Research Scientists

Asako Takanohashi, DVM, PhD
Photo of Asako Takanohashi, DVM, PhD

Asako joined the lab in 2007 when Dr. Vanderver and her team were still based at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in Washington D.C. As staff scientist for the Vanderver Lab, Asako manages the basic science components of the Vanderver Lab’s efforts on vanishing white matter disease (VMD), Aicardi-Goutières Syndrome (AGS), H-ABC, as well as the Myelin Disorders Biorepository Project (MDBP). Asako also serves as the laboratory manager, tasked with overseeing the daily operations of the laboratory and supervising the team’s post-doctoral fellows and research technicians.

Asako previously worked in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), an arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and holds a PhD in Veterinary Medicine from the Tokyo University as well as a DVM from Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University in Tokyo, Japan.

When she is not running interferon assays on the laboratory’s new bioanalyzer, Asako enjoys spending time with her daughter and making sushi for her colleagues.

Post-doctoral Research Fellows

Sunetra Ajinkya Sase, PhD
Photo of Sunetra Ajinkya Sase, PhD

Sunetra joined the Vanderver Lab at CHOP in May of 2017 after working at the University of Pennsylvania and Medical University of Vienna. In her current role, Sunetra is working with mutant cell and animal models of TUBB4A to define cellular targets for future molecular therapies for H-ABC and other TUBB4A-related disorders.

Sunetra received her Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in 2007 from the Shivaji University in Kolhapur, India and was awarded a PhD in Neuroscience at the Medical University of Vienna in 2015 after successfully defending her thesis on the "Studies of Acquisition, Consolidation and Retrieval Phases in Contextual Fear Conditioning in the Hippocampus."

Outside of the lab, Sunetra enjoys hiking, cooking at home, and spending time with her young son.

Research Coordinators

Omar Sherbini, MPH

Omar joined the Vanderver Lab at Children’s National in August of 2015 as a clinical research coordinator for their White Matter Disorders clinic. In his current CHOP role as research assistant, Omar manages the regulatory components and daily operations of the Myelin Disorders Biorepository Project (MDBP) and LeukoSEQ, and coordinates the Global Leukodystrophy Initiative’s (GLIA) collaborative research efforts with other investigators around the world. Omar also serves as one of the lab’s primary liaisons for patients, families, clinicians, and scientists who wish to participate in the Vanderver Lab’s research studies.

Omar holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in biological sciences from the University of Maryland. He previously worked as a neurology research technician at Hopkins, where he was responsible for modeling stroke in small animal (mouse) models using a technique known as distal Middle Cerebral Artery Occlusion (MCAo).

When he is not enrolling research participants or repairing the lab’s computers, Omar enjoys working out at his neighborhood gym and riding his Ducati motorcycle up and down Kelly Drive.

Nicole Ulrick, BS
Photo of Nicole Ulrick, BS

Nicole joined the Vanderver Lab at Children’s National in August of 2014 as a dual clinical research assistant for the Neurogenetics and White Matter Disorders clinics. In her current CHOP role as clinical research coordinator, Nicole coordinates and manages all aspects of the Vanderver Lab’s clinical research studies on Aicardi-Goutières Syndrome (AGS), including the JAGA Compassionate Use Program, which has been enrolling participants since late 2016, as well as the Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitor (RTI) in AGS protocol, which is slated to start enrolling participants in late 2017, pending regulatory approval.

Nicole holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Psychology with a concentration in Cognitive Neurosciences from The George Washington University. Nicole is a former NCAA Division I student-athlete, having served as a goal keeper for the George Washington Colonials women’s soccer team.

When she is not reviewing regulatory binders for one of her studies, Nicole enjoys boating on the Chesapeake, coaching youth soccer, and balancing physical fitness with her obsession for Philadelphia’s culinary arts.

Research Technicians

Akshil Patel, BS
Photo of Akshil Patel, BS

Akshil joined the Vanderver Lab in August of 2017 as a research technician for the Myelin Disorders Biorepository Project (MDBP). He will be working with senior researchers at CHOP and at collaborating instructions to investigate the molecular etiology of H-ABC and other TUBB4A-related leukodystrophies.

Akshil holds a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biology with a Neuroscience Concentration from the Schreyer Honors College at the Pennsylvania State University. He also brings with him a wealth of undergraduate research experience, having most recently worked with Bernhard Lüscher to develop an in-vitro assay to study the effects of ketamine on the cell surface expression of NMDA receptors. Akshil was also a member of the prestigious Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA), where was actively engaged in supporting other students’ critical thinking skills and provides opportunities for leadership development through guest speakers, seminars, and field trips.

When he is not crunching data sets, Akshil enjoys spending time outdoors, following his favorite Philadelphia sports teams, and reading online car blogs.

Sarah Woidill, BS

Sarah joined the Vanderver Lab at CHOP in January of 2017 as a research technician for the Myelin Disorders Biorepository Project (MDBP). Sarah is responsible for communicating with MDBP participants and their families to ensure that research samples and other clinical information is collected and stored efficiently. Sarah also works closely with clinicians and other providers in the Leukodystrophy Center of Excellence (LCE) to collect medical records ahead of scheduled patient visits.

Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biochemistry with minors in Neuroscience and Mathematics from Elon University. Sarah also participated in Boston University’s Summer Institute for Research Education in Biostatistics (SIBS), a prestigious NHLBI-funded program designed to equip future scientists with essential skills in biostatistics, epidemiology, clinical trials, and statistical genetics.

When she is not multitasking at the lab bench, Sarah enjoys reading Harry Potter books and exploring Philadelphia with her black lab Rory.

Clinical Staff

Katherine McDonald, MSN, CRNP
Photo of Katherine McDonald, MSN, CRNP

Katy joined the Vanderver Lab and Leukodystrophy Center of Excellence (LCE) in February of 2017 as a pediatric nurse practitioner. While her work focuses on the clinical components of the LCE program, Katy also devotes a significant amount of time to the Vanderver Lab’s clinical research efforts. She is currently working with other clinicians at CHOP to develop a set of standardized clinical care guidelines that will eventually be implemented at CHOP, as well as other institutions worldwide that serve this patient population. Katy is also heavily involved in the team’s patient education efforts, developing material that will help families care for their children between clinical visits.

Katy holds a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from the Thomas Jefferson University, as well as dual Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in Nursing and Neuroscience from Drexel University and Cedar Crest College, respectively. Prior to joining the Vanderver Lab and Leukodystrophy Center of Excellence, Katy worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner in CHOP’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU).

When she is not seeing patients in clinic or completing intakes over the phone, Katy enjoys deep conversations and hard laughs with friends and family. She spends most of her free time cooking, reading and gardening.

Former Lab Members

Jennifer Pero, BS
Jennifer Pero

Jenn joined the Vanderver Lab in November of 2016 as a student researcher. She works with the families of both clinical patients and research participants to keep their charts updated, and helps clinicians and providers in the Leukodystrophy Center of Excellence (LCE) with chart abstraction prior to clinic days. Jenn previously conducted research at Temple University, focusing on the juvenile justice system, and also worked as a nursing assistant at Pediatric Specialty Care.

Jenn holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from Temple University and is currently enrolled in the Pre-Health Post-Baccalaureate Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She hopes to attend medical school in the near future.

When she is not studying for an exam or keeping the team’s workflow organized, Jenn enjoys enjoy getting far away from the city and hiking with her puppies.

Francesco Gavazzi, MD
Francesco Gavazzi

Francesco worked in the Vanderver Lab and Leukodystrophy of Excellence (LCE) from November of 2016 to July of 2017 as an international observer. Francesco came to Philadelphia from Italy, where he had worked as a Resident Physician in the Child Neurology and Psychiatry Department of the Spedali Civili di Brescia.

During his time at CHOP, Francesco played an instrumental role in advancing the development and validation of newborn screening assays for Aicardi-Goutières Syndrome (AGS). Francesco also shadowed clinicians and other providers in the LCE, where he was able to offer unique perspectives on patient care. The Vanderver Lab expects to collaborate with Francesco and his colleagues in Italy on future clinical research projects.


Julian Curiel, BS
Julian Curiel

Julian worked in the Vanderver Lab and from June of 2016 to August of 2017 as a visiting medical student. He had previously worked with Dr. Vanderver in her previous laboratory at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) as a full-time research technician. Julian lives in Winston-Salem, NC, where he is currently a second-year medical student at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

During his time at CHOP, Julian was actively engaged in setting up some of Dr. Vanderver’s bench research projects – many of which he managed during his time at CNMC. He was also instrumental in helping Dr. Vanderver and the team draft, revise, and submit a series of peer-reviewed articles for publication in various scientific journals. The Vanderver Lab will remain in touch with Julian throughout his remaining years of medical school, and will continue to encourage him to pursue a pediatric residency position at CHOP.