MEET THE TEAM
Christopher Donnelly, Ph.D. ~ Principal Investigator
Chris is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Scientific Director of the LiveLikeLou Center for ALS Research in the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. Originally from Philadelphia, PA, Chris completed his B.S. in Biosciences at Drexel University in 2005 and received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Delaware in 2011 under the advisement of Dr. Jeffery Twiss, M.D., Ph.D. Chris’ graduate work focused on understanding the consequence of mRNA localization and axonal translation during adult nerve regeneration. Chris completed his postdoctoral work with Dr. Jeffrey Rothstein, M.D., Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in 2015 where he studied ALS/FTD using induced pluripotent stem cell neurons from patients and published one of the first studies to test antisense oligonucleotide therapeutics in C9orf72 ALS/FTD (currently in clinical trials) and identified nucleocytoplasmic transport dysfunction in ALS/FTD. Chris moved to University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2015 and opened his lab in the LiveLikeLou Center for ALS Research.
Particularly enjoyable aspects of the Donnelly Lab:
Working directly with patients to develop at the University of Pittsburgh ALS-MDA clinic
Annual holiday party and award ceremony
Amanda Gleixner, Ph.D. ~ Postdoctoral Associate
Amanda Gleixner grew up in Butler, Pennsylvania before attending Saint Vincent College. During her undergraduate studies, Amanda received her degree in Biochemistry and discovered her passion for research in the biomedical sciences. She then went on to obtain her Ph.D. in Pharmacology at Duquesne University under the guidance of Dr. Rehana Leak. Her dissertation work focused on examining the adaptation of astrocytes to cellular stressors observed in neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Amanda then joined the Donnelly Lab in 2015. Within her first year, she was generously awarded the Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship through the ALS Association. This fellowship has supported her studies on C9ORF72 ALS nucleocytoplasmic transport deficits. Specifically, this project examines how the nuclear pore complex is altered in ALS and the associated cellular consequences.
Amanda enjoys the friendly Donnelly lab environment that encourages creativity and productivity through the collaborative efforts amongst lab-mates. She also enjoys mentoring the next generation of scientists and seeks to share her enjoyment for research with them.
Joseph-Patrick William Edward Clarke, Ph.D. ~ Postdoctoral Associate
Joseph grew up in Newfoundland, Canada. He graduated from Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland with a Ph.D. in Medicine in the Spring of 2016. Joe joined the Donnelly Lab as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Fall of 2016 and was awarded an AFTD Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Summer of 2017. Joe specializes in microscopy, data analysis, and molecular biological techniques. His primary research focus is Medicine – Neuroscience. The current focused project includes understanding the mechanisms of stress granule dynamics to discern their role in neurological disease, with an emphasis on their role in ALS.
Gratifying aspects of the Donnelly Lab:
The ability to utilize innovative technology and techniques to further understand fundamental biological processes.
Working with an incredible group of scientists.
Aiding in the mentorship of undergraduate and graduate students
Jocelyn Mauna (Joss) ~ Research Assistant, Floor Manager
Joss is originally from Santiago, Chile. In 2002 she graduated from the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile with a BS in Biology. As an undergrad, she discovered her interest in Neuroscience and wrote her thesis on the effect of St John's worth extracts on a rat model of b-amyloid hippocampal toxicity. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2005 and worked as a Research Specialist at the Department of Neurobiology, switching her focus from neurodegeneration to studying the neurophysiological substrates of learning and memory. In 2010 she joined the Center for Neuroscience from the University of Pittsburgh where she received an MS in Neuroscience. Her thesis work aimed to study the effects of amphetamine exposure on the strength of reward-associated cues and the signaling pathways involved.
She joined the Donnelly lab in July 2018, where she works with differentiated ReN cells, fibroblasts and HEK293 cell lines. She is also part of several clinical collaborations, including the GTAC study between UPMC and Cedars-Sinai and other studies linked to UPMC and the Center for ALS Research.
Joss also enjoys sciencey (and non-sciencey) discussions with her labmates, sharing chocolates, and coffee.
Jake Mann ~ CNUP Ph.D. Student
Jake grew up in Naperville, Illinois before attending Lafayette College where he graduated 2014 with a BS. Jake worked as a Research Technician at The University of Chicago (Roth Lab) from 2014-2015. He is currently completing the Graduate Training Program at the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh (CNUP). Jake joined the Donnelly Lab in January 2016, and his primary focus is on aberrant phase transitions of RNA-binding proteins in neurodegenerative disease and the development of optogenetic tools to discover novel modulators of protein aggregation.
Jake also enjoys RNA processing and stability, nuclear pore biology, local translation, and axonal transport, phase behavior of proteins/RNA in health and disease, membraneless organelle function/regulation.
Particularly enjoyable aspects of the Donnelly Lab: The close relationship with the LiveLikeLou Foundation, the Brain Bank at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute and the ALS clinic here at UPMC that allow for unparalleled opportunities to bridge the gap between patients, clinicians, pathologists, and basic research.
Charlton Otte (Charlie) ~ Physician Scientist Training Program
Charlie is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Swarthmore College in 2013. He worked as a lab technician for several years at Penn and Jefferson before joining the Donnelly lab in fall 2016. Charlie is currently working on developing an optogenetically-inducible model of TDP-43 proteinopathy in Drosophila as part of a collaboration between Donnelly and Dr. Udai Pandey.
Particularly enjoyable aspects of the Donnelly Lab: I really like the lab rat lifestyle, all of my labmates are great people who I enjoy being around, and Chris is an awesome boss. Philosophically: studying neurodegenerative disease is a fascinating, creatively fulfilling endeavor. Unlike a lot of other biological processes (eg cancer), it is hard to directly measure what is happening at a molecular level in the human nervous system that can lead to conditions like ALS or FTD. To learn about these diseases, we rely on human genetics, patient pathology, clinical presentation, and model systems to try and paint an impression of what might be happening in disease, and ideally, how to intervene in this process from a therapeutic angle. I think this is a very exciting time to study neurodegeneration.
On the side, I'm trying to develop a method to sensitize cancer cells to heat stress and survive medical school.
Noah Pyles ~ Physician Scientist Training Program
Noah graduated from Bowdoin College with a BA in Philosophy in 2009. He joined the Donnelly lab in the summer of 2017 before starting the Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP) at the University of Pittsburgh.
Empowered by Jacob R. Mann’s OptoTDP43 platform, Noah project entails characterizing changes to the splicing profile of neurons during induction of OptoTDP43, and after treatment with a therapeutic modifier of aggregation. The goal is to deploy this therapeutic – a modified oligonucleotide that targets cytoplasmic TDP43 aggregates thus preventing cytoplasmic sequestration of the protein – and prevent pathological changes in the splicing profile of neurons.
Particularly enjoyable aspects of the Donnelly Lab: is a unique community founded on enthusiasm, encouragement and the sharing of ideas. It would be challenging to find a more collaborative and productive environment, and I am thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow from such good friends and colleagues.
William Tennant (Bill) ~ Cellular and Molecular Pathology
Bill is a second-year graduate student in the Cellular and Molecular Pathology program here at the University of Pittsburgh. He is originally from Rochester, New York and graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Neuroscience. Bill joined the Donnelly lab back in July of 2018 and is working towards developing novel screening techniques using a light-inducible inclusion proteinopathy model for proteins associated with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). The goal is to use this system to identify novel pathways that mediate the neurotoxicity seen in ALS that will hopefully lead to the development of more effective therapeutics.
Particularly enjoyable aspects of the Donnelly Lab: It is great to have a mentor as fantastic as Chris and to have teammates that so freely offer wisdom and guidance.
Outside of the Donnelly lab, Bill pursues his interest in teaching as a small group leader for first-year medical students and also explore career options by managing consulting projects for a student-run consulting group called Fourth River Solutions.
I am excited to see what other opportunities the Donnelly lab and the expansive Pittsburgh community offer!
Katie Copley ~ Research Technician
Katie is originally from Memphis, TN and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in neuroscience in 2018. She joined the Donnelly lab as an undergraduate student in 2016. After graduating, Katie decided to continue her work in the lab as a research technician.
Katie is interested in learning more about nuclear transport deficits in C9ORF72 ALS and utilizes various biochemical techniques and cellular models, including iPSC-derived neurons, to study this topic.
Michael R. DeChellis Marks ~ Research Specialist (Jan 2016 - May 2018)
During his time in the lab, Michael acted as a research specialist and laboratory manager. He was responsible for designing and constructing bacterial plasmids as well as performing RNA-FISH, confocal and epifluorescent microscopy, cell culture maintenance, and various biochemical assays.
Michael is attending the University of Pittsburgh as a pre-doctoral fellow in the Center for Neuroscience (CNUP) and is expected to graduate 2025.
Ailse Luce ~ Undergraduate Research Assistant (Jan 2016 - May 2018)
Alise graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Neuroscience. While in the Donnelly Lab worked on the maintenance and differentiation of induced pluripotent stem cells, derivation of iPSC lines from fibroblasts, and the nuclear pore complex.
Alise is now working for UPMC as a Nursing Assistant.