Director, Center for Pharmacogenomics
Philip and Sima K. Needleman Professor of Medicine
Associate Chair for Translational Research
Gerald W Dorn II MD, Principal Investigator. I am a physician-scientist with a long-standing interest in the molecular and biochemical underpinnings of mitochondrial diseases. For 18 years at the University of Cincinnati, and the past 14 years at Washington University, my laboratory developed broad expertise in mitochondrial biology, clinical and translational genomics, molecular analysis of signaling pathways, and neuro- and cardiac physiology. Ours is a small and highly interactive laboratory, never more than 6 individuals, where each trainee and every project benefits from a collaborative environment and personal attention. Our research efforts mechanistically interrogate human genomics discoveries using genetically, pharmacologically, and/or physiologically manipulated cultured primary and reprogrammed cells complemented by Drosophila and mouse models. DornLab investigations are characterized by conceptual integration and technical diversity, and our work has revised conventional wisdom on multiple occasions while surviving the crucible of independent replication.
I am especially proud of my 14 PhD, 9 MD, and 1 MD, PhD graduate student and postdoctoral trainees, the majority of whom established independent careers in academia or industry. Trainees who completed within the past 5 years include: Guoha Gong PhD (now Principal Investigator, Tongji University), Moshi Song PhD (now Professor and Research Group Leader at the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences), Xiawei Dang, PhD (now extending her graduate project as a post-doc in my lab), Antonietta Franco PhD (now Research Instructor at Wash U), Agostinho Rocha PhD (now Principal Research Scientist, Syneos Health). Additionally, several of my past summer undergraduate students have gone on to medical or graduate school, including William Eschenbacher (MD), Lisa Dorn (MD/PhD) and Emily Walton (MD).
Links for additional information about Dr Dorn:
Antonietta (Tonia) Franco, PhD
Research Instructor, Center for Pharmacogenomics
Antonietta Franco PhD, Research Instructor (Tonia). I joined the Dorn laboratory as a transfer graduate student from the University of Naples ~6 years ago, successfully defending my PhD in May 2016 and staying on for post-doctoral training. In July, 2019 I was appointed to the Wash U Research Faculty as I work toward research independence. In collaboration with other DornLab and Wash U collaborators, I have been the lead or co-lead scientist on projects describing allosteric mitofusin activation (Nature 2016), first-in-class small molecule mitofusin activators (Science 2018), and organ-specific pathological effects of different natural human MFN2 mutations using cell and genetic mouse models (eLife 2020 and submitted). My principal effort now is functionally dissecting the consequences of disrupted mitofusin-mediated fusion vs mitophagy in cardiomyopathy.
Links for additional information about Dr Franco:
Xiawei Dang, PhD
Visiting Scientist, Center for Pharmacogenomics
Xiawei Dang PhD, Visiting Scientist. I joined Dr. Dorn’s laboratory ~3 years ago to complete my PhD, which was awarded in Nov, 2021. I am now continuing my project as a postdoctoral visiting scientist. During my time at Washington University I have been responsible for characterizing in vitro and in vivo effects of first- and second-generation small molecule mitofusin activators, ultimately identifying 2 compounds as pharmaceutically acceptable leads meriting pre-clinical development (J Med Chem 2020 and 2021). I worked closely with Tonia Franco to assess possible disease mitigating effect of activating mitofusins in mouse models of MFN2 mutant neuropathy and cardiomyopathy (eLife 2020 and submitted). My main project, recently completed and under review, evaluated different mitofusin activators in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Links for additional information about Dr Dang:
Jiahia Li, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Pharmacogenomics
Jiahia Li PhD, Post-doctoral Fellow. I completed my PhD in another laboratory at Washington University and transferred to the Dorn laboratory about 2 years ago. My main project has been to understand the regulation of MFN2 fusion and mitophagy by different PINK kinase phosphorylation events. With mentoring by Xiawei and Tonia, I engineered and performed separation of function analyses on MFN2 T111, S378, S442 gain and loss of phosphorylation mutations, individually and in combination, in multiple cell types. This project is nearing completion and we are writing the manuscript.
Lihong Zhang, MSc
Senior Research Technician, Center for Pharmcogenomics
Lihong Zhang MSc, Senior Research Technician. I have been a member of DornLab for ~9 years, performing tissue culture, cell labeling and live cell imaging studies, preparing isolated mitochondria and mitochondrial fractions for protein chemistry and immunoblot analyses, and doing preparatory work for routine histology studies of mouse tissues (embedding, sectioning and staining). I also take the lead in managing the DornLab mouse colony, scheduling breeding and culling, and performing some genotyping.