Claudia Spits Team

Genome integrity in human pluripotent cells

Alex Keller completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Oregon in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Human Physiology. In 2015 he obtained his master's degree in Molecular Biology at the VUB with distinction. He joined the team during his second year master's internship, where he worked on detecting, isolating and characterising residual undifferentiated stem cells. As part of the REGE team, he will continue his work with these cells in an effort to further expand upon our understanding of their origin, and the risk they pose to the eventual use of stem cells in the clinic.


Filippo Zambelli graduated in Molecular Biotechnology at the University of Bologna, in 2010, with a thesis on differentiation potential of mouse and human embryonic stem cells. In 2012 he earned a PhD scholarship from the University of Teramo - SISMeR Bologna and in 2014 he was a visiting student in our research group. In 2015, we established a joint PhD agreement between the two Universities. His main area of interest now is the study of mitochondrial DNA rearragments by massive parallel sequencing.


Christina Markouli studied Molecular Biology, Genetics and Biotechnology in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece) and graduated in 2011. In 2013 she obtained a master's degree in Genetics, Cell and Developmental Biology at the VUB. She joined our team in January 2014 after obtaining a highly competitive scholarship at the IWT. She investigates the effect of chromosomal abnormalities on the differentiation potential and malignant characteristics of human embryonic stem cells. In 2015 she obtained a FWO travelling grant to joint the laboratory of Prof. Andrews at the Sheffield University. There, and as part of her research project, she worked for six months on the differentiation capacity of human embryonic stem cells carrying a gain of 20q11.21.

Past members

Afroditi Mertzanidou studied Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece) and graduated in 2004. In 2006 she obtained a master's degree in Molecular Biology, Genetics and Biotechnology at the same university. In 2005-2007 She was research assistant at 'Biogenesis' IVF unit, Thessaloniki, Greece. She joined our team in October 2007 as a PhD student supported by the IWT. Her project focussed on investigating the levels of aneuploidy and mosaicism in high quality human preimplantation embryos on day-3 and day-4 of development by using single cell array-CGH. She defended her PhD thesis entitled "Chromosomal abnormalities in the human preimplantation development" on 29 April 2015. In 2012 she succeeded in a competition for permanent staff for the European Commission and since January 2013 she works for in the Directorate General for Competition in Brussels.


Anna Seriola Petit studied Biology at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain) and graduated in 2006. She did an internship at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University (New York) were she worked at the Embryology lab. In November 2007, she joined our team as a stem cell lab technician and to work for the European Union FP7 programme supported StemHD Project, on the study of the trinucleotide repeat instability in human embryonic stem cells. She started a joined PhD between the UAB and the VUB in 2008, focused on genetic and epigenetic instability of hESC and its impact on the translation to clinic. In the meantime, and since 2013, she worked as research assistant at the Center for Regenerative Medicine of Barcelona (CMRB, Spain) carrying out tasks for the European Human Pluripotent stem cell registry as well as doing research on human pluripotent stem cell differentiation into retinal pigmented epithelium and photoreceptors. Shortly after the defence of her joint PhD on 21 September 2015, she obtained a post-doctoral position in the same center.


Kurt Jacobs studied Biomedical Sciences at the VUB and graduated with great distinction in 2010. For his master thesis he studied beta cell neogenesis in the embryonic and adult pancreas. Following graduation, he started his PhD in our team. His project focussed on the genomic instability in human embryonic stem cells and human preimplantation embryos. He obtained his PhD on 8 January 2015 with the dissertation 'Genomic integrity of human embryonic stem cells: low-grade mosaicism and the effect of culture density'. Shortly after he joined the group of Prof. Lopes at the University of Zurich as a post-doctoral researcher.


Ha Nguyen obtained a bachelor's degree in Biotechnology from the Hanoi University of Science, Vietnam National University, Hanoi in 2006. In 2010, she obtained a master's degree from the Master Programme in Molecular Biology at the VUB. Shortly after, she joined our team as a PhD student. During her PhD, she focused on the genetic instability of human embryonic stem cells and its key driver genes. On 6 January 2015 she defended her PhD entitled 'Genetic instability in human embryonic stem cells: microsatellite instability and key driver genes of recurrent chromosomal abnormalities'. She currently holds a position as researcher and lecturer at Duy Tan University, Danang city, Vietnam.


Jayzon Bitacura obtained a bachelor's degree in biology from the Visayas State University in the Philippines as Magna Cum Laude and was awarded the Phi Delta Outstanding Undergraduate Thesis in 2010. In 2012, he completed an international summer school in biosphere science from Hiroshima University in Japan. Shortly after, he was awarded the highly competitive VLIR-UOS scholarship to participate in an interuniversity program in molecular biology leading to Master of Science in Molecular Biology in VUB. He joined our team of in 2013 to work on his master thesis entitled 'Optimization of experimental set-up for the study of selective advantage and differentiation capacity of chromosomally abnormal human embryonic stem cells'. Upon completion of his master, he started working as a researcher and an instructor at the Visayas State University, Visca, Baybay City, Leyte, Philippines.


Ivanna Williantarra obtained her bachelor's degree in Microbiology in 2011 at the Institut Teknologi Bandung (Indonesia). In 2011, she worked at the Institut Teknologi Bandung, Department of Microbiology, Aquaculture Research Group, promoted by Dr. Gede Suantika, for which she received the Program Hibah Strategis Nasional DIPA ITB Research Grant. In 2012, she was awarded an Erasmus Mundus Sholarship and joined the Interuniversity Program of Molecular Biology, of the VUB. She worked in our laboratory during the academic year 2013-2014 on her master thesis 'DNA Damage in hESC Cultured on Feeder-free Conditions: The Impact of Cell Density'. After returning to Indonesia, she became a Research Assistant at the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Science, Academia Sinica Taiwan Research, working on developing an imaging platform to identify morphological and molecular signatures of the reprogramming process in induced pluripotent stem cells.

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