Lab Personnel

Current Lab Group:


Robert O. Heuckeroth, M.D. Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

Dr. Heuckeroth investigates mechanisms controlling bowel motility in order to find new ways to treat, diagnose, and prevent intestinal motility disorders. He works to define genetic, biochemical, and cellular processes that impact bowel function, with a special interest in the enteric nervous system and intestinal smooth muscle cells. See his biography on our website to learn more.

heuckerothr [at] (✉) heuckerothr [at]



Amanda Lemke
Clinical Research Program Manager

Amanda joined Dr. Heuckeroth's lab in 2013. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Washington University in St. Louis and her graduate degree from Webster University. She has a special interest in Hirschsprung Disease, and her formal role is managing the lab’s ongoing human studies research. She also provides essential support and guidance that helps to keep the lab as a whole operational.

lemkea [at] (✉) lemkea [at]



Beth Maguire
Lab Manager

Beth graduated from Penn State University in 1980 and joined the lab in 2013. She provides invaluable assistance to the lab by organizing and managing the mouse colony, genotyping, and keeping us all in line with research safety guidelines.

maguireb [at] (✉) maguireb [at]



Tao Gao, Ph.D.
Research Associate

Tao is currently working as a research associate in the lab. He received his Ph.D in Biochemistry at SUNY Buffalo. His research projects are focused on studying the molecular mechanisms which underlie the development of neural crest-derived progenitor cells (NC), which play important roles in severe congenital diseases such as Hirschsprung disease. Besides research, he loves playing soccer and is an amateur violinist.

gaot [at] (✉) gaot [at]



Joshua D. Eisenberg, M.D.
Fellow Physician in the CHOP Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition

Josh received his MD from Thomas Jefferson University and then completed his residency in Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). During his fellowship, he is being supported on a T32 NIH grant to study disorders of gastrointestinal motility in Dr. Heuckeroth's lab, with a focus on Hirschsprung disease (HSCR). Specific projects include (1) using confocal microscopy to describe the organization of the enteric nervous system in healthy pediatric bowel and in HSCR, (2) characterizing the effects of environment on survival in HSCR mouse models, and (3) measuring bowel activity in pediatric patients using surface electrodes.

eisenberj1 [at] (✉) eisenberj1 [at]



Christina Wright
M.D., Ph.D. student at Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn)

Christina did her thesis research in Dr. Heuckeroth's lab and defended in 2019. Her thesis research focused on the role of transcription factors in enteric nervous system (ENS) development. Specific projects included characterizing the role of transcription factors Dlx1 and Dlx2 in enteric neuron development and subtype specification, single-nucleus sequencing of mouse and human ENS to identify novel genetic regulators, and exploring ENS defects in mouse models of Down Syndrome.

cwri [at] (✉) cwri [at]



Sabine Schneider
M.D., Ph.D. candidate at Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn)

Sabine joined Dr. Heuckeroth's lab in 2015. Her thesis research has involved a wide range of topics focused on enteric nervous system (ENS) development and disease. Specific projects involve single-nucleus sequencing of mouse and human enteric neurons to identify novel genetic regulators of ENS development, studying the role of the epigenetic regulator Bap1 in enteric nervous system (ENS) development, and understanding the impact of environmental factors on the severity of Hirschsprung disease.

ssabine [at] (✉) ssabine [at]



Sohaib Hashmi
M.D., Ph.D. candidate at Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn)

Sohaib started his thesis (Bioengineering) in the Heuckeroth lab in 2016. His thesis research focuses on the pathophysiology of the most commonly mutated gene, gamma smooth muscle actin (ACTG2), known to cause visceral myopathy. Specific projects include 1) Characterizing the effects of ACTG2 mutations on primary bowel smooth muscle cells through detailed quantitative image analysis and functional assays; 2) Developing new methods for differentiating visceral smooth muscle cells from human induced pluripotent stem cells; 3) Developing new animal models to study ACTG2 mutations.

hashmis [at] (✉) hashmis [at]



Christopher Pai
Ph.D. candidate at Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn), Developmental, Stem Cell, and Regenerative Biology

Chris joined Dr. Heuckeroth's lab in 2017. They are broadly interested in the role of noncoding RNA in development and the methods by which developmental programs are made robust. Their thesis research focuses on the role of miRNA - specifically, miR-137 - in the development of the enteric nervous system using mouse models and cell culture methods. They are also working on characterizing a mouse model lacking Baz1b, a Williams syndrome gene.

cpai [at] (✉) cpai [at]



Rachel Cerón
M.D., Ph.D. candidate at Perelman School of Medicine (UPenn)

Rachel is an MD/PhD student and is co-mentored by Drs. Robert Heuckeroth and Roberto Dominguez. Her thesis project focuses on studying the biochemistry of smooth muscle diseases affecting gastrointestinal and genitourinary functions including myopathic Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction (CIPO) and Megacystis Microcolon Intestinal Hypoperistalsis Syndrome (MMIHS). Her work involves developing novel methods to biochemically characterize disease-causing mutations in contractile proteins important for smooth muscle function like the gamma smooth muscle actin isoform, ACTG2.

rhdvorak [at] (✉) rhdvorak [at]



Deepika Kothakapa
Undergraduate Research Assistant

Deepika is an undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, majoring in Biology through their accelerated B.S./M.D. program. Deepika joined the lab in the Spring of 2017 and has worked with a few of the lab members on their projects. Currently, she is working with Chris to study the effects of a gene, encoding a class 3 semaphorin axon guidance molecule, on neuron colonization in the GI tract. Recently, she started working with Sabine, Sohaib, and Josephine to identify genes that could play a role in the function of smooth muscle cells, interstitial cells of Cajal, and PDGFRA cells by analyzing single cell sequencing data from human colon.

kothad [at] (✉) kothad [at]



Jessica Anderson
Undergraduate Research Assistant

Jessica is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Biology with a concentration in Mechanisms of Disease and minoring in Bioethics. She joined the lab in the winter of 2017 and currently works with Sabine Schneider to characterize the phenotype of Bap1 conditional knockout mice through the collection and analysis of anatomical and physiological data. A special focus of her work has been completing functional studies, such as ex vivo organ bath experiments, to better understand the nature of colonic motility defects.

jesand [at] (✉) jesand [at]



Rebecca Bradley
Undergraduate Research Assistant

Rebecca Bradley is an undergraduate student at Temple University, pursuing a B.S. in neuroscience. She joined the Heuckeroth Lab in July 2018. Rebecca is currently working with Sabine and Jessica, studying the role of the BAP1 gene in enteric nervous system function.

rebecca.bradley [at] (✉) rebecca.bradley [at]



Vasia Barka
Undergraduate Research Assistant

Vasia is an international undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. She is double-majoring in biochemistry and biophysics, minoring in philosophy, and sub-matriculating in chemistry. Vasia joined the lab in the spring of 2019 and has been working with Sohaib Hashmi to elucidate how gamma smooth muscle actin (ACTG2) mutations affect intestinal smooth muscle cells. Specifically, she has been involved in performing image and functional assay analysis, and illuminating the effect of ACTG2 mutations at the protein level using homology modeling. Of interest to her is also understanding how cell biomechanics are altered by ACTG2 mutations.

vbarka [at] (✉) vbarka [at]



Josephine Thrasher
Undergraduate Research Assistant

Josephine is an undergraduate student at Swarthmore College and is double-majoring in Honors Biology and French and Spanish Comparative Literature, with a research focus in molecular genetics. She joined the lab in the winter of 2019 and currently works with Sabine Schneider and Sohaib Hashmi, researching gut motility by analyzing RNA single cell sequencing data that includes transcripts from smooth muscle cells, Interstitial Cells of Cajal, and PDGFRa+ cells.

athrash1 [at] (✉) athrash1 [at]


Summer 2015

Summer 2014


Summer 2012

Summer 2010


Prior lab members:

Jonathan Lake (M.D. Ph.D. combined degree student)

Elizabeth Wright-Jin (M.D. Ph.D. combined degree student)

Olga Tusheva (Student/Scientist)

Saya Bery (Undergraduate Research Assistant)

Danielle Hodges (Undergraduate Research Assistant)

Alisha Jamil (Student/Scientist) July 2014 to June 2015 

Laura McCulloch (Student/Scientist) August 2014 to May 2015