Principal Investigator

Annie Vogel Ciernia, Ph.D.                                                                                                                              (she/her)

Assistant Professor
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health

My overall research interest is in understanding epigenetic mechanisms of transcriptional regulation involved in brain plasticity and neurodevelopmental disorders. I have a broad background in neurobiology and behavioural neuroscience as well as epigenetics and neurodevelopmental disorders. My graduate work in Dr. Marcelo Wood’s laboratory at UC Irvine focused on examining the role of a neuron-specific nucleosome remodeling complex in regulating transcription subserving long-term memory formation. My postdoctoral work under Dr. Janine LaSalle at UC Davis focused on understanding how DNA methylation and chromatin accessibility impact gene expression in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). I have extensive experience in animal behavior, molecular neuroscience, bioinformatics and systems biology approaches for interpreting epigenomes. I was co-mentored in the Autism Training Program at the UC Davis MIND Institute by Dr. Jacqueline Crawley, an expert in animal models and behaviours related to neurodevelopment and ASD, and Dr. Paul Ashwood, an expert in ASD neuro-immunology. My current research focus is on understanding how early-life perturbations to the epigenome alter microglia-neuron interactions in the developing brain and lead to life-long changes in cellular function and behaviour.

2014-2019           Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Autism Research Training Program
University of California, Davis
Mentors: Dr. Janine LaSalle, Dr. Jacqueline Crawley, Dr. Paul Ashwood

2008-2014           Ph.D., Neurobiology & Behaviour
University of California, Irvine
Mentor: Marcelo Wood
Dissertation: The role of a novel epigenetic regulatory mechanism in long-term memory formation synaptic plasticity, and gene expression

2004-2008           Bachelor of Science, Majors Biotechnology and Psychology, Minor Chemistry

North Dakota State University
Honors Thesis Psychology: Orienting to Predictive Arrow, Gaze, and Symbol Cues
Mentor: Dr. Chris Friesen
Honors Thesis Biotechnology: The Role of Attachment Protein TRAP in Cryptosporidium Infection
Mentor: Dr. John McEvoy



Kit Lee, MSc (she/her)

Lab Manager & Research Assistant

My primary research interests are investigating the effects of stress exposure during early development on behavioural and biological outcomes in adulthood, and how these changes are mediated on an epigenetic level. My past research has focused on how gestational stress and early maternal care influence epigenetic regulation of brain development, and I’m excited to apply my experiences to the field of ASD research. In my spare time, I love cooking, science fiction, and being outside.

Graduate Students

Jennifer Kim, MSc (she/her)
PhD Student Neuroscience

My research interests lie in understanding how environmental stressors shape epigenetic modifications in the nervous system to alter gene expression and mediate behavioural responses. I am especially interested in examining the long-term impacts of depression-induced neuroinflammation on nervous system function and development. When I’m not in the lab, I am either cozied up in a blanket watching a comedy show or out and about exploring a new part of town.


Laura Meleady (she/her)

MSc Student Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

My research interests focus on understanding the epigenetic mechanisms that underlie immune system dysfunction. I most recently worked on projects studying epigenetic editing in microglia and am excited to explore the world of neurodevelopment! I also enjoy taking dance classes or spending time with friends and family.


Olivia Sullivan (she/her)

MSc Student Neuroscience

My research interests involve understanding the development of various neuropsychiatric disorders both on a molecular and a behavioural level. Specifically, I am keen on investigating the brain pathology and behavioural changes associated with early immune activation ASD models. I have coached several Special Olympics athletes with ASD, which has prompted my interest towards understanding this disorder better. In my spare time I enjoy traveling to new places, going on hikes and playing soccer.


Morgan Towriss (she/her)

MSc Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

My research interests are studying the underlying mechanisms of innate immune memory in Microglia. I am very interested in how chronic exposure to immune agonists can cause microglia to enter a tolerant state and produce anti-inflammatory cytokines upon later immune stimulus. My intentions are to grow the understanding of how microglia mediate neuroinflammation in neurodegenerative states. When I am not in lab, I am probably at home drinking too much coffee and reading my favourite books.


Postdoctoral Fellows

Megan Rowland, Ph.D.  (she/her)

Postdoctoral Fellow Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

My research interests involve investigating how epigenetic gene regulation contributes to normal development. I am particularly interested in understanding how perturbation of gene regulatory networks lead to neurodevelopmental disorders. By understanding how chromatin remodelers influence normal brain development, I hope to contribute to laying the groundwork for therapeutic development to treat neurological disorders. Outside of the lab you’ll find me hiking a trail with my dog, playing board games with friends or reading a space opera.


Undergraduate Students

Jana JaJarmi

Directed Studies Honours Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

My research is focused on a neuron specific subunit in a large chromatin remodelling complex, and the impact mutations in this gene have on neuron development. Outside of the lab you can find me at the climbing gym, reading a murder mystery, or watching bad reality TV.


Kateryna Voznyuk (she/her)

Behavioural Neuroscience Undergraduate Researcher

My general research interests revolve around neurobiological plasticity changes during traumatic brain injury (TBI) recovery and how they impact patient language rehabilitation. This is my first time getting involved with laboratory research and I am so excited to learn about epigenetic influences on ASD. When I’m not at my laptop surfing PubMed, you can find me hiking with friends, alpine skiing, or rewatching artsy sci-fi movies.


Sana Arora (she/her)

Behavioural Neuroscience Undergraduate Researcher

My research interests include understanding the gut microbiome and its involvement in mental health disorders. I am specifically interested in how alterations of the gut microbiome may lead to epigenetic changes in gene expression. My other interests include playing volleyball, drawing portraits, watching movies, and spending time with friends and family.


Vince Bacarac

BMB Undergraduate Researcher & Directed Studies Honours Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

My research interests include, but aren’t limited to, immune epigenetic regulation in early development and structural biology. My previous lab experience involved characterizing candidate genes involved in plant wax biosynthesis. Outside of school and the lab, you can find me playing tennis, watching anime, consuming queer art, and reviewing different croissants and soy mochas around Vancouver.


Fortune Rantuana (she/her)

BMB Undergraduate Researcher

My research interests involve the application of neuroimaging tools like MRI scans on detecting differences in the brain functions of people with psychiatric disorders and/or addiction. I am specifically interested in using functional imaging to understand the relationship between activity in certain brain areas and specific mental functions. I also enjoy reading, skateboarding or long walks with friends.

Ciernia Lab Alumni

Brianna Bristow

Previously: Undergraduate Directed Studies Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 2019-2020

Currently: Research Assistant, Cembrowski lab, UBC

John Shin

Previously: Science Co-Op student 2020

Currently: Finishing Undergraduate degree in Computer Science

Kalya Judson

Previously: Undergraduate Directed Studies Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 2019-2020

Research Assistant 2020-2021

Currently: Research Assistant, Greenblatt lab, UBC

Tess Osborne

Previously: Undergraduate Directed Studies Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 2020-201

Currently: MSc Student, Jan lab, UBC

Daniel Wong

Previously: Undergraduate Honours Directed Studies Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 2020-201

Currently: Research Assistant, Dr. Thomas Cheung; Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Sarah Wissmann

Previously: Undergraduate RA 2020-2021

Currently: Undergraduate Directed Studies, UBC

Jessie Chai

Previously: Undergraduate NSERC URSA 2020-2021

Currently: UBC medical student

Michelle Lu

Previously: Undergraduate Directed Studies Biochemistry & Molecular Biology 2020-201

Currently: Lab Assistant UBC-O

Sophia Gu

Previously: Undergraduate researcher 2020

Currently: UBC Co-Op student

Baria Choudry

Previously: Undergraduate researcher 2020

Currently: graduating spring 2022

Brandon Wong

Previously: Science Co-Op student 2021

Currently: graduating spring 2022

Justin Jao

Previously: Undergraduate researcher 2019-2021

Currently: completing computer science undergraduate

Mark Sgro

Previously: Undergraduate Work-Learn student 2021

Currently: completing undergraduate