Lab Members

Vittorio Sebastiano, Ph.D. 
Principle Investigator (PI)
Assistant Professor (Research) Obstetrics and Gynecology
Reproductive and Stem Cell Biology

Germ cells, preimplantation embryos and pluripotent stem cells at first glance seem to have nothing in common. A more careful look, though, reveals that they are very closely linked to each other. The zygote originates from the fusion of two highly specialized germ cells (the sperm and the oocyte) and in a few days develops into a blastocyst with a pluripotent cell population (the inner cell mass). These cells diverge from the extraembryonic cells of the trophectoderm and can give rise to embryonic stem cells, in which a perpetual pluripotent and undifferentiated state is maintained.

The thread of Ariadne that connects germ cells, preimplantation development and pluripotent stem cells is the focus of my research, with a specific interest in human development. My long-term goals are several fold: 

1. Understanding the biology of germ cells and their ability to sustain early phases of preimplantation development

2. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate very early cell fate decisions in human embryos; 

3. Understanding the biology of Pluripotent Stem Cells (PSCs) and the mechanisms that lead to their formation also in the context of iPSCs derivation.

Roger A. Pedersen, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor and Senior Research Scientist
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Dr. Roger Pedersen received degrees in biology from Stanford University (A.B, 1965) and Yale University (Ph.D., 1970) and did postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University. In 1971, he joined the University of California, San Francisco, where he studied developmental potency and cell fate in mammalian embryos. He served for 9 years as Director of the UCSF In Vitro Fertilization Laboratory (1992-2001). In 2001 Dr. Pedersen moved to the University of Cambridge, where he continued his research on human embryonic stem cells as Professor of Regenerative Medicine. The Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, which he co-founded, became the leading stem cell research center in the UK and Europe. 

From 2008 to 2011, Dr. Pedersen led The Anne McLaren Laboratory for Regenerative Medicine located at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Dr. Pedersen’s Cambridge lab made huge strides in understanding the growth factor signaling pathways involved in maintaining human embryonic stem cell pluripotency and inducing their differentiation. These insights led to the lab’s co-discovery of a novel type of pluripotent stem cell from the late epiblast layer of mouse and rat embryos, which they named “epiblast stem cells”. In recent years, the lab has focused on differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) into mesodermal cell types with potential applications in drug discovery, toxicity testing and cell-based therapies. Most recently this culminated in functional studies of hPSCs transplanted into gastrula stage mouse embryos to validate their developmental capacity in an organized tissue context. 

Dr. Pedersen’s findings are important for the field of regenerative medicine because they provide compelling evidence for the functional potential of human pluripotent stem cells, both in vivo and as in vitro models of human cell biology. In 2018 Dr. Pedersen moved to the Stanford School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where he continues his research on differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells into clinically relevant tissues.

Roberta Sala, Ph.D.

I am a cell biologist with experience in cell cycle, cell proliferation, and oncology. In the Sebastiano lab I am working on primordial germ cells differentiation, and cell cycle-related changes during aging and differentiation.

My scientific journey started at the University of Padua (Italy), where I completed my BSc and MSc in Molecular Biology. I then moved to London (UK), where I was conferred a PhD degree in Preclinical Oncology from Imperial College, and finally Stanford. Aside from research, I am passionate about exploring the world, taking pretty pictures, music, dancing, and good food - I am Italian after all!

Andrea Cipriano, PhD.
Post doctoral scholar

My name is Andrea, I was born in Italy and I moved to Vittorio’s Lab on April 2019 as a postdoc fellow. Since the beginning of my University studies, I was fascinating by how a single cell would be able to potentially give rise to a such complicated organisms such as human beings. This basic question moved me to develop a strong scientific interest in the comprehension of the molecular mechanisms controlling different biological processes such as development and cell differentiation. 

In 2012 I completed my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology at Sapienza University, working on a project concerning the development of a new method to count adherent bacteria, called BioTimer Assay (BTA), in professor Valenti’s laboratory at the Igiene department. I then attended a master’s degree in Genomic Biotechnology, and I started to work in professor Bozzoni’s laboratory at Sapienza University of Rome. During these years, I was launched into the complex world of RNA that I had the great opportunity to study and to appreciate. In particular, during my master’s degree and my PhD, I focused on the functional study of the non-coding portion of the genome with particular interest in a new class of RNA transcripts recently discovered that display any coding potential and that are defined as long non-coding RNA. I spent 6 years studying their role during skeletal and cardiac muscle differentiation focusing in the nuclear lncRNAs, involved in the epigenetic regulation of cell differentiation. 

I decided to apply to Stanford University first because I like working with world-class laboratories but also to explore wide-ranging research with a relevant interdisciplinary view since I am firmly convinced that in the future only the cooperation between several disciplines could pave the basis for new discoveries. I am now involved in two main projects: The first one is about the study of a transcription factor called Tbx1 important during thymus development and in the following identification of the transcriptomic profiles of this cell type. The second project is about aging: My first goal is to understand what actually aging means in terms of cellular epigenetic profiles and how to prevent this process taking advantage from the new technologies developed in Vittorio’s Lab. I really love science, but I also like swimming, cooking, horse riding, working out, of course partying and spending time with my friends.

Nurlybek Mursaliyev, Graduate Student

I am from Kazakhstan, a country of great steppe located in the heart of Eurasia. In Vittorio’s lab, I am interested in preimplantation embryo development and developing new tools to improve the viability of embryos in vitro. 

Outside of science, I can easily say that my passion is history. I enjoy reading history books. I love visiting new places especially historical cities, and nothing gets me excited other than being caught up in the thousand years old buildings or staring at old paintings. Last place I visited was Istanbul, and lo and behold, I fell in love with ‘Hagia Sophia’, old roman church turned into mosque and later a museum.

Taylor Merkel M.S. Student

I'm a Chicago native and current master's student in Bioengineering, concentrating in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. I also completed my bachelor's at Stanford in Biology and got my start in research in the Wyss-Coray lab for my first two years of undergrad. Broadly, I'm interested in finding ways to turn existing biology into useful tools and therapies. When I'm not in the lab or in class, I love volunteering with elementary school students, scouring the internet for cheap flights, creating overly-specific Spotify playlists, and rock climbing. 

Ryan Merrill M.S. Student


Miguel Villa, Research Assistant.
B.S. Cellular and Molecular Biology
Humboldt State University

My name is Miguel Villa. I served in the United States Army Medical Corps for 8 years before graduating from Humboldt State University in 2018 with a Cellular and Molecular Biology degree. I was fortunate to be selected as a CIRM Scholar. Then joined the Sebastiano Lab in a collaboration with the Chen Lab at Stanford.

My research is focused on developing a GMP-grade mRNA/miRNA reprogramming therapy to treat patients suffering from urinary incontinence. 

Matthew Caldwell, Research Assistant.
B.S. Humboldt State University

I am a CIRM scholar from Humboldt State University working under Dr. Roger Pedersen. I graduated in 2018 from Humboldt State with a bachelor’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology and a minor in Chemistry.  

My research interest is in using a type of cellular reprogramming called “Forward Programming”, which is the process of transiently expressing lineage specific transcription factors to convert pluripotent cells directly to a target cell type. Using forward programming, we hope to derive pure cell populations of target cell types for the use of disease modeling and possible therapeutic use. 

Cindy Klein, Lab Manager

I have been at Stanford for 20 years supporting different labs in many different capacities.  Currently I support labs in OB/GYN, Pediatrics, Cancer Institute and the Stem Cell Institute.  I graduated from San Jose State and then took additional courses at De Anza College.  In my free time I love to bake, spend time spoiling my grandkids and travel.

Danielle Gomes, Lab Manager.
B.S. Cellular and Molecular Biology
Humboldt State University 

My name is Danielle Gomes and I originally grew up in the Central Valley of California. I originally was exposed to the healthcare field by becoming an EMT and athletic trainer while attending school in Santa Cruz. I decided to then go on and pursue a science career at Humboldt State University where I graduated with a Cellular/Molecular Biology degree and a minor in Chemistry.

During my time at Humboldt State I became passionate about research while working on my senior research project with CRISPR/Cas-9 genome modification in metalloproteases associated with Neurological disorders. When I am not studying science or in a lab, my hobbies include snowboarding, reading, and being with my dog.