Chen Lab

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James Chen, Principal Investigator

Herbert and Marguerite Jauch Professor

Professor and Chair of Chemical and Systems Biology

Professor of Developmental Biology

Professor of Chemistry

James was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, where he “studied” crawdads in the creek behind his house. He began his formal scientific training in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard, pursuing undergraduate research on affinity gel electrophoresis with Professor George Whitesides. James then completed his Ph.D. degree with Professor Stuart Schreiber, discovering peptide ligands for SH3 domains and the cellular target of the fungal metabolite myriocin. After becoming fascinated by developmental biology, James studied embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and combined his interest in organic chemistry and embryonic patterning by investigating the mechanism of cyclopamine, a cyclopia-inducing plant alkaloid, with Professor Philip Beachy at Johns Hopkins. Since joining the Department of Chemical and Systems Biology at Stanford in 2003, James has explored the crossroads of chemistry, developmental biology, and cancer biology. He is particularly interested in the molecular mechanisms that regulate tissue formation and their contributions to human disease, new technologies for perturbing and observing these processes, and zebrafish and mouse models. James became the Chair of Chemical and Systems Biology in 2016, and he is the Faculty Lead of High-Thoughput Screening at the Stanford Innovative Medicines Accelerator. Outside of the laboratory, James enjoys fly fishing for larger model organisms, running half-marathons, and spending time with his family on the ridgeline and coast of the Bay Area.

Thomas Bearrood, Postdoctoral Fellow

Thomas was born and raised in Minnesota where he played soccer and tennis in the summer and snow sports in the winter. After high school, Thomas went to St. Olaf College. In addition to new hobbies including broomball and ballroom dancing, Thomas became interested in the application of chemistry to human health. During his undergraduate years, he conducted research under Bernhard Wünsch at WWU Münster and AJ Boydston at the University of Washington. Inspired by his research experiences, he joined the organic chemistry/chemical biology graduate program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Thomas worked in Prof. Jeff Chan’s lab, developing small molecule tools for the study of biological aldehydes and aldehyde dehydrogenases in age-related disorders, including cancer. His interest in cancer stem cells led him to the Chen Lab where he plans to study the underlying mechanisms of cancer stem cells in colorectal and pancreatic cancer. With little risk of ice or snow in the Bay Area, Thomas enjoys running, biking, and hiking year-round.

Tamara Boltersdorf, Postdoctoral Fellow

Tamara was born in Berlin and grew up in Cologne, Germany before moving to the UK. She completed her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the University of Oxford and moved to Imperial College London for her Ph.D. Her research in the Prof Nicholas Long group focused on the design and synthesis of optical probes to visualize formyl peptide receptors. After her Ph.D. and prior to joining the Chen lab, she worked for Puraffinity, a spin-out company from Imperial College that develops materials for water treatment. As a Senior Product Development Scientist, she designed cellulose-based materials for the removal of fluorinated contaminants from water. In the Chen lab, Tamara will be expanding her scientific expertise by developing optogenetic tools to study the signaling pathways that regulate tissue patterning. In her free time, Tamara enjoys running, dancing salsa and is excited to explore the beautiful Bay Area.

Zhiping Feng, Postdoctoral Fellow

Zhiping was born and grew up in Jiangxi, a southeast province of China. After high school, he went up north to Tianjin to attend college at Nankai University where he studied pharmacy. At the end of his third year in college, he joined the Cross-disciplinary Scholars in Science and Technology (CSST) program at UCLA and worked in Shimon Weiss’s lab for half a year. After graduation, the amazing weather and people in southern California kept him in Weiss lab and he pursued his PhD in the Molecular, Cellular & Integrative Physiology Program in the School of Medicine at UCLA. He was also co-mentored by David Bensimon, a joint faculty member of UCLA and ENS in France. The co-mentorship allowed him to travel to Paris many times. Zhiping’s work focused on the use of optical tools to study retinoic acid signaling and cancer initiation in zebrafish. He joined the Chen lab to explore and broaden his interest in biological optical tools and cancer biology. Out of lab, Zhiping plays tennis, badminton, and he enjoys traveling and various outdoor activities.

Taylor Johnson, Postdoctoral Fellow

Taylor grew up in southeast Michigan in a family full of Michigan State Spartans. She decided to join their ranks and became a third generation Spartan. At Michigan State, Taylor majored in chemistry and became especially interested in how chemistry could be used to treat human diseases, which led her to graduate school to study Medicinal Chemistry. In a surprise move, she decided on the Med Chem program at University of Michigan, the archrival of her beloved Spartans. At Michigan, she worked in Dr. Matt Soellner’s lab using small molecules to understand the varying effects of allosteric and active site inhibitors on protein tyrosine kinase signaling. Her interest in using chemical probes to study cellular signaling led her to the Chen lab where she plans to use small molecules to study Hedgehog signaling. Outside of lab, Taylor enjoys playing ice hockey, golfing, and reading new books.

Jehan Keval, Life Science Research Assistant

Jehan was born and raised in the Bay Area, where she became the first in her family to pursue a degree in the sciences. She studied at UC Santa Barbara, where she earned her degree in Cell and Developmental Biology while falling in love with the paradise of Isla Vista. Her scientific research under Dr. Cyrus Safinya focused on the effects of lipid modifications on tau protein stability in the context of Alzheimer’s disease. Jehan’s work in the Chen lab involves studying photoactivatable BMP signaling in zebrafish development. She hopes to pursue a PhD program and further explore the realms of cancer and developmental biology. Jehan is an avid concergoer, book lover, hobby photographer, and traveler. She also spends lots of time bothering her cat Mowgli.

Austen Le, Life Science Research Assistant

Austen was born and raised in San Jose, California as an avid tennis player, home chef, and lover of Bay Area sports teams. He studied at the University of Southern California (Go Trojans!), double majoring in Biochemistry and Narrative Studies, where he made his first foray into scientific research genetically engineering fungi to produce natural drug products in the Wang Lab. He then transitioned from the wet lab to computational science under Dr. Vsevolod Katritch, writing scripts to generate compound databases for virtual drug discovery projects. As a tech in the Chen Lab, Austen is studying the biology and pharmacology of HIPK4, with the goal of developing a drug for reversible male birth control. He hopes to pursue an MD/PhD program, and, one day, open his own restaurant.

Bhagyesh Sarode, Postdoctoral Fellow

Bhagyesh was born and raised in Palghar on the west coast of India. After finishing high school, he studied pharmacy at the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai. Curious about drug discovery and delivery, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Professor Simon Friedman’s laboratory at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. There he worked on photocaging peptides and nucleic acids, primarily focusing on developing a light-stimulated, minimally invasive system for insulin delivery. After spending years in the Midwest away from the ocean, he decided to explore the Bay Area and joined the Chen Lab in June 2019. He is designing optogenetic probes to study the signaling pathways that regulate tissue patterning and tumorigenesis. In his free time, he likes to travel, read books, and try new recipes.

Steven Swick, Postdoctoral Fellow

Steven spent most of his childhood in Kent, Washington as the youngest in a family of 6. For his undergraduate studies, Steven attended Western Washington University, which located in the beautiful city of Bellingham. There, he conducted undergraduate research in the laboratory of Professor Gregory O’Neil on the total synthesis of the archazolid natural products. Steven began his graduate studies at Yale University where he worked on the total synthesis of lomaiviticin A, before completing his graduate studies at Northwestern University in the laboratory of Professor Tobin Marks. In the Marks laboratory, Steven studied the design, synthesis, and characterization of organic small molecule and polymer semiconductors and their use in organic photovoltaic devices. In the Chen laboratory at Stanford, Steven is excited to expand his scientific horizons through the study of HIPK4 and the development of HIPK4 inhibitors.

Nick White, Life Science Research Assistant

Nick grew up in the midcoast region of Maine. Choosing to stay close to home, Nick attended Bates College where he earned a degree in Biochemistry and Music. There he conducted research in the Kennedy lab, working on the computational modeling of cytosine-based TET inhibitors and the synthesis of new leads. Deciding he’d had enough of the Maine winters, Nick moved to the Bay Area. In the Chen lab, Nick is studying isoform-specific ALDH inhibitors and is excited to learn more about medicinal applications of chemistry. He hopes to pursue an MD/PhD program. Out of lab, Nick enjoys hiking, trying new foods, and playing in orchestras.

Former Members

Graduate Students
Ukrae Cho (2011 – 2016)
Andrew Chung (2011 – 2014)
Ari Firestone (2004 – 2011)
Marisa Hom (2015 – 2020)
John Mich (2004 – 2010)
Patricia Nano (2014 – 2021)
Shawn Ouyang (2006 – 2013)
Alex Payumo (2009 – 2015)
Paul Rack (2005 – 2012)
Ilya Shestopalov (2005 – 2011)

Postdoctoral Fellows
Paulina Ciepla (2015 – 2019)
Aaron Crapster (2013 – 2019)
Brian Feng (2007 – 2011)
Sascha Hoogendoorn (2013 – 2018)
Joel Hyman (2006 – 2010)
Lukasz Kowalik (2011 – 2015)
Lindsey McQuade (2010 – 2012)
Karen Mruk (2012 – 2018)
Jun Ni (2010 – 2017)
Cory Ocasio (2007 – 2011)
Alison Ondrus (2013 – 2016)
Sankha Pattanayak (2015 – 2019)
Surajit Sinha (2003 – 2006)
Sayumi Yamazoe (2010 – 2014)

Life Science Research Associates
Tomoyo (Sakata) Kato (2010 – 2013)

Life Science Research Assistants
Vicky Chang (2003 – 2004)
Hanife Esengil (2004 – 2007)
Caroline Halluin (2015 – 2018)
Zane Hellmann (2016 – 2017)
Kiran Kocherlakota (2008 – 2011)
Patrick Lee (2014 – 2015)
Cody Marshall (2020 – 2021)
Zach Rosenthal (2017 – 2018)
Hannah Ryon (2018 –2020)
John Solitro (2019)

Mohammad Alnaqib (2017– 2020)
Erin Atkinson (2003 – 2005)
Jennifer Casabar (2009 – 2010)
Albert Chiou (2006 – 2007)
Anna Cho (2003 – 2004)
Parmita Dalal (2004)
Olivia Gugliemini (2018 –2019)
Spencer Guo (2017)
Zane Hellmann (2015 – 2016)
Danielle Khan (2017)
Patrick Lee (2013 – 2014)
Cameron Pitt (2007 – 2010)
Patrick Piza (2016 – 2018)
Ashley Riley (2018)
Zach Rosenthal (2015 – 2017)
Mark Sun (2005 – 2007)
Maya Talbott (2010 – 2013)
Whitney Walker (2012 – 2014)

Visiting Graduate Researchers
Moritz Breitenbach (2009)
Yoon Cho (2012)
Tommaso Cupido (2008)

Visiting Scientists
HoJeong Kwon (2011 – 2012)
Glenn Eldridge (2013)