OUR TEAM

Scientific Minds

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CHRIS MAKINSON, PHD

Assistant Professor

Educated at Wake Forest University and Emory University, Chris completed his postdoctoral training at Stanford University where he interrogated neural circuits in epilepsy using state-of-the-art genetic, electrophysiological, and optical methods. He joined the Institute for Genomic Medicine and Department of Neurology at Columbia in June of 2020. His lab uses rodent models and human brain organoids to understand disease mechanisms and explore avenues for personal/precision medicine. His goal is to increase our understanding of how neural networks give rise to normal and pathological conditions, with an emphasis on elucidating the genetic underpinnings of neurological diseases. In his spare time, he enjoys wrangling his toddlers.

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DAMIAN WILLIAMS, PHD

Associate Research Scientist

Damian began his research career at the University of Oxford where he obtained his doctorate studying how nicotinic receptors regulate neurotransmission in sympathetic nerves. Damian then moved to the US to carry out postdoctoral training at NIH and Columbia University. During this period, he investigated the mechanisms by which voltage gated calcium channels are regulated before moving into the neurological disease field studying ALS using iPSC-derived motor neurons. Following this, Damian led the Electrophysiology and Calcium Imaging Section of Columbia University Stem Cell Core. Damian joined the IGM in 2017 where he has characterised the excitability and synaptic changes in a number of epilepsy models. Damian is particularly interested in axon function in normal and diseased states. When not in the lab, Damian can be found on the squash court missing easy shots.

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JANE SIMKO, PHD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Jane studied at UC Berkeley for her undergraduate degree then pursued a masters and doctorate in Neuroscience at the University of Lausanne and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Her thesis under the direction of Prof. Henry Markram involved studying the morphology and functionality of local interneurons in the thalamus of mice using multiple patch clamp electrophysiology. She is now a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Makinson lab and is enjoying the sights and sounds of New York and takes ballet classes in her free time.

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CHRISTINE LIU

Graduate Student
Neurobiology & Behavior Ph.D. Program

Christine is a Ph.D. student in the Neurobiology and Behavior program at Columbia University. She completed her undergraduate studies in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University in 2021, while working in the labs of Dr. John Huguenard and Dr. Surya Ganguli on seizure prediction models with machine learning. After graduation, Christine worked as a technician for Dr. Makinson and Columbia’s Institute for Genomic Medicine, focusing on electrophysiology experiments and computational projects. Currently, she is going through her rotations as a first year student. Outside of lab, Christine likes exploring the city and finding good food.

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JACK WHITELEY

Graduate Student
Neurobiology & Behavior Ph.D. Program

Jack is a Ph.D. student in the Neurobiology and Behavior program at Columbia University. As an undergraduate student at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), he worked as a Lab Technician and Research Assistant in the Fred H. Gage lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies under Dr. Tomohisa Toda, Dr. Maria C. Marchetto, and Dr. Jeff Jones. Here, he used stem cell-based models to study neuropsychiatric risk loci and mouse models to better understand how transposable elements play a role in neurodevelopment. In the Makinson lab he will leverage stem cell-derived brain organoids to study genetic epilepsies. Outside of the lab, Jack is busy playing the piano, redecorating his apartment, expanding his Tom Ford fragrance collection, and maintaining his many plants.

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KYLE HELMS

Graduate Student
Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Studies

Kyle is a PhD student in the Integrated Program of Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Studies at Columbia. He’s coming directly from his undergraduate studies in Biology at New Mexico State University. As an undergraduate MARC Fellow under direction of Dr. Jennifer Curtiss, he used fruit flies as a model to study transcriptional regulation and protein interactions during development. Before coming to NYC, he spent a virtual summer at UCSF developing computational approaches to analyze archaeal replication under direction of Prof. Carol Gross. At Columbia, he is excited to bring his genetics and molecular biology background to the Makinson lab’s endeavor to study neurodevelopment in health and disease. Outside of lab, Kyle continues developing his cold brew coffee skills and practicing latin dance.

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BUSE ÖZEL

Research Staff Associate

Buse majored in Molecular Biology and Genetics at Middle East Technical University (METU) before completing a Masters degre in Cancer Biology at Bilkent University in Turkey. Buse studied early stages of human development under the supervision of Prof. Austin Smith at the University of Cambridge. While at Cambridge she investigated regulatory networks governing trophectoderm segregation in naive state embryonic stem cells. Buse is now a Staff Associate in the Makinson lab working on 3D-cell culture models of epilepsy derived from human pluripotent stem cells.

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CARYN MARTIN

Research Technician

Caryn graduated in 2021 from the University at Albany with a B.S. in Biology and a Minor in Neuroscience. During her undergraduate studies, she spent time working in Dr. Damian Shin’s lab at Albany Medical Center studying the viability of cells and neurons in adult parkinsonian rats. Caryn is now a Research Technician in the Makinson Lab managing administrative, molecular, surgical, and animal support for the lab. In her spare time, Caryn composes music, paints, and reads books of all different genres.

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AUSTIN REESE, PHD

Associate Research Scientist