TEAM MEMBERS

Berna Sozen

Group Leader

Dr. Berna Sozen is Assistant Professor of Developmental Stem Cell Biology at Yale Department of Genetics, secondary faculty at Department of Ob/Gyn & Reproductive Sciences and affiliated member of Yale Stem Cell Center at Yale School of Medicine.

Dr. Sozen grew up in Turkey and first trained as a Reproductive Biologist at Akdeniz University, Turkey (2009-2015), and later as a Developmental Biologist at the University of Cambridge, UK (2015-2019). In her earlier training years, she worked with Prof. Tom Fleming in Southampton, UK (2012) on pre-implantation embryogenesis and developmental programming. After a short training as a Clinical Embryologist at Istanbul University, Turkey (2015), she moved to Cambridge, UK to complete her PhD project. She then undertook her post-doctoral research first at Cambridge, and later at California Insitute of Technology (Caltech) during which she developed in vitro systems to model mammalian early embryogenesis using various types of stem cells, in the Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz group. In 2020, she established her independent research group at Yale Genetics. She is a recipient of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (DP2) and the Smith Foundation Program for Excellence in Biomedical Research Award.

berna.sozen@yale.edu        

Liangwen Zhong

Associate research scientist

Liangwen Zhong first trained as a Reproductive Biologist (2008-2016) and later as a clinical embryologist (2016-2017) at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in in their first IVF lab-affiliated hospital. He worked in Prof. Qinghua Shi’s lab on the genetic causes of spermatogenic failure and male infertility, later moving to the US for his postdoctoral training as a stem cell biologist (2017-2022). Liangwen studied the directed differentiation of human PSCs into lung progenitors in Prof. Sarah Xuelian Huang’s lab at UT Health, and pluripotency maintenance in mouse embryonic stem cells in Prof. Duancheng Wen’s lab at Weill Cornell Medicine. Over his early training years, he generated novel mouse models that phenocopy non-azoospermia symptoms, defined genes that cause meiotic monopololar spindle formation in mouse spermatocytes, and found that lipid supplementation maintained the full developmental potency and genomic stability of embryonic stem cells. In Aug. 2022, Liangwen joined the Sozen lab as an Associate Research Scientist, curious about the role of metabolism and intracellular signaling for stem-cell based embryo development, as well as for natural mammalian embryogenesis.

liangwen.zhong@yale.edu      

Blaine HARLAN

pOSTDOCTORAL ASSOCIATE

 

Blaine joined the Sozen lab as a postdoctoral research associate in October 2023, bringing a background rooted in cancer, stem cell biology, and single-cell genomics. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Butler University in 2014 (Indianapolis, IN) and her PhD in Genetics from Cornell University in 2021 (Ithaca, NY). In the Soloway Lab at Cornell, she used single-nuclei ATAC-seq to assay chromatin accessibility changes in adipose tissue that govern lipid metabolism responses to bariatric surgery. Subsequently, as a postdoctoral researcher in the Danko lab at Cornell, she again utilized single-nuclei ATAC-seq, this time to investigate tumoral regional heterogeneity of chromatin accessibility in glioblastoma multiforme as well as cross-platform deconvolution of nascent transcription to understand microenvironmental niches important for patient survival. She is broadly interested in development and new analytical techniques, and in particular, is aiming to leverage single-cell technologies to unravel the intricate gene regulatory networks that underlie cell fate transitions during development. She is excited to contribute to the collaborative and dynamic research environment in the Yale Genetics department.

blaine.harlan@yale.edu

ASHLEY ABEL

PHD candidate

 

Ashley is a Ph.D. candidate in Genetics at Yale University and has been a member of the Sozen lab since March 2021, entering Yale through the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program in Fall 2020. Ashley graduated from Seattle University in March 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Cell and Molecular Biology. As an undergraduate, Ashley researched in both the labs of Dr. Charles (Chuck) Murry and Dr. Ying Zheng at the University of Washington’s Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, during which she worked on engineering human pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocyte models and in vitro aneurysm models. After college, Ashley worked as a research assistant at Brown University under Dr. Kareen Coulombe, where she worked on generating bioelectric sutures to improve stem cell derived-cardiomyocyte grafting on host tissue.

ashley.abel@yale.edu         

MONIQUE PEDROZA

PHD STUDENT

 

Monique is a PhD student in Genetics at Yale from Miami, Florida. They earned their bachelor’s degree in Biology and Spanish from Florida State University where they pursued their diverse research interests in radioactive chemistry and conservation biology. Monique then earned their master’s degree in Clinical Embryology at the University of Oxford, UK where they discovered their passion for developmental biology. At Oxford, they conducted their thesis project on left-right asymmetry in mammalian embryonic heart development with Dr. Shankar Srinivas. Before coming to Yale, Monique worked as a postbaccalaureate research fellow investigating RNA degradation in mouse oocyte development with Dr. Jurrien Dean at the National Institutes of Health. Monique began her studies at Yale in Fall 2020 and joined the Sozen team in May 2021.

monique.pedroza@yale.edu        

Jenna bergmann

MD-PHD STUDENT

Jenna is a Yale MD/PhD student and aspiring physician-scientist with a clinical interest in obstetrics and gynecology. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018 where she double majored in Cell & Molecular Biology and Latin. At Barnard, she conducted her undergraduate thesis research in the Mansfield lab studying tissue-specific effects of the Hoxa5 transcription factor on musculoskeletal development. She then spent one year as a research technician for the Houvras lab at Weill Cornell before matriculating in the Yale MD/PhD program. After completing her first two years of medical school, Jenna began her PhD research in the Sozen lab in Fall 2021, studying the impact of metabolic environment on early embryonic development.  

jenna.bergmann@yale.edu        

TOVA FinkelStein

PHD STUDENT

Tova is a PhD Student in Genetics at Yale University joining the Sozen Lab in March 2023 after matriculating through Yale’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences PhD program in the Fall of 2022. Tova graduated from Barnard College in 2020 with a Bachelor of Arts in Cell and Molecular Biology. During her undergrad, she conducted research in the Mansfield Lab where she studied the the role of Hoxa5 in regulating musculoskeletal patterning and brown fat differentiation. Before coming to Yale, Tova worked as a Research Assistant in the Simon Lab at The Rockefeller University studying the unique proteomic signature of a rare liver cancer, Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma. 

tova.finkelstein@yale.edu        

IPEK GASSALOGLU

PhD STUDENT

Ipek earned her B.Sc in Genetics and Bioinformatics from Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul. Later on, she moved to Berlin to major in M.Sc. Molecular Medicine at the Charité Universitätsmedizin. During this period, she worked with stembryo models such as Gastruloids and Trunk-like structures (TLS) and performed her thesis on “Molecular recording of mouse embryonic stem cell-derived TLS” at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics under the supervision of Dr. Jesse Veenvliet and Adriano Bolondi. After graduating from Charité, she spent one year in the same lab as a Research Assistant to understand the effects of hypoxia in development by using the gastruloid model. She started her PhD in Yale BSS program in September 2023. In a nutshell, she is intrigued to understand mammalian development and to decipher how cellular processes are regulated to ultimately give rise to a whole organism.

seher.gassalogluguler@yale.edu         

ADRIANA N. VÉLEZ-AVILÉS

MD-PhD STUDENT

Adriana is an MD-PhD student and aspiring OBGYN physician-scientist, from the UPR- Yale cooperative program. Her clinical and research focus lies in the field reproductive medicine and women’s health. She graduated as a MARC Scholar from the UPR in Rio Piedras in 2020 where she majored in Cell and Molecular Biology. Her undergraduate research was conducted in Dr. Gregory Quirk’s laboratory where she studied neural circuits involved in decision making. Her passion for genetics and development sparked after conducting research in Dr. Mariana Wolfner’s lab at Cornell where she focused on understanding the key pathways involved in drosophila egg activation, a process essential for egg development. After completion of three years of medical school, Adriana joined Dr. Berna Sozen’s lab for her PhD in early 2024, studying the mechanisms of infertility associated to embryo implantation and uterine receptivity in the context of endometriosis.

adriana.velez@yale.edu        

 

LAB ALUMNI

Dominica cao

PhD Student, Yale University

Dominica was a postbaccalaureate research assistant in the Sozen Lab between 2021-2023. During their time, they focussed on studying gastrulation dynamics, working with mammalian embryos and their stem cell models to study metabolic guidance of embryogenesis.

 

HONORARY MEMBERS

Lana mish-mish Pilchik

 

Lana is a dachshund-terrier mix from Junction, Texas. She began her scientific training in the Sözen lab when she was adopted by Jenna in May 2023. Her interests including napping, chewing, and sunbathing in the rose garden.

Franklin Fury Finkelstein

 

Franklin, named for Rosalind Franklin, joined the lab in April 2023 when he was adopted by Tova. Besides representing women in science he loves to nap, chase string, and work from hom

Millie Patience Harlan-Wright

 

Millie is a mixed-breed dog from rural Kentucky. She was fostered and then adopted by Blaine and her significant other, Logan, in March 2020. Millie is passionate about belly rubs, naps in the sun, and eating any and all kinds of food.