The Corneal Biology Laboratory is staffed by postdoctoral researchers, students and volunteers. Laboratory researchers originate from different parts of the world and represent both vision-specific and general cell biological disciplines. Their diverse backgrounds bring a broad scope of knowledge, perspectives, and methods to the laboratory’s research activities.
Sheyla Gonzalez, PhD
Assistant Project Scientist
I received my bachelor’s degree in Cell Biology and Genetics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain) in 2006. I was then granted with a fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Education to study the molecular regulation of the degradation of substrates by the proteasome under the supervision of Dr. Bernat Crosas at the IBMB-CSIC (Spain). In 2007, I was accepted in the Cell Biology Ph.D. program at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain). I spent the first two years investigating the differential potential of mouse embryonic stem cell lines (ESC) established from isolated blastomeres at different embryonic stages. After receiving my Masters’ degree in 2008, I continued to investigate deeper into the molecular mechanism of the regulation of stemness in vitro, by studying the effects of E-cadherin signaling in the derivation of mouse ESC lines. Having developed a background in stem cell biology, in 2011, I joined Dr. Sophie Deng’s Laboratory. As a Postdoctoral Scholar, I have been investigating the role of Notch signaling in the regulation of human corneal epithelial stem cells (LSCs). In 2016, I transitioned into the role of Assistant Project Scientist at the Stein Eye Institute, where I bridge my basic research project with the management of the clinical project about the corneal surface regeneration by using in vitro expanded LSCs.
Aurelie Dos Santos, PhD
I received my bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology from the University of Brest, France. Later on, I graduated with a PhD in Experimental Medicine at the University of Tübingen, Germany, under the mentorship of Prof. Hubert Löwenheim. My PhD work was focused on hair cell regeneration in the mammalian auditory sensory epithelium, the organ of Corti, using different sources of stem cells. My current work in Sophie Deng’s lab is focused on regenerative and translational medicine for the treatment of corneal stromal injuries using adult progenitor / stem cells and their secretome.
Maxime Ruiz, PhD
I graduated my PhD in health biology at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine and Biotherapy of Montpellier, France in May 2018. I worked on Mesenchymal Stem Cells in the context of joint diseases within a dynamic group involved in translational research. Along with two previous laboratory experiences as an undergraduate student in the cancerology and neurobiology fields, my PhD allowed me to focus on stem cells and regenerative medicine. I joined Dr. Deng’s group in November of 2018 to strengthen my scientific mindset and translate my knowledge to a different type of stem cells. My work is to provide a potency assay to assess Limbal Stem Cells in the context of corneal epithelium transplantation. These experiments include but are not limited to the analysis of components released by the cells in the culture medium such as nucleic acids, metabolites and proteins.
Sarah Robertson, PhD
I received my bachelor’s degree in Molecular Biology at Pomona College in 2013, where I studied mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer and identified fusion genes in choanoflagellates in the laboratory of Dr. Andre Cavalcanti. I then spent the first two years of my Ph.D. program in Craniofacial Biology at the University of Southern California studying ion transport in tooth enamel development under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Paine. My dissertation work focused on calcium homeostasis and signaling in early stages of the developing mouse incisor. My background in signaling pathways led me to join Dr. Sophie Deng’s laboratory in 2018. My current work involves studying Wnt canonical and noncanonical signaling pathways in the regulation of human corneal limbal stem cells, as well as developing an in vitro assay to evaluate potential treatments for corneal stromal wounds. Outside of the laboratory, I enjoy volleyball, swimming, and playing piano for my local church.
JoAnn Roberts, PhD
Born on the island of Bermuda, I was raised by Jamaican parents, with whom I immigrated to the United States at the age of 9. I earned my B.A. in Biological Chemistry from the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College and M.S. in Biomedical Science from Florida Atlantic University. I continued my education at the Medical University of South Carolina, where I completed my Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology (Research emphasis on host-pathogen interactions in the oral cavity). I have now moved slightly north of the mouth to focus on research in the eye. Specifically, my project focuses on improving and enriching the ex vivo cultivation of limbal stem cells using small molecules targeting the Wnt pathway. In my spare time I am a singer-songwriter and worship leader at my church.
I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from UCLA in June 2018. During my undergraduate education, I became interested in translational research and joined Dr. Deng’s Cornea lab. As an undergraduate researcher in the Deng lab, I worked closely with Aurélie Dos Santos, a postdoctoral scholar, on the project of generating mesenchymal stem cell-based therapies for corneal repair. Upon graduating from UCLA, I joined the Deng lab as a full-time research technician. In the coming years, I hope to pursue a career as a physician.
Clemence Bonnet, MD
Assistant Project Scientist
I graduated my M.D. in 2014 at Paris Descartes University, Paris, France. After finishing my fellowship in Cochin Hospital, Paris, France, I came to the Stein Eye Institute in 2018 to perform a research fellowship in cornea and anterior segment diseases. My areas of interests are corneal transplants and anterior segment imaging such as optical coherence tomography (AS OCT), and in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM). I joined Prof. Deng’s team in December 2019. I work on the phase one clinical trial studying the safety and feasibility of cultivated autologous limbal stem cells as an innovative therapy for limbal stem cell deficiency. My work is focused on enrolling new patients, collecting the clinical data by performing AS OCT, IVCM and impression cytology, and analyzing them. In the laboratory, my doctoral work is focus on investigating the role of the Wnt signaling pathway in the regulation of the limbal stem/progenitors cells.
Linying Huang, MD
International visiting scholar
I received my M.D. in ophthalmology at Peking University (China) in 2010. After finishing my residency and fellow training, I became a cornea doctor in the Eye Center of Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University in China. My specialty is corneal diseases and I am a successful cornea transplantation surgeon. I have been interested in studying limbal stem cell deficiency (LSCD), and I wanted to do further research in this field. Thus, I joined Dr. Deng’s group in 2019 as an assistant scientist. My work is focused on LSCs culturing and Wnt signal pathway. I also take part in the LSCD clinical project, such as doing in vivo confocal microscopy (IVCM), anterior segment optical coherence tomography (AS-OCT) and slit lamp photos for LSCD patients.
Ning Lyu, MD
I received my M.D. in 2015 at School of Ophthalmology & Optometry, Wenzhou Medical University, Wenzhou, China. After finishing my residency, I started studying for Ph.D. My research direction is translational application of stem cells and extracellular vesicles. I joined Dr. Deng’s group in 2019. My current work is focused on corneal stromal stem cells and their extracellular vesicles aiming to develop new effective therapy for corneal scar and neovascularization.