Principal Investigator

Ulli Tepass

Academic Title: Professor
Campus: St. George
CSB Appointment: Full Primary Undergraduate Department: 
Cell & Systems BiologyGraduate Programs: 
Cell & Systems BiologyDevelopmental Biology

Education: Ph.D. University of Cologne 1990

Luka Sheppard

Ph.D. Candidate

Hailing from Barbados in the West Indies, Luka received the Barbados Scholarship in 2009 which allowed her to pursue undergraduate studies in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Visual Studies at the University of Toronto. She first joined the Tepass lab during a fourth year research project and decided to continue into a PhD here. She is part of the alpha-catenin research group, focussing on live imaging analysis in the early embryo. In her free time, she dances ballet and contemporary. 

Lab Manager and Research Associate

Milena Pellikka

I received my training in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Toronto. Over the years I have worked on a broad range of projects, such as generation of mutants and research tools to study the role of Alpha-catenin in establishing and maintaining epithelial polarity. Most notably I was involved in the investigation of the role of Crumbs in Drosophila photoreceptor cell integrity. My recent work includes further analysis of Crb mutant isoforms that affect rhodopsin trafficking, resulting in Crb-dependent retinal degeneration. Currently I am investigating the function of Yurt during early embryonic development, and generating new tools for lineage analysis and live imaging. My interests also include the latest in technological and research advances and incorporating/ implementing these in our research work. In my free time I sail and enjoy nature walks.

Ritu Sarpal

Senior Research Associate

Ritu obtained her PhD degree from TIFR, Mumbai, where she worked with Professor Krishanu Ray and collaborated with Daniel Eberl (University of Iowa) on understanding intracellular transport in Drosophila. Specifically, she investigated the role of Drosophila Kinesin Accessory Protein, a sub-unit of the Kinesin-II motor protein complex, in anterograde intraflagellar transport. She joined the Tepass lab in 2005 as a Postdoctoral Fellow and was later appointed a Senior Research Associate. Her research contributions include developing Drosophila as a model system to elucidate the molecular function of alpha-catenin in vivo, and to understand how it organizes the cadherin-actin interface. Her work has implications for understanding how loss of the cadherin-catenin complex, and consequently the adherens junctions, promotes cancer progression and metastasis.She likes to go for hikes, participate in bikeathons, and play badminton and tennis.

Kenana al Kakouni

Ph.D. Candidate

I work on polarized trafficking in epithelial cells. Particularly, I'm interested in studying the role of trafficking in embryonic epithelia using live imaging.

When I am not in the lab, I enjoy reading, photography and playing board games. I've lived most of my life in Toronto and one of my favorite things about this city is the number of sushi restaurants. I love sushi!

David Green, Ph.D.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

David obtained his PhD at the University of Houston, where he worked for Dr. Arne Lekven describing the mechanisms of Wnt-mediated anterior posterior patterning in the early neural plate of zebrafish.  He now works as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Tepass lab, where he works on defining the links between Notch signaling, actomyosin activity, and ingression of early neuroblasts.  When not in the lab David enjoys playing boardgames with friends and baking.


Meggie Cao

Ph.D. Candidate

As a student who graduated from University of Toronto specializing in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, the heart of my research interest lies in understanding the role of alpha-catenin (an adherens junction protein) in growth.  Specially, my project involves examining how alpha catenin participates in various growth and regulatory pathways in the Drosophila imaginal wing disc.  By studying molecular mechanisms, many fascinating questions about human diseases, such as cancer, can be addressed and answered. During my spare time, I enjoy painting, jogging and playing flute.



gerald 4_1.jpg

Gerald Lerchbaumer

Ph.D. Candidate

Imported from Austria in early 2019, Gerald joined the Tepass lab as a Phd student. During his masters project, which dealt with mechanisms of chemotaxis in zebrafish development, he developed a burning passion for cell biology and cell migration. Not surprisingly so, he joined the neuroblast project in which the ingression of neural progenitors is utilized as a model system for epithelial to mesenchymal transition. Within this project his focus lies on the Par complex, its interaction partners and how these polarity factors contribute to cell ingression. Outside of the lab he plays rugby and a variety of other sports and enjoys all sorts of outdoor activities. And he likes chess, but he is not any good at it unfortunately.


Max Shcherbina

M.Sc. Candidate

I graduated from the University of Toronto where I specialized in Cells & Systems Biology and Health & Disease. I was first introduced to the Tepass Lab during my fourth-year research project where I investigated the role of the phosphorylation of the Crumbs protein in growth regulation of Drosophila imaginal wing discs. Working day-to-day on achieving an answer to a research question was a fantastic opportunity for me to challenge myself and grow as a scientific investigator. I am looking forward to further developing my skills as a researcher at the Tepass Lab!


When I am not thinking about research, I am thinking about photography, planning my next hike, or trying out the latest gadget.




Sérgio Simões, Ph.D.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

During my PhD in Dr. Antonio Jacinto’s lab, Portugal, I studied how signaling mediated by Rho1 GTPase is temporally and spatially controlled during morphogenesis via RhoGEFs and RhoGAPs, using epithelial cell invagination in the Drosophila embryo as a model system. In Dr. Jennifer Zallen’s lab, at MSKCC, New York I addressed molecular mechanisms implicated in the establishment and maintenance of planar polarization of epithelial cells during convergence and extension movements in the Drosophila gastrula. In Ulrich Tepass’s lab, Toronto, Canada, I have been investigating how Drosophila neural stem cells or neuroblasts loose cell-cell contacts and apical-basal polarity in order to squeeze out of the epithelium, a process termed neuroblast ingression. Ingression of epithelial cells is ubiquitous during development and plays key roles in carcinoma progression and metastasis.

Azadeh Lafaffian


Azadeh successfully defended her PhD in 2019. Her project is about polarized vesicle trafficking in the Drosophila photoreceptor cells (PRCs). She is specifically interested in understanding how proteins are targeted to the apical membrane of the PRCs.  Her research has implications in understanding various retinal degenerative diseases, such as Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Azadeh enjoys teaching and is also interested in finding ways to communicate scientific ideas with the general public. 

Parama Talukder


A long-term Torontonian, I have spent most of my academic years in this beautiful, bustling city. I completed an Honours Bachelor of Science at the University of Toronto, with a specialization in Cell and Molecular Biology, in addition to a major in Health & Disease. Through my research projects during my undergraduate years, I gained experience working with both in vitro and in vivo systems, and learning biochemistry, molecular biology, and immunohistochemistry techniques. I joined the Tepass lab as a new graduate student in September 2016, where I currently study the role of polarity protein Crumbs (Crb) – a conserved type I transmembrane protein- as a growth regulator during development in Drosophila. To investigate its function, I focus on the role of Crb in imaginal wing discs, a model tissue for studying growth. In my spare time I enjoy the thrilling sport of reading classics, gardening and crocheting! 

David ter Stal


In the lab, my work is on the regulation of epithelial polarity through post-translational modifications of the apical polarity regulator Crumbs, with a focus on its interactions with the FERM domain containing protein Yurt, and the kinase aPKC.  My personal interests include photography, auto racing, and playing board games.

Gayaanan Jeyanathan


As a PhD student in the Tepass lab, I examine the role of epithelial cell polarity during symmetric cell division.  More importantly, I am trying to elucidate the exact mechanisms by which the polarity machinery influence the process of cell division.  Both cell division and epithelial polarity have been attributed to tumour progression, and thus better understanding of the relationship between the two is of great interest to me.  

I have a number of hobbies outside the lab such as rock climbing, gardening, stargazing, photography and recently I've been trying my hands at selectively breeding ornamental shrimps! 


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