People

Aparna Lakkaraju, Phd

Associate Professor
Dr. Lakkaraju was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and grew up in Hyderabad, India. She earned her PhD at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and completed her post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Enrique Rodriguez-Boulan at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College in New York City where she was first introduced to vision research. Dr. Lakkaraju and her team have pioneered high-speed, high-resolution live-cell imaging to identify functional deficits in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a technique they have now extended to the living retina. Her group discovered novel mechanisms centered around membrane dynamics and intracellular trafficking that could modulate multiple homeostatic pathways in the RPE. These studies helped identify FDA-approved drugs that efficiently upregulate autophagy and prevent complement-induced inflammation, two factors that promote RPE damage in inherited and age-related macular degenerations. (Photo credit: Golnaz Shahmirzadi)

Significant publications:

  • Kaur G*, Tan LX*, Rathanasamy G, La Cunza N, Germer CJ, Toops KA, Fernandes M, Blenkinsop TA and Lakkaraju A. Aberrant early endosome biogenesis mediates complement activation in models of macular degeneration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 115: 9014-19, 2018. PMID: 30126999.
  • Tan LX, Toops KA and Lakkaraju A. Protective responses to sub-lytic complement in the retinal pigment epithelium. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 113: 8789-94, 2016. PMCID: PMC4978296.
  • Toops KA, Tan LX, Jiang Z, Radu RA and Lakkaraju A. Cholesterol-mediated activation of acid sphingomyelinase disrupts autophagy in the retinal pigment epithelium. Molecular Biology of the Cell. 26: 1-14, 2015. PMCID: PMC4279221.
  • Lakkaraju A, Finnemann SC, and Rodriguez-Boulan E. The lipofuscin fluorophore perturbs cholesterol metabolism in retinal pigment epithelial cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104: 11026-11031, 2007. PMCID: PMC1904145

 

Post-Doctoral Associates

Li Xuan Tan, PhD

I grew up in Penang, Malaysia and had the opportunity to pursue my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a scholarship from the Public Service Department of Malaysia. Following completion of my undergraduate studies, I joined the Lakkaraju Lab as a graduate student studying organelle trafficking in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). I received my PhD in 2018 and continued my work in the Lakkaraju Lab here at UCSF. I am now studying the crosstalk between the autophagic and phagocytic pathways in the RPE.

Significant publications:

  • Kaur, G.*, Tan, L.X.*, Rathnasamy, G., LaCunza, N., Germer, C., Toops, K.A., Fernandes, M., Blenkinsop, T., and Lakkaraju, A. (2018). Aberrant early endosome biogenesis mediates complement activation in the retinal pigment epithelium in models of macular degeneration. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 115(36): 9014-9019. (* co-first authors).
  • Tan, L.X., Toops, K.A., and Lakkaraju, A. (2016). Protective responses to sub-lytic complement in the retinal pigment epithelium. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 113(31): 8789-8794.

 

Gurugirijha Rathnasamy, PhD

I grew up in India, and I moved to Singapore with a research scholarship from National University of Singapore to pursue my PhD. During my graduation, I studied pathways contributing to retinal ganglion cell death and was enthralled by the complex cellular crosstalk mechanisms in the retina. Understanding how little is known about retinal cell biology I decided to stay in vision research. In April 2016, I joined the Lakkaraju lab, where I am studying mitochondrial dynamics in the retinal pigment epithelium and evaluating whether mitochondria will be a viable drug target to prevent vision loss.

Significant publications:

  • Kaur, G., Tan, LX., Rathnasamy, G., La Cunza, N., Germer, CJ., Toops, K., Fernandes, M., Blenkinsop, TA., and Lakkaraju, A. (2018). Aberrant early endosome biogenesis mediates complement activation in the retinal pigment epithelium in models of macular degeneration. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Sep 4; 115(36): 9014-9019.
  • Rathnasamy G, Sivakumar V, Foulds WS, Ling EA, Kaur C. (2015). Vascular changes in the developing rat retina in response to hypoxia. Exp Eye Res. 2015 Jan;130:73-86.
  • Rathnasamy G, Sivakumar V, Rangarajan P, Foulds WS, Ling EA, Kaur C. (2014). NF-κB-mediated nitric oxide production and activation of caspase-3 cause retinal ganglion cell death in the hypoxic neonatal retina. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Aug 19; 55(9):5878-89.

 

Graduate Students

Colin Germer

I grew up in Sussex, Wisconsin. I earned my bachelor’s from UW-Madison, where I worked in a regenerative biology lab for the cornea. I soon joined the Lakkaraju Lab as a research associate, working on how exosomes are secreted from the retinal pigment epithelium. I eventually joined the lab as a graduate student in Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program before tagging along to UCSF and joining the PSPG PhD program. My current interest lies in the interface and interaction of the photoreceptors and the RPE.

Significant publications:

  • Kaur, G., Tan, L.X., Rathnasamy, G., LaCunza, N., Germer, C., Toops, K.A., Fernandes, M., Blenkinsop, T., and Lakkaraju, A. (2018). Aberrant early endosome biogenesis mediates complement activation in the retinal pigment epithelium in models of macular degeneration. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 115(36): 9014-9019.
  • Massoudi, D., Germer, C.J., Glisch, J.M., Greenspan, D.S. Procollagen C-proteinase enhancer 1 (PCPE-1) functions as an anti-angiogenic factor and enhances epithelial recovery in injured cornea. Cell Tissue Res. 270(3): 461-476.

 

Nilsa La Cunza, PSPG

I was born in Perú and raised in New Jersey. I studied Biomedical Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. During my undergraduate education, I became involved in research through summer internships at external universities including Rutgers University in NJ and Yale University. After graduating, I was awarded an NIH-funded post-baccalaureate fellowship at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where my research centered on characterizing the role of the Notch signaling ligands in regulating epithelial cell homeostasis in the murine stomach. I joined the Lakkaraju lab in August 2015 and have been studying the role of the cholesterol transporter Apolipoprotein E (ApoE), whose isoforms modulate the risk of age-related macular degeneration, in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). My results have prompted me to ask how organelle transport is regulated in the RPE.

Awards:

  • BrightFocus Foundation New Investigator Travel Award, XVIIIth International Symposium on Retinal Degeneration, 2018
  • NIH Post-baccalaureate Research Education Fellowship, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, 2014

Significant publications:

  • Kaur, G*., Tan, LX*., Rathnasamy, G., La Cunza, N., Germer, CJ., Toops, K., Fernandes, M., Blenkinsop, TA., and Lakkaraju, A. (2018). Aberrant early endosome biogenesis mediates complement activation in the retinal pigment epithelium in models of macular degeneration. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 115(36): 9014-9019. (*co-first authors).
  • Gifford, GB., Demitrack, ES., Keely, TM., Tam, A., La Cunza, N., Dedhia, PH., Spencer, JR., Simeone, DM., Saotome, I., Louvi, A., Siebel, CW., and Samuelson, LC. (2017). Notch 1 and Notch 2 receptors regulate mouse and human gastric antral and epithelial homeostasis. Gut. 66(6): 1001-1011. v

 

Lab Alumni

  • Gulpreeet Kaur, Graduate Student, Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Program. Current position: Imaging Specialist, Olympus.
  • Kimberly Toops, Postdoctoral Associate 2011-2016. Current position: Account Manager, Zeiss Microscopy.
  • Sara Amirahmadi, Associate Research Specialist 2015-2016. Current position: Exact Biosciences
  • Jin Xu, Assistant Scientist 2010-2013. Current position: Resident, Pathology program, UW-Madison
  • Max Melberg, Undergraduate, Pharmacology-Toxicology 2011-2012. Current position: School of Optometry, Memphis.
  • Charles Rodenkirch, Undergraduate, Biomedical Engineering 2010-2014. Current position: Graduate Student, Columbia University.