisomy 21 cancer cells escape detection by the immune system. Identification of these mechanisms may lead to better treatments utilizing the immune system for blood cancer in DS. Mullen joins us from his PhD research at Northwestern University, where he studied chromosome dynamics during the process of egg cell generation.
Dr. Yang is a post-doctoral researcher in the Kellis lab, studying the neurodevelopmental features of Down syndrome and the variation in their severity. Some of these differences are attributed to unique changes of different cell types, rather than all the cells, within critical brain regions. However, these changes are unknown to date, due to technological limitations. Empowered by single-cell technologies and associated computational biology tools, Yang’s project, is investigating these changes at both the DNA and RNA levels. The potential cell-type specific changes will help us understand the mechanisms of Down syndrome and its varying degrees of severity. Such knowledge has the potential to unlock new therapeutic targets for individuals with Down syndrome and better their lives. Yang did her PhD and a postdoctoral project at University of Virginia, where she created computational strategies to study gene regulation in cancer, before joining MIT in 2019.
Ms. Liu has recently joined the Boyden lab as a PhD student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Her project in the Boyden lab will develop a new form of expansion microscopy (ExM), a recent invention from the Boyden lab, that pulls individual proteins apart from each other so they can be identified and imaged, with single-molecule precision. By using this new technology to analyze components of synapses in Down syndrome, Liu plans to explore how make a 3-D nanomap of proteins at synapses, so the architecture of synapses in Down syndrome can be specifically analyzed. Liu comes to MIT from a masters program at Tsinghua University in China.
Mr. Wang is a PhD student in Media Arts and Sciences in the Boyden lab. His research aims to map the activity of neural circuits that are different in Down syndrome by developeing and using novel microscopy techniques that offer great precision, both in space and time, over large volumes of brain circuitry. He hopes to record neural activity across volumes of brain sufficient to understand what happens during cognitive tasks in Down syndrome, as well as responses to interventions such as 40 Hz sensory stimulation and temporal interference (TI) stimulation, new methods that offer the potential of noninvasively improving brain function. The goal of the work is to eventually develop closed-loop stimulation protocols to address functional differences in Down syndrome.