Darren Soanes

Darren graduated with a BA in Biochemistry from the University of Oxford in 1991, before taking a PGCE in Secondary Science at the University of Sussex. He
spent four years as a Science teacher at a secondary school in Eastbourne before moving to the University of Exeter to study for an MSc in Biological Research
Methods in 1996. After that he stayed in Exeter and undertook a PhD in the laboratory of Nick Talbot studying the gene expression of the pathogenicity factor MPG1 in the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae. He stayed in Nick Talbot’s group as a postdoctoral research fellow where he moved from lab-based research to bioinformatics. Darren acted as bioinformatics support for the group, analysing both transcriptomic and genomic sequence data, as well as teaching colleagues how to analyse their own datasets. He was also involved in a number of other projects analysing sequence data from species of fungal phytopathogens, as well as providing online resources for the fungal community and contributing functional annotation to a number of fungal and microbial genome sequencing projects. Since the availability of next-generation sequencing, Prof. Talbot’s group has sequenced over a 100 strains of M. oryzae from different host species and different geographical locations. Darren was involved in comparative genomic analysis of this data in order to model the evolution of M. orzyae and guide the breeding of plants that have increased resistance to this fungus. In 2018, Darren joined the Exeter Sequencing Service, processing raw sequence data and aiding researchers in their own analyses. Darren has experience in analysing multiple types of sequence data including genomic, RNA-seq, ChIP-seq and metagenomics / microbiome. He has also taught on MSc in Bioinformatics and BSc in Biological Sciences programs, as well as providing bioinformatics training courses for staff and PhD students. Darren joined Katie Lunnon’s group in 2019 where he will be using micro-RNA and RNA-sequencing of blood samples to investigate inflammatory mechanisms in patients with mild cognitive impairment and to determine if this accelerates conversion to Alzheimer’s Disease.

Yaseen Ahammed

Yaseen is a third year BSc Medical Sciences (Pharmacology and Therapeutics) student at the University of Exeter. He started his Professional Training Year (PTY) with the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group under the supervision of Asami Oguro-Ando. His project involves “Investigating the biological pathways of JAKMIP1 using Integrative network analysis associated with 15q duplication syndrome”.

Ailsa MacCalman

Ailsa was awarded a PhD studentship at the University of Exeter in 2019, under the supervision of Professor Jon Mill, Dr Elisa De Franco, and Dr Aaron Jeffries and collaboration with Professor Noel Morgan, and Professor Andrew Hattersley. Ailsa graduated with her Masters degree in Biomedical Science in 2018 from the University of Lincoln, where she researched autoimmune responses in Type 1 diabetes patients and HLA-DR4/DQ8 transgenic mice. With a keen interest in diabetes research, Ailsa took on the role of a research technician with the Diabetes and Metabolism group at the University of Bristol, before accepting her PhD studentship.
Ailsa’s project is focused on genomic regulation in the development of the human pancreas. Her project will evaluate the epigenetic and transcriptional changes which occur in the pancreas as it develops in utero, and compare this to patterns of gene regulation in the fully developed adult pancreas- facilitating a systematic exploration of hypotheses related to the developmental origins of diseases affecting the pancreas.

Tom Hewat

Tom is a PhD student based at the University of Exeter, supervised by Dr Sarah Flanagan and Dr Emma Dempster. He graduated from the University of Exeter in the summer of 2019 with a BSc in Medical Sciences (Human Genomics). During his undergraduate degree, he completed a summer placement within the epigenetics lab at the RILD, where he shadowed Sam Washer in his work investigating functional epigenomics and schizophrenia. His dissertation focussed on the use of whole genome sequencing data to uncover novel causes of congenital hyperinsulinism with Dr Thomas Laver. His PhD project is to investigate the role of DNA methylation in congenital disorders of insulin secretion, based on Level 3 of the RILD with Dr Flanagan’s group.

Marcelo Amorelli Kornexl

Marcelo is an Austrian third year BSc Medical Sciences (Genomics) student at the University of Exeter. He is currently completing a Professional Training Year (PTY), and will work half the year in Tokyo’s National Cancer Centre with Dr Ryoichi Sadahiro. The second half of the year will be spent working with Exeter’s Complex Disease Epigenetics Group assisting Dr Jonathan Mill. His research focuses on potential genetic and immunological biomarkers associated with the onset of delirium.

Lachlan MacBean

As part of his BSc in Biological Sciences at Bournemouth University, Lachlan conducted research into the genetic factors of type II diabetes, using Drosophila nephrocytes as a model for the human podocyte. In 2018 Lachlan completed an MSc degree in Biotechnology at the University of Essex after researching the relationships between smoking, age-related methylation and blood neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio. In the last year Lachlan has worked at Cambridge Epigenetix as a primary operator of the hydroxymethylcytosine-pulldown pipeline, contributing to the company’s aim of using 5-hydroxymethylcytosine signatures found in cfDNA as a diagnostic tool. Under the supervision of Professor Katie Lunnon, Lachlan is now undergoing a PhD project studying the molecular changes resulting from amyloid-beta immunisation in Alzheimer’s disease through integrated systems-level analyses.

Aisha Dahir

Aisha completed her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Birmingham. She focused on cell communication, with her research project specialising in understanding the genetic and protein changes in loss of Y chromosome in head and neck cancer. Staying on at Birmingham, she took a Msc in Bioinformatics where she analysed different datasets in several omics field using machine learning approaches. Her main project focused on single-cell RNA-seq analysis of mature and immature beta cells of healthy mouse. Aisha is interested in using these skills to understand genetic and epigenetic changes in disease and healthy states.

Betsan Jones

Betsan is a third year BSc Medical Sciences (Genomics) student at the University of Exeter. She has recently started her Professional Training Year (PTY) where she will spend 5 months with the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group under the supervision of Professor Jonathan Mill. The second half of her PTY will be spent in Tokyo at the National Cancer Centre Japan assisting Dr Ryoichi Sadahiro’s research of postoperative delirium. Her research project is titled “Gene regulatory changes through surgery and postoperative delirium”.

Joshua Harvey


Josh completed his BSc Biochemistry (Hons) at the University of Kent in 2016 and following graduation was employed as a Molecular Pathologist at Eli Lilly and Co. in Surrey. His role at Lilly involved histological analysis of pathological processes in neurodegenerative diseases. He is particularly interested in neurobiology, genetics and neurodegenerative disease, specifically synucleinopathies. This led Josh to join the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group as a PhD student, with a project investigating epigenetic changes in the brains of Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) and Parkinsons Disease Dementia (PDD) donors. He will be working under the supervision of Professor Katie Lunnon, Dr. Ehsan Pishva and Professor Jonathan Mill and the project is funded by The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust.

Barry Chioza

Barry Chioza is a Research Fellow working at the University of Exeter Medical School. Barry obtained an Honours degree in Biochemistry from Aberystwyth University before going to King’s College London to complete a M.Sc. in Neuroscience, followed by a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics in 2002, entitled “Identification of genes involved in idiopathic generalised epilepsy”. The project aimed to identify variants in candidate genes for idiopathic generalised epilepsy (IGE) that have been previously identified to be involved in Mendelian idiopathic epilepsies in humans or mouse models using case-control and within-family association studies.

After completion of his Ph.D. Barry worked within leading research groups at the University College London, St George’s University of London and the University of Exeter. Barry’s work at St George’s primarily involved the elucidation of the genetic and molecular basis of inherited neurological conditions in genetically isolated communities such as the Amish communities of Ohio and Indiana, UK, India, Oman and Pakistan and has led to the identification of several novel disorders. These findings have provided the fundamental scientific insight required to develop therapeutic intervention for some of these disorders. Barry also has an interest in the definition of new genetic causes of inherited hearing loss and has played a central role in the identification of new syndromic forms of pre-lingual hearing loss in the Amish. Barry joined the Complex Disease Epigenetics Group in January 2018 to work on the MRC project investigating regulatory genomic variation associated with schizophrenia in human neuronal nuclei.