Schuele Lab

Birgitt Schuele , MD
Associate Professor, Program Director of Gene Discovery and Stem Cell Modeling

Dr. Schuele is an Associate Professor and Director of Gene Discovery and Stem Cell Modeling at the Parkinson’s Institute. 

Dr. Schuele heads the neurogenetics program, which includes clinical genetic studies of families and sporadic cases with parkinsonism. These patient-derived DNA and tissue samples are the core and basis for gene discovery, functional phenotype analysis, and biomarker studies.

Since 2008, she has built a stem cell program developing novel “disease in-a-dish” models of Parkinson’s disease using patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells. Stem cell-derived neurons are representing a new human cellular model for studying disease mechanisms, the effects of environmental toxicants, and for developing new strategies of innovative drug discovery. 

Current Interests: Neurodegenerative and movement disorders (Parkinson’s disease, parkinsonism, dystonia), neurogenetics, genetics, transcriptional regulation, epigenetics, imprinting, nuclear reprogramming, induced pluripotent stem cells, stem cell pathology, aging, mitochondrial bioenergetics

Personal Research Goals: I would like to make a difference in the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease. I won’t give up working towards the causes of and better treatments for Parkinson’s disease

Education 2001 MD, Medical University Luebeck, Germany
2001 Dr. med. Medical University Goettingen, Germany
Curriculum Vitae

Fun Facts: Always look on the bright side of life, although sometimes it is in the shadows! I am training to run 26.2 miles this year.

Adrian Flierl, PhD
Staff Scientist

Dr. Flierl earned his PhD in Cell Biology and MS in Neurogenetics from the University of Würzburg, Germany. He is currently working on neuronal stem-cell models representative for both genetic and unknown forms of the disease.  His work focuses on biological pathways in neuronal stem cells that are essential for the development and maintenance of healthy adult neurons. In context of the disease, he specifically studies the role of genetic predisposition or factors of unknown etiology on neuronal cell growth, differentiation, aging and degeneration.

Prior to his research at the Parkinson’s Institute, he worked on the regulation of metabolism and bioenergetics in adult stem cell models of cardiovascular disease and on the development of systemic viral and non-viral gene therapy treatment strategies.

Current Interests: Molecular, cell and systems biology of neuronal development and degeneration, in vitro diagnostics, identification of novel drug targets, gene therapy

Personal Research Goals: Discover and investigate new pathways and mechanisms that will allow for earlier and more specific diagnosis of the disease, therefore improving the possibilities to halt or reverse Parkinson’s disease progression.

Education PhD in Cell Biology, University of Würzburg, Germany
MS in Neurogenetics, University of Würzburg, Germany

Fun Facts: I believe in the power of chocolate.

Jessica Westfall
Research Assistant III

Jessica is a Research Assistant III with a MA in Biological Science from San Jose State University. She is currently working on the LRRK2 gene, focusing on gene correction and characteristic of the G2019S mutation. In addition, she is studying DNA damage in LRRK2. Prior to joining she worked at NASA Ames Research Center in the exobiology department developing biosensors.

Current Interests: Zinc Finger Nucleases, Talen, hiPSCs, LRRK2 mutation, dopaminergic differentiation, neuronal stem cells 

Personal Research Goals: To understand disease progression and the leading mechanisms in order to develop tools that can halt and alleviate diseases on a clinical level.

Education MA Biological Science, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
BA Molecular, Cellular, Development Biology; Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA

Fun Facts: I am an urban farmer with a variety of herbs, fruit trees, vegetables, quails, and chickens. Cooking fresh whole food is one of my love; so much that I blog about it.

Lauren Pijanowski
Research Assistant II

Lauren is a Research Assistant II that earned her Master in Biotechnology from San Jose State University. She is currently working on deriving patient specific induced pluripotent stem cells from fibroblasts and working on the LRRK2 G2019S gene editing project focusing on correction and characterization of this mutation.

Current Interests: Induced pluripotent stem cells, neuronal differentiation, LRRK2 mutation, immunocytochemistry, fluorescence microscopy, sporadic Parkinson’s disease.

Personal Research Goals: To help develop a more personalized approach to research.

Education Master of Biotechnology (MBT), San Jose State University
BS in Forensic Science concentration in Biology, San Jose State University

Fun Facts: I am a very inquiring individual and enjoy experiencing new things. In my free time I like to read, cook, bake, hike, and enjoy the company of my wonderful friends and family.

Leila Altukhaim

Leila is a San Jose State SCILL intern.

Education Master of Biotechnology (MBT), San Jose State University (EDG 2015) 


Allen Kim

Allen is one of the CIRM-funded program Stem Cell Internships in Laboratory-based Learning (SCILL) student.  He is currently developing a strategy to knockdown the SNCA gene using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing system.

Current Interests: Genome engineering, gene therapy, personalized medicine, regenerative medicine, iPSC generation, in vitro disease modeling

Personal Research Goals: To apply genome engineering tools in developing potential therapies for the Parkinson’s disease.

Education Master of Biotechnology (MBT), San Jose State University (EDG 2015)
  BS in Biochemistry and Biology, Santa Clara University

Fun Facts: I’m a tech geek, and I like to eat.

Faria Zafar
Research Assistant II

Faria is a Research Assistant II that earned her Master in Molecular Biology from San Jose State University. She is currently working on generating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from patient-specific fibroblasts.

Current Interests: Generation of dopaminergic neurons and oligodendrocytes to study disease mechanisms

Personal Research Goals: To develop more relevant and predictive drug screening and toxicology studies for clinical trail in Parkinson’s disease.

Education MA in Molecular Biology, San Jose State University,(EDG 2014)
  BS in Molecular & Cell Biology. University of California, Berkeley

Fun Facts: My passion is cooking and reading books.

Catherine Hardy
Research Assistant I

Catherine is a Research Assistant I who earned her BS in Molecular a Environmental Biology from University of California at Berkeley. She is focusing on finding potential Parkinson's Disease (PD) biomarkers, as well as investigating environmental factors that can either protect people or put them at risk for PD.

Current Interests: LRRK2, PD biomarkers, mutation screening in PD

Personal Research Goals: To progress the medical field and understanding of Parkinson’s Disease in order to find better therapeutice approaches.

Education BS in Molecular & Environmental Biology, University of California, Berkeley

Fun Facts: I can speak backwards!

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