Speaker Information


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Véronique Azuara

Senior Lecturer

Epigenetics and Development Group
Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB)
Imperial College London Faculty of Medicine
Hammersmith Hospital Campus, London, UK

Dr. Véronique Azuara did obtained her Ph.D. in Immunology from the Pasteur Institute, Paris in 1999. She was a postdoctoral fellow in Epigenetics, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, London, 1999-2005. She joined the Imperial College in November 2005 as Lecturer and Head of the Epigenetics and Development Group at the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology. Promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2012. She was warded a MRC Collaborative Career Development Award in Stem Cell Research in 2004-2007, a BBSRC New Investigator Award in Genes and Developmental Biology in 2009-2012, a BBSRC New Investigator Award in Genes & Developmental Biology in 2009.

The Azuara group is interested in understanding how cell potency and differentiation are critically balanced in stem cells and in the developing embryo. In the context of the early mammalian embryo this implies unravelling how cell heterogeneity arises, and how pluripotency is achieved and safeguarded while promoting the formation of two essential extra-embryonic tissues.


Federica Bertocchini 

Senior Group Leader
Instituto de Biomedicina y Biotecnologia de Cantabria
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Santander, Spain



Ali H. Brivanlou

Robert & Harriet Heilbrunn Professor
Head of Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology & Molecular Embryology,
The Rockefeller University, New York, USA

Dr. Brivanlou received his doctoral degree in 1990 from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined Rockefeller in 1994 as assistant professor after postdoctoral work in Douglas Melton’s lab at Harvard University. Among his many awards are the Irma T. Hirschl/ Monique Weill-Caulier Trusts Career Scientist Award, the Searle Scholar Award, the James A. Shannon Director’s Award from the NIH and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

The Brivanlou group has demonstrated that the TGF-β pathway plays a central role in inductive interactions leading to the establishment of different neural fates, which begins by the specification of the brain. Subsequent work in vertebrate model systems has irrevocably established the pivotal role of these morphogens in the formation of specialized tissues in the embryo. In studies of frog (Xenopus laevis) embryos, Dr. Brivanlou has made several influential discoveries, including the finding that all embryonic cells will develop into nerve cells unless they receive signals directing them toward another fate. A concept, coined “the default model” of neural induction, postulates that neural fate determination requires the inhibition of an inhibitory signal. His laboratory has contributed to the molecular and biochemical understanding of the TGF-β signaling pathway and cross talk with other signaling networks, using comparative studies of frog and mouse embryos and mammalian cell culture. The work has led to the discovery of the molecular basis of epidermal, neural crest and sensory placodes and neural induction in comparative platforms.


Claire  Chazaud

Principle Investigator
Faculté de Médecine
Clermont-Ferrand, France

Dr. Claire Chazaud was the recipient of an "AVENIR" grant in 2002 and is presently PI of the team Molecular mechanisms of cell lineage differentiation in the preimplantation embryo the GReD (Clermont-Fd).

The Chazaud group is interested in deciphering the molecular mechanisms regulating one of the first cell differentiation events that take place in the embryo: the binary specification of epiblast and primitive endoderm within the inner cell mass of the blastocyst during preimplantation.


Karen Downs

Emeritus Professor
Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology
School of Medicine and Public Health
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Dr. Karen Downs is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology (formerly, Anatomy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She obtained her Ph.D. in Genetics in 1984 from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She was a postdoc at the University of California-San Francisco, CA between 1984-1988 and University of Oxford, England between 1989-1993.

The Downs group focused on development of the posterior region of the mouse conceptus, with emphasis on the allantois and its developmental relationship to the embryonic anteroposterior axis, or primitive streak and surrounding tissues, including the primordial germ cells and hindgut.  Recently, she and her collaborators have identified several novel elements in the posterior region, including a putative stem cell reservoir within the base of the allantois that is critical for the latter’s elongation to the chorion to create the chorioallantoic placenta, and distinct regions on the surface of the allantois that may play a role in patterning the umbilical vasculature, promoting branching at the chorionic end, and alignment with the fetal and yolk sac circulatory systems at the fetal end.


Elizabeth Duncan

Lecturer in Zoology
School of Biology
University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Dr. Elizabeth Duncan completed her Ph.D. in 2007 at Otago University (New Zealand). She did a post-doctoral fellowship examining the evolution of an early developmental pathway found in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and became enamoured with invertebrate biology, in particular reproduction and development. As a research fellow, she continued working in these areas and was also successful in obtaining my own funding to work in the area of phenotypic plasticity. In October 2015, she moved to the University of Leeds as a Lecturer to establish my own laboratory.

The Duncan group uses insect models including the honeybee and the pea aphid to understand how the environment interacts with the genome of animals these animals to give rise to phenotypic plasticity. They focussed on phenotypic plasticity and the evolution of eusociality.


Vasso Episkopou 

Imperial College London, UK

Dr. Vasso Episkopou, Professor in Developmental Biology, Faculty of Medicine Imperial College London (UK), completed her Ph.D. in Genetics and Development at Columbia University, New York in 1985. She was lecturer St. Mary’s Medical School, London between 1992-1994 and became a group leader at the MRC CSC Institute, Imperial College London in 1995. 

The Episkopou group aims to identify specific genes and pathways that underlie major developmental events in mammalian embryonic patterning and neural development. They focus on the Transforming Growth Factor (TGF) beta family and its two signalling branches Nodal and BMP, which are transduced by Smad2/3 and Smad1/5/8 effectors respectively. Several members of the family have morphogen activity and exhibit different cellular responses depending on the intracellular levels of activated effector Smads.



Stephen Frankenberg

Senior Group Leader
School of BioSciences
University of Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

Dr. Stephen Frankenberg obtained his Ph.D. from La Trobe University. He subsequently received an Early Career Researcher Grant awarded by University of Melbourne to derive marsupial pluripotent stem cells.

The Frankenberg group works on many aspects of mammalian development and reproduction, often in the light of evolution. Much of their current work focuses on the early embryo – the differentiation of early lineages, placental tissues, asymmetries and stem cells. They use bioinformatics to identify novel genes and mechanisms in marsupial development and reproduction, many of which reveal links between humans and their distant vertebrate ancestors.




Myriam Hemberger

Senior Group Leader
Babraham Institute
Babraham Research Campus
Cambridge, UK

Dr. Myriam Hemberger studied at the University of Freiburg and Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany, (Ph.D.) and trained as postdoctoral fellow (with funding from the Ernst Schering Research foundation and a long-term HFSP postdoctoral fellowship) at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto and at the University of Calgary, Canada. Since 2004 she has been group leader at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK, first as MRC Career Development Fellow and since 2009 on a tenured position as part of Babraham’s Epigenetics Programme. In 2007 she was awarded the IFPA Award in Placentology for her contributions to the field.

The Hemberger group researches molecular mechanisms of the genetic – epigenetic crosstalk that ensures formation of a functional placenta. Current project areas include the intersection between transcriptional networks and the epigenome that ensure the stem cell state of TS cells in the mouse and human placenta, and effect of physiological and environmental influences on the trophoblast’s epigenome and consequent differentiation deficits.



 Takashi Hiiragi


Senior Group Leader
EMBL Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Germany

Dr. Takashi Hiiragi received his MD-Ph.D. in 2000 from the Kyoto University, Japan. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology, Freiburg, Germany, became a group leader at the MPI of Immunobiology in 2002-7 and at the MPI for Molecular Biomedicine, Münster, 2007-11. Currently, he is a group leader at EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany. He is an ERC Investigator.

The Hiiragi group studies early mammalian development at the molecular, cellular and systems levels to elucidate how an intricate embryo emerges from a spherical mass of cells. Their goals include: a) understanding the symmetry-breaking mechanism in mammalian embryos; b) molecular characterisation of the de novo formation of cell polarity; and c) understanding the feedback mechanisms between cell and tissue mechanics, cell polarity and fate specification.




Diana Laird

Associate Professor
Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science
University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

Dr. Diana Laird completed her A.B in Physics at Harvard University in 1995 and obtained her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University in 2003. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Sloan Kettering Institute in 2007.

The Laird group focuses on the development of the egg and sperm cells, a process that begins in the first weeks of gestation. Pursuit of the genetic and developmental factors involved in making a "good" egg or sperm is critical to understanding the causes of infertility, the origin of birth defects, germ cell tumours, and adverse pregnancy outcomes, and for unlocking the potential of stem cells to generate gametes for research, human reproduction and agriculture.




 Miguel Manzanares

Senior Group Head
Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares-CNIC
Madrid, Spain

Dr. Miguel Manzanares obtained his Ph.D. from the same university in 1993 in the group of Rafael Garesse (Department of Biochemistry, UAM). He subsequently worked for six years in Robb Krumlauf’s group at the National Institute of Medical Research (MRC) in London, where he investigated the role of Hox genes in the patterning of the vertebrate nervous system, as well as studying the evolution of the neural crest. He was elected member of the EMBO-YIP programme in 2003, and joined the CNIC in 2007 where he is presently Full Professor.

The Manzanares group current interests are to understand how genome activity is regulated and how it contributes to embryonic development and human disease. Running projects aim to identify distal acting cis-regulatory sequences, and elucidate how they act on their target genes. Research in his group also involves the study of the 3D structure of the chromatin and the gene regulatory networks underlying specific biological states. This is achieved by using a combination of bioinformatics, structural genomics, genome-wide analysis, CRISPR genome editing, and functional assays in transgenic animal models and stem cells.




Jennifer Nichols

Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, Gleeson Building.
Physiology, Development and Neuroscience
Cambridge, UK

Dr. Jenny Nichols obtained her Ph.D. in Edinburgh in 1995 and continued as a postdoctoral research fellow in Austin Smith's lab until 2006, when she moved to Cambridge as a group leader at the SCI. In October 2017 she became Professor of embryonic pluripotency in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

The Nichols group focuses on early mammalian development and stem cell pluripotency, investigating how the epiblast lineage is established in the embryo and how pluripotent cells can be captured and propagated efficiently in culture as embryonic stem cell lines.





Kristen Panfilio

Assistant Professor
School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, UK
Institute for Zoology: Developmental Biology, Cologne, Germany

Dr. Kristen Panfilio completed her Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge in 2007, and has been a group leader since 2012, initially at the University of Cologne, and, since 2017, at the University of Warwick.

The Panfilio group focuses on embryonic development in insects to investigate both (a) epithelial tissue morphogenesis and (b) molecular evolution and comparative genomics on macroevolutionary timescales. The research on morphogenesis - the creation of form - explores how the fertilized egg develops the correct organismal shape, and how strategies differ between species. Which features are robust, and which are sensitive to perturbation and could result in birth defects? To actively protect the embryo, the insect extraembryonic tissues exhibit many epithelial remodelling behaviours that are typical of animal development. The lab investigates the activity and genetic regulation of these epithelia through functional, live cell imaging investigations, primarily in the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum.  Overall, the main aim is to understand the regulatory control that strikes a balance between the evolution of species-specific features and robust development and organismal function.




Berenika Plusa

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health (FBMH)

Manchester, UK

Dr. Bernika Plusa obtained a Ph.D. in Developmental Biology from the Polish Academy of Sciences (2000). After her initial postdoctoral work in the laboratories of David Glover and Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz (Cambridge, UK) she move to Kat Hadjantonakis’ lab (Sloan Kettering Institute, NY). Her research led to the development of a three- step model of epiblast vs. primitive endoderm differentiation, in which stochastic expression of lineage-specific transcription factors precedes the maturation of mutually inhibitory regulatory pathways, leading to a salt- and-pepper distribution of epiblast and primitive endoderm precursors in the inner cell mass at the mid blastocyst stage. She started her independent research group in 2006 at The University of Manchester, supported by a Manchester Fellowship.

The Plusa group has perfected a strategy by which the potential of embryonic cells can be interrogated by generating morula chimaeras via injection strategies. Through this, they have discovered that the epiblast precursors (always described as the most plastic cells within the embryo) exhibit less plasticity than the precursors of the primitive endoderm, which is an extraembryonic lineage with a more restricted fate during later development. In their recent research, in collaboration with Dr. Anna Piliszek (IGHZ, Polish Academy of Sciences), they discovered that, unlike in rodents, suppression of ERK signalling does not promote pluripotency in the rabbit embryo.



Jaime Rivera

Associate Professor
Department of Pediatrics
Division of Genes and Development
Worcester, MA, USA

Dr. Jaime Rivera obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Houston in 1997 under the direction of Richard Behringer. He then pursued his post-doctoral training with Terry Magnuson first at Case Western Reserve University and later at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He joined the faculty in the Department of Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in August 2006.

The Rivera group addresses the morphogenetic processes and the molecules that guide the development of the mammalian embryo from pre-implantation stages to the initial stages of organogenesis using the mouse as a model system. Their rationale is that understanding the basic mechanisms that guide cells and tissues during early embryogenesis is relevant not only in understanding normal development or what goes wrong during abnormal development but also in the advancement of research fields that include cancer and stem cells.



Liz Robertson

Professor of Developmental Biology
Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow
Sir William Dunn School of Pathology
University of Oxford, UK

Dr. Liz Robertson received a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1982 under the supervision of Martin Evans. She became a professor first at Columbia University and then Harvard University before moving to the University of Oxford. Robertson currently serves as an editor of the journal Development and serves on the editorial boards of Developmental Biology, Current Opinion in Genetics & Development, and Developmental Cell. Awards and honours received include: 2016: Royal Medal "for her innovative work within the field of mouse embryology and development, establishing the pathways involved in early body planning of the mammalian embryo."; Fellow of the Royal Society, since 2003; Member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) since 2002; Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow Chair of the British Society for Developmental Biology; Winner of the 2008 Edwin G. Conklin Medal (The Society of Developmental Biology); Fellow at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation 1990–1995; Chair of General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Sloan Prize Committee; Associate member of the European Molecular Biology Organization; 2011 Member of Academia Europaea.

The Robertson group works on developmental genetics, having demonstrated how genetic mutations could be introduced into the mouse germ line through genetically altered embryonic stem cells.




Siegfried Roth

Institute for Zoology: Developmental Biology
Cologne, Germany

Dr. Siegfried Roth is a Professor in Developmental Biology at the University of Cologne. He did his Ph.D. with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard in Tübingen. For his postdoctoral research he went to the lab of Trudi Schüpbach at Princeton University, working on the origin of polarity during oogenesis in Drosophila. Subsequently, he started his own lab as a junior group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology in Tübingen, and in 1998 moved to the University of Cologne.

The Roth group interests include the evolution of dorsoventral pattern formation in insects, encompassing the signaling processes that polarize the oocyte and how maternal and zygotic inputs are integrated during embryogenesis. The group’s recent work also explores the influence of ecology on the evolution of development.


Sarah Teichmann

Head of Cellular Genetics
Wellcome Sanger Institute
Hinxton, UK

Dr. Sarah Teichmann did her Ph.D. at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK and was a Beit Memorial Fellow at University College London. She started a group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 2001. In 2013, she moved to the Wellcome Genome Campus in Hinxton, Cambridge, where her group is jointly based at the EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Sarah is an EMBO member and fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and her work has been recognized by a number of prizes, including the Lister Prize, Biochemical Society Colworth Medal, Royal Society Crick Lecture and EMBO Gold Medal. From 2016, Sarah is the Head of Cellular Genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.


The Teichmann group is interested in global principles of protein interactions and gene expression . In particular, her research now focuses on genomics and immunity.




James Turner

Senior Group Leader
Sex Chromosome Biology Lab
The Francis Crick Institute
London, UK

Dr. James Turner did his Ph.D. at the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) with Paul Burgoyne, studying how sex chromosome abnormalities cause infertility. He later completed his medical training and briefly practiced as a clinician at West Hertfordshire NHS Trust. He then returned to Paul Burgoyne's lab to continue his studies on sex chromosome genetics as a postdoctoral scientist. After a sabbatical in the USA, James set up his own research group at NIMR in 2007 (now part of the Francis Crick Institute) and was awarded tenure in 2012.

The Turner group currently focuses on the evolution and epigenetics of X chromosome inactivation, and the role of the X chromosome in germ cell development. They study the epigenetics, evolution and cell biology of the sex chromosomes from a variety of organisms, including mammals, in order to understand how these chromosomes influence human health and disease. Previous work has shown that the mammalian X chromosome is dominated by genes involved in spermatogenesis, with around 18 per cent of all X-genes expressed in developing sperm. They have identified Rsx, an Xist-like RNA with features suggestive of a role in X chromosome inactivation in the second largest class of mammals, the metatherians. Their studies have also identified a surveillance mechanism, meiotic silencing, that inactivates genes on unpaired meiotic chromosomes, and is mediated by the DNA damage proteins BRCA1, ATR and histone H2AFX.




Maurijn van der Zee

Assistant Professor
Institute of Biology Leiden
Leiden University, the Netherlands

Dr. Maurijn van de Zee was EMBO Fellow, Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Netherlands between 2008-2010, postdoc at the Postdoc, Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, Netherlands between 2010-2012 and is currently Assistant Professor, Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Netherlands. He received a National Zoology Award for his research on the evolutionary success of the insects.

The van de Zee group’s primary interest is to understand the genetic and developmental mechanisms that underlie evolutionary change in animals. They discovered that the serosa protects insect eggs against pathogens like fungi and bacteria. This knowledge helps to find ways to circumvent defences in biological control of pest insects. They have recently been exploring a new field: innate immunity in insects.