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Liao Lab

Eric C. Liao, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Eric C. Liao is a surgeon-scientist focused on translating fundamental discoveries to clinical impact. Dr. Liao is the Founding Director of the Center of Craniofacial Innovation at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His vision of the Center is to leverage convergent advances in fetal care, human genetics, developmental biology and cell/gene therapy to initiate first-in-child clinical trials and treatments.  Dr. Liao is active in recruiting faculty, developing collaborations, and mentoring trainees to achieve this goal. As a surgeon, Dr. Liao cares for patients born with orofacial clefts and complex craniofacial conditions.  Dr. Liao leads the Department of Surgery as the Vice Chair of Academic Affairs, where he is dedicated to nurturing trainees and faculty toward impactful academic careers. As a bridge builder, Dr. Liao also leads as an advisor on the CHOP Research Institute Chief Scientific Officer leadership team. Dr. Liao is committed to nurturing a diverse workforce that represents and serves CHOP and the Philadelphia community.

“As a surgeon it is incredibly humbling and rewarding to restore form and function to patients born with cleft lip and palate anomalies.  With research, we hope our discoveries will lay the foundation for advances that will impact patients everywhere."

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Blanca Carpio

Executive Secretary

Blanca Carpio is an Executive Secretary with over twenty years of experience.  She is responsible for Dr. Liao’s academic, clinical and surgical calendar.  She specializes in administrative technology and organizational applications. Blanca is inspired daily by her family.  In her free time, Blanca likes to listen to music, enjoys pizza and movie nights, travel, and time with family.

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Shannon Carroll, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist

Shannon earned her B.S. and M.S. from the University of Arizona where she studied frog ecology and skeletal muscle homeostasis, respectively. She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Boston University School of Medicine under the supervision of Dr. Katya Ravid. Her dissertation focused on bone fracture repair and osteoblast differentiation. After working with Dr. Rich Lee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard University on thermogenesis and glucose homeostasis in several knockout mouse models she joined Dr. Eric Liao’s lab to study development and stem cell specification. Her current projects intersect mouse and zebrafish models to elucidate the mechanism of craniofacial morphogenesis and to investigate the role of known and newly identified facial cleft-associated gene variants.

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Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Ching Hsun earned his Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Liao lab investigating the mechanisms controlling cell fate specification in development and diseases caused by gene misregulation, intending to identify novel treatments for patients with craniofacial disorders.

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Brandi Golden, M.D.

Craniofacial Surgeon-Scientist Training Program Fellow

Dr. Brandi Golden is the inaugural Craniofacial Surgeon-Scientist Training Program fellow.  Dr. Golden is a general surgery resident with aspirations to become an academic pediatric plastic surgeon. She is drawn to the field of surgery due to its highly rewarding and technical work that can significantly impact a patient’s life. Dr. Golden is a graduate of University of California Los Angeles (BS in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology with a Minor in Public Health) and the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (MD). She is currently in general surgery residency at Main Line Health outside Philadelphia. She joined Dr. Eric Liao’s lab to pursue an interest in craniofacial development and subsequent anomalies when that process goes awry. Her current projects include researching epithelial – mesenchymal transition, pathogenesis of fibrous dysplasia, and developing novel treatments for craniofacial anomalies. In her spare time, Brandi likes to travel, ski, and explore with her dog. Additionally, she loves supporting her sports teams, which include the UCLA Bruins, SF, Giants, Golden State Warriors, and SF 49ers.

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Emily Yu, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Emily earned her MSc. from the University of Toronto and a PhD. from the University of Ottawa, both using zebrafish as a model for developmental biology. She is fascinated by neural crest cells and is particularly interested in the processes governing their migration, differentiation and communication amongst neighboring cell types. She joined the Liao lab to pursue these interests, in addition to learning additional model systems.  Outside the lab, Emily loves spending time with her partner and two cats, crocheting, reading or playing video games

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Shantae Lacey

Laboratory Technician

Shantae is a Philadelphia native and a West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and Wistar Institute Biomedical Technician Training program graduate. Besides contributing to the research efforts in the lab and gaining new knowledge and skills, Shantae enjoys spending time with her three children, reading, and all summer activities.

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Helen Molteni, PSOM MS1

Researcher

Helen Molteni is a first year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine. She earned her B.A. in Biochemistry from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. During her undergraduate education, Helen worked in the Atit Laboratory studying mechanisms of osteoblast migration in the developing frontal bone. Helen joined the Liao laboratory to pursue her interest in craniofacial development, as she aims to become a pediatric plastic surgeon. In her free time, Helen enjoys watching basketball, cooking Italian food, and exploring Philadelphia.

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Peter Tran, Ph.D.

Grants and Scientific Writer

Peter earned his Ph.D in Chemical and Biological Engineering from Northwestern University, studying metabolic dynamics in bacterial biofilms. He is passionate about science communication and illustration in order to make science accessible for all. He joined the Liao lab as a scientific writer to help translate science from the bench into the clinic.  Outside the lab, Peter enjoys running, board games, and watching competitive cooking shows with his partner and cat.

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Lisa Tsay

Lab Manager

Originally from Miami, Lisa earned her B.S. in biology from Suffolk University with focus on developmental biology and cell culturing techniques. She previously worked at Boston Biomedical Inc. as an animal husbandry technician supporting pharmaceutical oncology research and later joined MGH/MEEI to study head and neck cancer models of disease. Since joining Dr. Liao’s lab in MGH’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, Lisa has directly worked on experiments involving her undergraduate research interests and plans to complete a master’s thesis focusing on characterization of the ALX1 gene pathway using zebrafish and iPSC models. She is the current lab manager at Dr. Liao's lab within the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Outside of work, Lisa enjoys cooking and volunteers at local food charities and entertainment conventions such as Anime Expo and PAX East.

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Will Towler, Ph.D.

Research Associate Scientist

Dr. Will Towler is a developmental biologist specialized in morphogen signaling pathways and skeletal development. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Furman University in South Carolina and his Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania studying the skeletal phenotype of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP). His academic interests lie in dissecting the gene networks that influence morphology during organ development and how this applies to tissue regeneration. He joined the Liao lab in October 2022 to elucidate mechanisms guiding craniofacial asymmetry, as in hemifacial microsomia, with the goal to apply gene therapy solutions to craniofacial research. Outside of lab, he is also a volunteer research consultant for the Freedom of Form Foundation. His hobbies are those of a nineties nerd, meaning tabletop roleplaying games, martial arts, videogames, and fantasy novels.

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Caroline Caetano Da Silva, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Caroline is currently a post-doc at Dr. Eric Liao’s lab, to study the genetics of craniofacial malformation using zebrafish as an animal model. She completed her Ph.D. in September 2022 at University Paris Cité, in France, where she studied the genetics of early-onset osteoporosis using cell lines and zebrafish. She earned her B.S. in biology/biotechnology from University of São Paulo State (UNESP), and her M.S. in genetics/endocrinology from University of São Paulo Medical School (FMUSP) in Brazil. Her studies involved gene characterization in congenital hypopituitarism. In her spare time, she likes to travel, discover new restaurants/foods, museums, languages, different cultures and outdoor sports.

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Sogand Schafer, M.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

​Originally from northern Germany, Sogand always had a dream to advocate for equal opportunities and access to medicine. Motivated by this principle, she spent several months as a medical volunteer in Uganda, West Africa, where she experienced the suffering of children with cleft lip and palate firsthand.  During her time as a medical student, she devoted herself to researching craniofacial bone and tissue regeneration. Fascinated by the dynamics between form and function of the human face, she graduated in November 2022 from University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Hamburg, Germany, and joined the Liao Lab as a post-doctoral researcher.   Her research at the Liao Lab centers on studying the genetic causes of craniofacial anomalies as part of her pursuit of a Ph.D.  In her free time, Sogand enjoys playing tennis and yoga classes, as well as philosophical books and talks.

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Scott K. Tucker, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Scott is a postdoctoral researcher in the Liao lab, where he investigates the molecular mechanisms underlying craniofacial development. His current work focuses on identifying and characterizing genes critical for craniofacial morphogenesis, with the ultimate goal of developing gene therapies for craniofacial birth defects. Scott began studying craniofacial development as part of his PhD research under the mentorship of Dr. Johann Eberhart at the University of Texas at Austin. There, Scott investigated gene-environment interactions in the neural crest, focusing on the role of mTOR pathway genes in ethanol teratogenesis. Scott obtained an MSc from The Technion, where he studied the kinetics and thermodynamics of p53/DNA interactions in Dr. Tali Haran's lab. As an undergraduate, he explored the role of neurotrophic factors in neuromuscular junctions under Dr. John Spitsbergen. Outside of the lab, Scott enjoys games, concerts, coffee, and beaches.

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Ariella Richman

Laboratory Technician

Ariella graduated from the University of Michigan in 2023 with a B.S. in Evolutionary Anthropology, specifically interested in human and non-human primate genetics. She got her first taste of working with zebrafish when she was a high school intern at the Duke Center for Human Disease Modeling, and was inspired to work in the Liao lab after seeing how far the science has advanced since then. While at Michigan, she worked in two different anthropology labs, studying bone development and primate social behavior. Outside of the lab, Ariella enjoys exploring Philly with her dog, outdoor festivals, and watching the Eagles.

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Jason Yin, MS1

Researcher

Jason is a  medical student at Cooper Medical School. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from Johns Hopkins University where he studied drug carriers and soft tissue engineering. His academic interests include genetic engineering, regenerative medicine, wound healing, and reconstructive microsurgery. He joined the Liao Lab in November 2023 to help further the understanding of the genetic mechanisms behind craniosynostosis with the goal of developing effective therapies for the group of disorders. Outside of lab, Jason enjoys watching movies, reading, exercising, playing video games, and learning new skills.

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Eileen L. Dalessandro

Eileen began her career in research after graduating from Suffolk University with a B.S. in 2016. She developed a passion for animal husbandry while working as a Research Animal Specialist II at MGH. Eileen was certified as a RLATG via AALAS while performing colony management at HSPH in 2020. In 2021, Eileen continued her education with a Master of Science in Histotechnology from Drexel University. Shortly after graduating in August 2022, Eileen became a certified HTL via the ASCP. She worked as a Lab Tech IV in Dr. Eric Liao’s lab and is now starting her PhD studies at Temple University. Outside of the lab, she enjoys running and reading fiction in her spare time.

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Janina Kueper, M.D.

Janina is currently a M.D./Ph.D. student with a focus on molecular genetics and developmental biology. She is the recipient of a Shriners Hospital for Children Fellowship and leads the lab's work on patient-derived stem cell models of congenital craniofacial disorders. Her basic science aside, she has an interest in patient-reported outcomes research, physical identity, and medical anthropology. In her free time, Janina enjoys spending time underwater, and everything Jazz. Janina realized her goal of training in plastic surgery, matching in the University of Pittsburgh Integrated Plastic Surgery Residency.

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Nikita Myers

Nikita received her B.S. in Biology from Salem State University in 2019. Throughout her undergraduate research, she focused on marine biology and zebrafish. Nikita’s experience was shown through her work at the New England Aquarium Aquatics Medical Center and at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she helped maintain the zebrafish facility. Following her bachelors degree, Nikita had joined the Liao lab and currently works with Dr. Shannon Carroll to study zebrafish and mice as animal models for clef lip and palate. In the future, Nikita plans to pursue a job in nursing, more specifically in the maternity ward. In her spare time, Nikita loves baking, watching Disney movies, and spending time with her family. Nikita developed an interest in clinical medicine and graduated from the lab to attend nursing school and is working towards becoming a registered nurse.

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Jason E. Mitchell, M.D.

Jason graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2018 and completed 3 years of General Surgery Residency at MGH. He joined the Liao lab in 2021 to study developmental biology and the mechanisms of craniofacial dysgenesis. He plans to return to General Surgery to complete residency and pursue a fellowship in Pediatric Surgery upon completion of his time in the lab. Prior to medical school he served for several years as a Marine Corps Captain, and was a CH-53E helicopter pilot, with 4 combat tours in the Middle East and Central Asia. His interests include developmental biology, exercise, diving, motorcycles, mountain climbing, cooking, and botany. Jason plans to match in Cardiac Surgery and save lives.

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Nathan R. Wilson, Ph.D.

Nathan earned his Ph.D. in Cell Biology from the University of Kansas Medical Center, in 2017, under the supervision of Dr. Irfan Saadi. His thesis work was focused on determining the cellular and developmental functions of a microtubule organizing protein, SPECC1L, which implicated it in both syndromic and nonsyndromic orofacial clefting. In 2018, he joined the lab of Dr. Eric Liao as a postdoctoral fellow. His current research has two foci involving the roles of RNA-binding proteins in craniofacial development. His primary project focuses upon investigating the role played by an alternative splicing protein, Esrp1, in a mouse model of cleft palate. His secondary project is dedicated to determining the functions of microRNAs in secondary palate fusion.

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Pan Yeung, Ph.D.

Pan received his Ph.D. in Tissue Engineering from The University of Hong Kong in 2018 under the supervision of Professor Barbara Chan. His graduate research focused on the production of engineered cartilage from human MSCs and its applications in osteoarthritis patients. Since joining Dr. Liao’s team in 2019, he has worked on the ‘Developmental Genome Anatomy Project’ which studies the genetic basis of human birth defects and the underlying molecular basis of development. Pan graduated from the lab to enter industry in biomedical research.

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Claudio Macias-Treviño, Ph.D.

Claudio Macias Treviño is currently an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Health Sciences and Technology (HST) program at Harvard Medical School. He graduated with a dual major B.S. in Biology and Mathematics from the University of Texas at San Antonio. During medical school, Claudio worked with Dr. Richard Lee studying heart regeneration and metabolism in mouse models of aging and spent a year in Dr. Daniel Bauer's lab utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to study the fetal-adult hemoglobin switch mechanisms and its potential for therapeutic applications in sickle cell anemia and β-thalassemia. Claudio's project involves studying the transcriptional factor irf6 and the epithelial splicing regulators esrp1 and esrp2 and how they contribute to craniofacial development and palate morphogenesis in mouse and zebrafish models. Claudio defended his Ph.D. successfully in 2022 and returned to complete MSTP training at Harvard Medical School.

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Kenta C. Kawasaki

Kenta earned his B.S. in Biology and M.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology at UMass Amherst. While at UMass Amherst, he performed both undergraduate and graduate research in Dr. Craig Albertson’s lab, with his Master’s thesis focused on cichlid scale development and morphology. After graduating, Kenta went on to join Dr. Shannon Fisher’s lab at Boston University School of Medicine, where he studied cranioskeletal development in zebrafish. Transitioning to Dr. Eric Liao’s lab, he is now studying irf6 downstream targets and what role they play in craniofacial development in zebrafish. In his spare time, Kenta likes to cook, go to the gym. Kenta is currently a DDS student at Tufts School of Dental Medicine, Boston.

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Marie H. Bargiela, M.D.

Marie grew up in Hamburg, Germany. Following high school, she volunteered on a health care program in India where she worked closely with children with cleft lips and palates who were left untreated due to a lack of financial resources. This experience encouraged her wish to become a surgeon-scientist in the field of plastic surgery and to improve treatment for patients affected by this group of malformations. She subsequently earned her medical degree at the Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria followed by two years of medical training at Charité in Berlin, Germany. Since February 2020 she has been focusing her efforts on a Ph.D. at the Liao lab that investigates the underlying genetic pathways leading to cleft lip and/or palate development. ​ ​

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Casey Tsimbal

As an undergraduate student, Casey worked under the supervision of Dr. Celeste Peterson, an Associate Professor of Biology at Suffolk University, to study ClpXP-mediated protein degradation in Escherichia coli. He received his B.S. in Biology/Biotechnology in 2019 and joined the lab later that year with Dr. Eric Liao as his mentor. ​ In 2023, he joined a Ph.D. program at the Northeastern University to continue his education. He is also the creator of this website.

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Nora Alhazmi, D.M.D.

Nora Alhazmi completed her dental education in 2012 at King Saud University College of Dentistry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, followed by orthodontic training and Master’s certificate in 2017 at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston, MA. She is board certified in orthodontics. Dr. Alhazmi’s thesis dissertation is “Requirement of Wnt Modulator R-spondin3 in Craniofacial Morphogenesis and Dental Development”. This study highlights the evolutionarily conserved functions of Rspo3 in osteogenesis and morphogenesis of dentocranial structures in zebrafish and mouse models. Dr. Alhazmi’s complementary research “Salivary Alkaline Phosphatase Activity and Chronological Age as Indicators for Skeletal Maturity” was published in The Angle’s Orthodontist journal in 2019. After graduation, she has an academic position at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for health sciences in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

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