Chen Lab


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 regeneration, 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-Throughput Screening for the Stanford Innovative Medicines Accelerator, Co-Director of the Molecular Pharmacology Training Program, and Director of the Scholarly Concentrations Program in the Molecular Basis of Medicine. Outside of the office and laboratory, James enjoys fly fishing for larger model organisms, trail running, and spending time with his wife, three kids, and two dogs on the ridge and coast of the Bay Area.

Pooja Akella, Undergraduate

Pooja was born and raised in the Bay Area. She is an undergraduate at Stanford majoring in Bioengineering with interests at the intersection of math, biology, and policy. Pooja started working in the Chen lab in the Summer of 2022, as a Bio-X undergraduate fellow, and is excited to continue her work with Steven Swick on investigating the role of HIPK4 in spermiogenesis. Outside of school, Pooja loves singing with her a cappella group, Stanford Raagapella, working as a campus tour guide, and, most recently, exploring the beautiful outdoors on her road bike.

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.

Zoe Ching, Life Sciences Research Assistant

Zoe was born in Canada and grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She attended the University of Arkansas where she received a B.S. in Environmental Science, becoming the first female in her family to receive a degree in the sciences. Her scientific research in the Egan Lab focused on the model filamentous fungus Aspergillus nidulans in the context of Rice blast disease. After graduating, Zoe worked at the University of Texas at Dallas as a lead technician for their new zebrafish program. After surviving the Texas heat for almost a year, she moved to the Bay area. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. Out of the lab, Zoe enjoys traveling, doing art and crafts, and watching anime.

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.

Josiah Grzywacz, Life Sciences Research Assistant

Josiah was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. After brief stops in California and Iowa, he finished most of his primary schooling in Winston-Salem, North Carolina…although he graduated high school in Oklahoma. He attended the University of South Carolina where he received a B.S. in Marine Science before moving to Connecticut where he completed a M.S. in Biological Oceanography. His M.S. work focused on using fluorescence to study the photosynthetic capacity of retained chloroplasts in mixotrophic ciliates. Following that, he received a Fulbright Fellowship and lived in Warsaw, Poland for a year assisting in research being done on freshwater endosymbiotic relationships. After growing tired of the grey, cloudy conditions in central Europe, he moved with his family to Gilroy, California. He joined the Chen Lab in September 2023. In his free time, he enjoys reading, running, and spending time in the trees (AKA hiking).

Audrey Kim, Undergraduate

Audrey was born and raised in Pasadena, California. In high school, she worked as an intern in the Dawson Lab at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, where she studied the inhibition of signal peptidase and the observation of MAX1 self-assembly using carbon-deuterium infrared probes. She is now an undergraduate at Stanford majoring in Chemistry. Audrey joined the Chen lab in Winter 2023 and works on synthesizing small molecule inhibitors of aldehyde dehydrogenases. Outside of school, Audrey enjoys playing the violin in chamber groups, swimming, and working as an EMT on campus.

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.

Ahit Kaan Tarhan, Graduate Student

Kaan was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. After attending high school at Robert College, he moved to the US to attend the University of Chicago, where he earned his B.S. and M.S. in Chemistry. During his studies, he worked on developing and synthesizing new anomeric amides in the Levin Group. Getting a taste of building structure-activity relationships through organic chemistry, he joined the Chen lab to deepen his understanding of medicinal chemistry and drug development. He is currently synthesizing small molecule inhibitors of aldehyde dehydrogenases that will be utilized as tools to elucidate mechanisms of oncogenicity. Out of lab, Kaan likes cooking, working out, playing boardgames and curating narrative-rich table-top role-playing experiences for friends..

Riley Togashi, Graduate Student

Riley was born in Southern California and grew up frequently spending time in the Bay Area with family. After completing high school, he attended UC Berkeley, where he majored in Chemical Biology. While there, he conducted research in the Francis Group, working with MS2 capsid bioconjugation and learning how chemistry and biology can work together to deliver therapeutics to patients. After working at Genentech for a year, he started his Ph.D. in Chemistry at Stanford in 2022. He then joined the Chen Lab to bridge his interests in medicinal chemistry and biology. He is currently synthesizing small-molecule inhibitors of HIPK4 and studying the biological function of the kinase. Outside of lab, Riley enjoys cooking new recipes, trying new restaurants and playing tennis.

Zaile Zhuang, Postdoctoral Fellow

Zaile is originally from Hubei, China and completed his undergraduate studies in Chemistry at the University of Waterloo. He then pursued a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia under the supervision of Prof Martin E. Tanner, where his research focused on designing, synthesizing, and evaluating inhibitors against tubulin polyglycylases and isopentenyl diphosphate isomerase. As of March 2023, Zaile has joined the Chen lab where he is working on the development of male contraceptive drug targets based on HIPK4. Beyond work, Zaile enjoys playing badminton, traveling, and watching horror movies.

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)
Taylor Johnson (2017 – 2022)
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)
Steven Swick (2020 – 2023)
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)
Jehan Keval (2020 – 2022)
Kiran Kocherlakota (2008 – 2011)
Austen Le (2019 – 2021)
Patrick Lee (2014 – 2015)
Cody Marshall (2020 – 2021)
Zach Rosenthal (2017 – 2018)
Hannah Ryon (2018 –2020)
Stephanie See (2011 –2014)
John Solitro (2019)
Nick White (2021 – 2023)

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)