Lab Members


Robert H. Blelloch

Robert H. Blelloch

Principal Investigator

Stem cells exist both in the developing embryo and in many organs of the adult organism. Differentiation of these cells is tightly regulated so that their progeny become increasingly specialized and lose the potential to revert or transform into other cell types. This regulation is very important both to maintain organ function and to avoid the possibility of uncontrolled cell growth, the basis of cancer. Our laboratory is interested in determining the molecular mechanisms that direct and stabilize cellular differentiation with the focus on post-transcriptional regulation and epigenetics. The goal is to control the differentiation and de-differentiation of cells in order to regenerate tissues for replacement therapies as well as develop novel means for treating cancer.

Senior Scientists

Cassandra Belair

Associate Researcher

Cassandra is currently an Associate Researcher at UCSF studying the role of microRNAs in prostate cancer progression and their use as diagnostic markers. She began studying different aspects of cancer biology after her graduation from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1990 first by working as a technician at Cornell University in the laboratory of eminent biochemist Dr. Efraim Racker. She studied the earliest steps of bladder carcinogenesis under the mentorship of Dr. Catherine Reznikoff at the University of Wisconsin Madison, where she obtained her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Toxicology. She moved on to a post-doctoral project aimed at understanding the toxicology of dioxins, a prominent pollutant in the Great Lakes waterways, on developing organisms using the zebrafish as a model under the mentorship of Drs. Warren Heideman and Richard Peterson, also at UW Madison. There she discovered the beauty of development through watching the fertilized egg morph into a fully functioning fish in just 3 days. She accepted a position as instructor/scientist in the HHMI laboratory of Dr. Leonord Zon at Harvard Children’s Hospital, Boston. While in the Zon lab, Cassandra managed the operations of the 5000 tank zebrafish facility and studied liver carcinogenesis using a cell cycle mutant that had been isolated in the lab.

Finally she moved to UCSF in 2005 as an Assistant Researcher within the Blelloch Lab. Within the lab she has many roles but her primary focus is on understanding prostate cancer progression. She established a mouse model to study the roles of microRNAs in prostate cancer by combining a recently published model of prostate cancer, the PB-cre conditional PTEN deletion model with the conditional DGCR8 deletion model established by Robert. Her more recent interests are moving into the area of prognostic biomarkers and learning the bioinformatics tools to uncover serum microRNAs that will add value to the current UCSF nomograms.

Outside of lab Cassandra volunteers in many capacities at her children's schools. With her family, she enjoys the fact that San Francisco has a climate conducive to year-round outdoor activities from hiking, biking and sailing locally to camping, hiking and skiing in the mountains.

Post-Doctoral Fellows

Brian's photo

Brian DeVeale

Post-Doctoral Fellow

I grew up a mediocre hockey player in Toronto, although in retrospect, I think advanced metrics would be kind to my contribution. I did my undergraduate studies in Life Sciences at Queen's University (Seroude lab) and then went on to do a PhD in Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto (van der Kooy lab). For my graduate work, I studied lineage specification and genomic imprinting in early embryos. Currently I'm a postdoctoral fellow working jointly in the Laird lab. I'm interested in the consequences of cellular heterogeneity during lineage specification. My studies are supported by a CIHR fellowship (2014-17)

Carolyn Sangokoya

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Carolyn is a Post-doctoral Fellow who joined the Blelloch Lab in 2016.

Deniz Goekbuget

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Deniz grew up in Frankfurt, Germany. He studied biochemistry at Goethe University Frankfurt, performing his graduate work on biochemical and biophysical properties of Channelrhodopsin-2 at the Max-Planck Institute of Biophysics. He then joined Ueli Suter’s lab at ETH Zurich in Switzerland to obtain his Ph.D. working on the role of the microRNA pathway in myelination of peripheral nerves. In the Blelloch lab, he is focused on molecular mechanisms of transcriptional regulation of embryonic stem cell differentiation. Outside lab he enjoys being in the mountains for hiking and skiing. Deniz is a fellow of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Graduate Students

Amy Chen

Graduate Student - BMS

Amy was born in New York City but grew up in Vancouver, BC where she enjoyed Canadian privileges such as poutine, ketchup-flavoured chips, and cheap tuition. While studying molecular biology and biochemistry at Simon Fraser University, she performed research on alternative splicing in C. elegans and mechanisms of breast cancer drug resistance. She then ventured south of the border and enrolled in the Biomedical Sciences program at UCSF, where she is currently a graduate student in the Blelloch lab. Her work focuses on epigenetic regulation of embryonic stem cell differentiation. When not in lab, she enjoys watching TV, rock climbing, reading, practicing yoga, and baking.

Jacob Freimer

Graduate Student - DSCB Program

Jake Freimer grew up in Santa Monica, CA. He studied Bioengineering at UC Berkeley, where he became interested in stem cell biology. During his undergraduate research he studied both mammalian muscle regeneration and epigenetics in Drosophila development, which led him to join the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology graduate program at UCSF. In the Blelloch lab he studies the post-transcriptional regulation of mouse embryonic stem cell differentiation. Outside of lab he enjoys outdoor activities including: running, rock climbing, surfing, and sailing.

Julia Ye

Graduate Student - MSTP, BMS Programs

Julia is an M.D.-Ph.D student at UCSF. She graduated from Harvard College in 2010 with an A.B. in Molecular and Cellular Biology, and she joined the Blelloch lab in 2012. Julia is interested in the post-transcriptional regulation of cell fate transitions into and out of pluripotency. In her spare time, she runs a high school science research program and plays the violin in a community orchestra. She also enjoys practicing yoga, drinking boba, and watching reality TV.


Graduate Student - BMS Program

Born in Durham, North Carolina, TJ returned to his hometown for his undergraduate studies at Duke University. There, he studied biophysics and volunteered in the laboratory of Dr. John Willis to investigate how yellow monkey flowers adapt to drought. TJ has also worked in the laboratory of Dr. Ronald DePinho at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where he helped determine that mechanisms driving terminal differentiation are neutralized during gliomagenesis. TJ is now a Ph.D. candidate in the Blelloch laboratory with broad interests in the tumor microenvironment as well as membrane trafficking. Specifically, he is studying mechanisms of miRNA sorting and secretion in prostate cancer. In his spare time, TJ enjoys squash, golf, investing, and cooking.

Xin Zhou

Graduate Student - Visiting Student

I was born and grew up in Chengdu, Sichuan, China, the city that is known as “Country of Heaven”. I got enrolled into West China School of Stomatology, Sichuan University, China in 2007. After receiving my Bachelor degree in dental medicine in 2012, I went on for my D.D.S./Ph.D program at the same school. I started my academic research focusing on microRNA and apical periodontitis in Dr. Xuedong Zhou’s group in 2012 and received the opportunity to study abroad in a joint-research project launched by West China School of Stomatology. In 2013, I joined Blelloch Laboratory at UCSF as a visiting graduate student. I am on the same group with Dr. Shveygert, studying miRNAs’ control of pancreatic development and beta cell biology. Outside lab, I enjoy dance and music a lot. I learned traditional Chinese dance at a young age and have found my new interest in ballet after moving to San Francisco. And I also enjoy symphony and had a great time listening to the concerts played by the orchestra in which Julia plays violin.