Team Bios

Junli Gao, Ph.D.

When Dr. Gao was a doctoral student in the laboratory of Yongzhen Xu, Ph.D., at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, she became interested in neurodegeneration. During her doctoral research, she discovered a novel mechanism of trans-splicing, a cellular process that can be used as gene therapy for a motor neuron disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

While completing her doctorate, Dr. Gao learned about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), another motor neuron disease, from the Ice Bucket Challenge on social media. Unlike SMA, ALS is incurable and kills thousands. So, after deciding to switch her postdoctoral research focus to ALS, she joined the Zhang lab. Currently, Dr. Gao is using human cell lines, iPSC-derived neurons, and Drosophila to study the disease mechanism. She aims to identify therapeutic targets for ALS and contribute to the global effort to cure this devastating disease.

Sahana Talanjeri Gopalakrishna (TG), Ph.D.

Dr. TG has always been fascinated by the chemistry of life since she was an undergraduate biochemistry student. She is eager to learn how biological reactions are coordinated to make functional tissues and organs. During her doctoral training, she used marine bacterial polysaccharides to heal skin wounds and studied the mechanism in cell and animal models.

Dr. TG became interested in neurobiology when her family members were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, two devastating neurodegenerative conditions. This sad experience prompted her to pursue a research career in neurodegeneration. She joined the Zhang lab to study neurodegenerative diseases as part of her postdoctoral training. Currently, she is using multiple model systems, including Drosophila and iPSC-derived neurons, to study the molecular mechanism of ALS and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) as well as other neurodegenerative diseases. Her goal is to understand the fundamental biology underlying neurodegeneration and to identify ways to cure, treat or manage neurodegenerative diseases.