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MEET THE TEAM

Shaun Sanders (she/her/hers) – Principal Investigator

I first became interested in scientific research during my BSc at the University of British Columbia while volunteering in a research lab. I was always fascinated by the brain and brain diseases and quickly realized that I love research. At the time I was trying to develop strategies for delivery of therapeutics across the blood brain barrier in Sandhoff and Tay-Sachs diseases, devastating, fatal neurodegenerative disorders that primarily affect young children. After my BSc, I worked as a research technician in Dr. Michael Hayden’s lab researching the adult-onset neurodegenerative disease, Huntington disease (HD). There, I became fascinated with how the protein-lipid modification known as palmitoylation regulates protein trafficking in neurons and how that goes wrong in neurological disorders. I quickly decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD with Dr. Hayden investigating the role palmitoylation plays in HD and identified the Huntingtin palmitoylating enzyme ZDHHC17 as an essential protein crucial for neuronal integrity. This led to a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Gareth Thomas in Philadelphia. During my postdoc I combined biochemical and cell biological studies with viral-mediated approaches in neurons to identify a new role for palmitoylation in targeting voltage-gated potassium ion channels to the neuronal axon initial segment, the site of action potential initiation. I joined the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Guelph June 2020.

Julia Fux (she/her/hers) – Research Technician 

I completed my graduate studies at the University of Waterloo. My first research experience was in Dr Spafford’s laboratory, where I worked on my undergrad research project, sequencing and cloning the mollusk voltage gated sodium channel. I became fascinated by neuronal signaling mechanisms and the cellular processes that regulate and guide neuronal firing. My M.Sc. was focused on the structure and characteristics of voltage gated sodium channel subunits and the proteins it engages within the neuron. Afterwards, I worked with Dr Blay at UW School of Pharmacy, analyzing mechanisms of invasion employed by cancer cells and helping in developing liquid biopsy methods. Following that, I had an opportunity to work with Dr Zhang, developing unique tools for modulating levels of specific proteins within cells. I am excited to be a part of the NeuroPalm lab, where I can use my experience and knowledge while working on a subject that I am deeply interested in. Outside the lab, I enjoy spending time with my family and my dog, sea kayaking and exploring nature.

Andrey Petropavlovskiy (he/him/his) – PhD Candidate

Originally from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, I have completed an Honours Specialization Bachelor of Science degree in genetics and biochemistry at the University of Western Ontario in 2020. During my thesis project in Dr. Martin Duennwald’s lab I investigated the functional diversity of Hsp40 chaperones and their involvement in neurodegenerative disease. This experience led me to become interested in how protein post-translational modifications, folding, and trafficking contribute to protein function. In the NeuroPalm lab I am working to understand how palmitoylation modifies subcellular targeting and function of Hsp70 chaperones. September 2021 I began my PhD studies in the NeuroPalm lab. Contact me at andrey at uoguelph.ca.

Charlotte Townsend-Bennie (she/her/hers) – PhD Candidate

I am a first generation university student who completed their Honours BSc. In Molecular Biology & Genetics at the University of Guelph. Falling in love with not only molecular science but also the beauty and culture of the campus, I knew I wanted to continue my academic journey at UoG. While looking over faculty and various labs I came across Dr. Sanders and her work on palmitoylation of neuronal proteins. I have a never-ending curiosity of how proteins are regulated and trafficked throughout our cells. I am also fascinated by the human brain and being able study protein defects that are implicated in human disease is something that brings me so much gratification. As a PhD student in the NeuroPalm Lab I get to learn and build my skills in various genetic, biochemical, and cell biological approaches. My current focus is on the mechanisms of dynamic palmitoylation of voltage-gated potassium ion channels and how dynamic palmitoylation aids in the clustering of these channels at the axon initial segment.

Saba Sabzevari (she/her/hers) – PhD Student

I recently joined the NeuroPalm lab recently as a PhD student. I have a background in behavioural studies and am eager to learn more about molecular sciences. Dr. Sanders’ lab provides me with the opportunity to learn more about protein regulation and trafficking. I find it intriguing to watch how minor adjustments in the smallest parts of our bodies may have a significant impact on our health and well-being. I am interested in studying molecular biology and using what I have learned to address and alleviate neurological and psychological disorders. Dr. Sanders is a highly helpful personality and is highly knowledgeable, making her an excellent supervisor. The NeuroPalm lab, with its diverse techniques and prospects, can assist me in moving closer to my goal. I believe that the most meaningful aspect of my life is when I can alleviate the suffering or sorrow of others, and I hope that as a scientist, I can accomplish this goal.

Brodie Buchner-Duby (She/her/hers) – PhD Candidate

I completed my Honours B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Trent University in the Spring of 2019. During my fourth year at Trent, I completed my undergraduate thesis project under the supervision of Dr. Carolyn Kapron investigating the antioxidant effects of Methylene Blue on Cadmium toxicity in Zebrafish (Danio rerio) Embryos. This research sparked my passion for molecular biology and the study of disease. This passion for research and my joy for learning brought me to the University of Guelph, the city I grew up in. My PhD work focuses on the effects of the posttranslational modification S-Nitrosylation on proteins caused by misfolded alpha synuclein in Parkinson’s Disease as well as implementing a targeted degradation of this misfolded alpha synuclein through a lentivirally introduced ubiquitin variant. Outside of academics I enjoy baking, playing volleyball, and spending time with my husky.

Amelia Doerksen (she/her/hers) – MSc Student

I am in my fourth year of my Honours BSc in Bio-Medical Science at the University of Guelph. I joined the NeuroPalm Lab as part of my Senior Research in Biomedical Sciences Project to gain experience and learn more about current molecular neuroscience research. My curiosity about biochemical mechanisms and pathways that are involved in neurological diseases developed during my undergraduate degree. Dr. Sanders taught my third year biochemistry course and I was fascinated by her research on palmitoylation regulating sub-neuronal protein targeting and neuronal function. I wanted to pursue my interest in the field of neurobiochemistry and I am excited to have the opportunity to work with Dr. Sanders and the lab team. I plan to continue my academic career and want to apply to a graduate biomedical research program in the future. In my free time I enjoy painting, crocheting, and swimming.

Denver Bakhareva (they/them) – CBS Summer Research Assistant

With just a recent finish of first year, I am on my way to completing my Honours B.Sc. with a major in Neuroscience and a minor in Philosophy. Being a first-generation science student and a Siberian immigrant, I am very grateful to be one of the recipients of the President’s Scholarship at the University of Guelph; which generously includes an incredible opportunity to invest a summer in a chosen type of research. Luckily, as a previous mentor of mine, Dr. Sanders and the NeuroPalm lab were simply the perfect matches for this program. With my history of researching the Human Connectome Project (HCP) at the Aspiring Scholars Directed Research Program (ASDRP) and participating in/initiating numerous research workshops at STEM Fellowship, I was fascinated by the impactful role of palmitoylation in neuronal protein trafficking and its relation to neurodegeneration the moment I attended the lab team’s meetings. I joined the NeuroPalm lab in the summer of 2023 to focus on the folding and trafficking of GRP94 during neuronal palmitoylation – and I hope to contribute more as I move on in my undergraduate career! Moving forward, I plan to further study my interest in neural engineering within neurodegenerative diseases and its underlying medical ethics; with the hopes of teaching such intricate topics to future generations as a professor and researcher. Outside of academics, I am a proud member of the University of Guelph Dragon Boat Team and the director of STEM Fellowship @ Guelph. I also enjoy making art/music, reading, watching video essays, cooking and gardening! Contact me at abubelic at uoguelph.ca.

Nisandi Herath (she/her/hers) – NSERC USRA

I am a fourth year undergraduate student working towards a B.Sc., majoring in Biomedical Science and minoring in French, at the University of Guelph. I was first introduced to Dr. Sanders’ research while taking her third year biochemistry course. I was interested in learning more about the role of palmitoylation in protein trafficking and function in neurons, and was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to volunteer in the NeuroPalm Lab F22-S23. Currently, I am completing an undergraduate research project in Dr. Sanders’ lab. In the future, I plan to pursue my passion for biological research and hope this first introduction will help me decide what area of research interests me most.

Étienne Sellar (he/him/his) – Technician

I completed my BSc. with Honors in Neuroscience from UofG in 2023. During this time I pursued an undergraduate research project under Dr. Melanie Alpaugh studying disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in neurodegenerative conditions. Fascinated by the work, I continued working under Dr. Alpaugh, where I learned to differentiate endothelial cells, astrocytes, and neurons from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to use in 3D microfluidics models of the BBB. During this time I got to collaborate with members of the NeuroPalm lab and learned about how palmitoylation contributes to neuronal function. This contributed to my decision to expand my research experience into the Sanders Lab. I hope to learn new skills and hone old ones while helping uncover the role of palmitoylation in regulating localization and function of GRP78.

Simone Clarke – NSERC USRA

I am a fifth year undergraduate student working to complete an Honours B.Sc. in Biochemistry and a minor in Neuroscience at the University of Guelph. I first discovered the Sanders lab while looking at research opportunities within Guelph’s Undergraduate Student Research Award program and was excited to be offered a position for S24. My studies have led me to become set on exploring careers that involve the integration of neuroscience, biology, and psychology, which are all areas I’m passionate about and appreciate. Therefore, I was very drawn to the neuroscience based work Dr. Sanders conducts in investigating the role of palmitoylation and its effects on neuronal function. Further, after beginning to learn how central palmitoylation is for regulating neuron activity, especially through protein trafficking, I became fascinated by the potential future research on it could have on better understanding neuronal signaling and treating a wide range of neurological disorders and cognitive impairments. I’m looking forward to learning more about current neuroscience research and developing skills in executing a variety of lab techniques. I also hope to confirm my desire for pursuing research. In my free time I like to read, play soccer, play piano, and explore new places.

Ayla Sarnat – Undergraduate Research Project Student

Sanders Lab Alumni

  • Will Taylor, USRA (S23 & S22), Undergraduate Research Project Student (W23), Undergraduate Research Assistant (S21), Volunteer all the rest of the time until W24
  • Mahmoud Al Ramadan, Undergraduate Research Project Student (F23-W24)
  • Jordan Kogut, MSc (F21-S23)
  • Alysha Church, Project Student (F22-W23)/Research Assistant (S23) & USRA (S22), alysha.church at medportal.ca
  • Fiona McIlhargey, Undergraduate Research Project Student (F22-W23)
  • Arshia Leekha, MSc (F20-F22)
  • Natalina Becke, Undergraduate Research Project Student (F21-W22), NSERC USRA (S21)
  • Kainaat Fatima, Undergraduate Research Project Student (F21)
  • Zane Stekel, Undergraduate Research Project Student (F20-W21)