Akbarian Lab

SCHAHRAM AKBARIAN, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Chief, Division of Psychiatric Epigenomics of the Friedman Brain Institute

Schahram Akbarian trained in medicine and neurophysiology at  the Freie Universitaet Berlin, Germany, and, as a postdoctoral associate, at the University of California at Irvine with Edward Jones and William E. Bunney Jr and at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research with Rudolf Jaenisch. He was trained in clinical psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. As the Mount Sinai Professor in Psychiatric Epigenomics, he oversees a research laboratory exploring the neurobiology and neurogenomics of normal and diseased cognition and behavior. When he is not in the lab, Schahram enjoys the outdoors, including swimming in the summer and trying to keep up with his kids’ skiing in the winter. 

JENNIFER BLAZE, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow
Sponsored by a NIMH F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship

Jennifer is characterizing the epitranscriptome in mammalian neurons and using genetic manipulations to elucidate the effects of altered RNA methylation on brain function and behavior.

Jennifer joined the Akbarian lab in 2016 and is co-mentored by Dr. Fatemeh Haghighi in the Department of Neuroscience. She received her B.A. from Rutgers University and Ph.D. from University of Delaware under the guidance of Dr. Tania Roth, studying the effects of early-life caregiver maltreatment on epigenetic regulation of the Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf) gene. Outside of the lab, Jennifer enjoys fitness and spending time with friends and family.

ELIZABETH LAMARCA
PhD Student
Sponsored by a NIMH F31 Predoctoral Fellowship

Liz is studying the role of RNA/DNA hybrids (R-loops) in neural transcriptional regulation, with a focus on genes involved in neuronal differentiation and synapse formation.  She is particularly interested in how aberrant R-loop formation can lead to improper neuronal development and ultimately contribute to neuropsychiatric illness.  

Liz joined the Akbarian lab in the summer of 2016 and is co-sponsored by Kristen Brennand, PhD. She received her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Columbia University in 2012 – there, she worked in a lab studying a glutamate / serotonin receptor complex putatively involved in hallucinogenic signaling and a target of antipsychotic drugs. After graduating, she worked in a behavioral neuroscience lab at Princeton University, where she studied the role of microglia in obesity-associated synapse degeneration and cognitive impairment. Outside of lab, Liz enjoys playing Chess, hiking, and going to music/comedy shows in NYC. 

SAM POWELL
MD/PhD Student
Medical Scientist Training Fellowship

Sam is in his third year of the MD/PhD program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.  Interested in Neuroscience and Psychiatry, he is studying cell-type specific chromatin dynamics using human iPSC-derived neurons and post mortem tissue.  He is particularly interested in how risk loci for psychotic diseases may disrupt chromatin dynamics in different neurotransmitter systems and how such disruptions may contribute to abnormal neuronal phenotypes.

He joined the lab in the summer of 2017 and is co-mentored by Kristen Brennand, PhD. When not in lab, Sam works as the Chief Teaching Senior for the Mental Health Clinic of the East Harlem Health Outreach Project, a student-run clinic for those without insurance.  He enjoys reading, exercising, jazz and classical music, and assorted fine teas.

AMARA PLAZA-JENNINGS
MD/PhD Student

Amara is studying HIV infection in the brain and the interaction between HIV viral genome integration and chromatin architecture.

Amara joined the lab in the summer of 2018. She is currently a 5th year MD/PhD student in the Neuroscience MTA at ISMMS. Amara received her B.A. in Molecular Biology and a certificate in Neuroscience with Honors from Princeton University in 2015. At Princeton she studied dynamic changes in dendrite morphology during development in Drosophila. After college she worked at the University of California, Berkeley studying the effects of metabolism on epigenetics. Outside of lab Amara is an avid baker who loves testing new recipes out on her friends and lab-mates.

BEHNAM (BEN) JAVIDFAR
Associate Researcher

Ben is a research tech who is unofficially known as the “mouse whisperer,” which just means he is able to scruff a mouse without being bit. He works with several members of the lab to optimize mouse models of psychiatric disease and study the epigenetic mechanisms that regulate mood and anxiety. 

Ben joined the lab in 2014 and holds a B.S. in Neurobiology and Sociology from Cornell University. Outside the lab, Ben enjoys skiing, tennis, and telling people about how much he enjoys skiing. He also enjoys watching awful movies, aimlessly staring out of windows, and making French press coffee.

BIBI KASSIM
Associate Researcher

Bibi is a research technician who works on various projects that focus on the epigenetic architecture of healthy and diseased brains. Bibi joined the lab in 2015 when she was fresh out of St. John’s University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology by her side. When she is not pounding out the hours in the laboratory, she spends her time playing tennis and cooking fabulous dishes with her friends.

MARINA ISKHAKOVA
Associate Researcher

Marina utilizes a series of biomolecular techniques contributing to a range of projects, that focus on delineating structural genomic disparities in healthy, drug addicted and neuropsychiatric diseased brains. 

Marina joined Akbarian Lab summer of 2016 as a JFEW scholar, after graduating from Hunter College with a B.A in Psychology and Studio Arts, minoring in Physical Anthropology. She is currently a Master’s student at the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies. During her free time, she is a SAVI patient advocate and an avid Responder for the American Red Cross. When she has time, she paints, reads, does photography and explores new landscapes. 

CALLAN O’SHEA
Associate Researcher

Callan is a research tech who works on characterizing cell-type specific epigenetic modifications in hiPSC-derived neurons and HIV infection in the brain. He joined the lab in 2019 after graduating with a B.S. in Integrative Neuroscience.

TOVA LAMBERT
Associate Researcher

Tova contributes to several research projects that aim to analyze differences in the genomes of healthy, psychiatric diseased, and drug addicted brains.

Tova joined the Akbarian lab in the beginning of 2020, after graduating from Yeshiva University with a B.A. in General Biology. She enjoys reading, drawing, and seeing Broadway musicals with friends and family.

ADITI VALADA
Associate Researcher

Aditi is a research tech who contributes to different research projects in the lab that focus on analyzing the genomic differences and mechanisms of healthy and diseased brains.

Aditi joined the lab in July 2020, after graduating with a B.S. from Cornell University in Computational Biology and a minor in Business. In her free time, Aditi loves to try new recipes (often unsuccessfully), spend time outdoors, and watch food and travel documentaries. 

CYRIL J. PETER, Ph.D
Associate Scientist

Cyril has a Ph.D in Biotechnology, graduated from National Center for Cell Science, Pune, India. He has a deep scientific expertise in methods of molecular biology, expressing & purifying proteins, identifying and characterizing protein complexes and cell-based assays. His primary role is to promote molecular aspects in our teams on-going research projects and contributes to the development of new projects. He also has his own project as well, focusing on chromatin regulatory roles of C11ORF46/ARL14EP, a poorly characterized gene located in a neurodevelopmental risk locus.

RECENT ALUMNI

Amanda C. Mitchell, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, 2011-2017. Current: Scientist II, Allen Institute, Seattle WA,

Tobias Halene, MD PhD, Instructor in Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, 2013-2019. Subsequent Position: Clinical Faculty, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, New York, NY.

Yan Jiang, PhD, Instructor in Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 2013-2017. Current Position: tenured Professor, Fudan University, Institute of Brain Science, , Shanghai China.

Marija Kundakovic, PhD, Instructor in Psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, 2014-2015. Current Position: Assistant Professor, Tenure Track, Department of Biology, Fordham University, New York, NY.

Bisrat Woldemichael, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate 2016-2018. Subsequent Position: International Business Consultant, McKinsey and Associates, New York, NY.

Lucy K. Bicks, PhD Graduate student in Neuroscience. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 2016-2020. Current Position: Postdoctoral Associate, Dr. Daniel Geschwind, Univ, University of California Los Angeles.

Prashanth Rajarajan, PhD thesis as part of the MDPhD Program Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 2016-2019. Subsequent Position: MD studies, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY.

Sandhya Chandrasekaran, PhD thesis as part of the MDPhD Program Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 2017-2020. Subsequent Position: MD studies, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY.