Principle Investigator

Alex Beristain

Associate Professor
BSc, University of Victoria
PhD, University of British Columbia
PDF, University of Toronto

My research focuses on better understanding a cell of the placenta called a trophoblast. Originating from the trophectoderm of the blastocyst, progenitor trophoblasts differentiate into highly-specialized cells that perform a multitude of tasks important for healthy placental functioning.

While my formative years as a PhD student captured my interest in trophoblast biology, it was during my postdoc (Lab of Rama Khokha, University of Toronto) researching mammary tumor development where my interests in how the cellular microenvironment, or niche, plays a powerful role in shaping differentiation decisions for cells. Applying this framework to the placenta and trophoblast is now an exciting pursuit of my research, from wanting to understand how progenitor trophoblasts are retained as progenitor trophoblasts, to how invasive subsets of trophoblasts shape and are shaped by maternal cell interactions.

The human trophoblast field has advanced immensely since 2018 with the development of regenerative trophoblast systems (organoids, stem cells) along with state-of-the-art single cell omics’ technologies. I hope to make advances in trophoblast and placental developmental knowledge by generating deeper insight into underlying processes regulating trophoblast state and function.

On a personal note, I am a proud father of two. My partner, also an academic, share interests in learning and teaching. During spare time love running on the many trails the Vancouver area has to offer. Though age has damped some ability, I still also enjoy sport climbing and bouldering, both on plastic and rock.

Research Staff and Graduate Students

Barbara Castellana

Research Associate

2015 - Present
BSc, Biology, Universitat de Barcelona
MSc, Molecular Biology, Universitat de Barcelona
PhD, Molecular Physiology, Universitat de Barcelona
Hometown: Barcelona, Spain

Lauren St-Germain

PhD Candidate

2018 - Present
BSc Hons, Life Sciences, Queen’s University (2018)
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Lauren is a PhD candidate in the Women+ and Children's Health graduate program at UBC, and she studies reproductive immunology. Broadly, she uses mouse models to study how aberrant inflammation in early pregnancy impacts the maternal-fetal interface. Lauren also loves teaching, science communication, all animals, and spending time with friends and family.

Matthew J Shannon

PhD Candidate

2018 - Present
BSc Honours, McMaster University (2018)
Hometown: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Matthew is a PhD candidate in the Reproductive and Developmental Sciences graduate program at UBC. His research is focused on human trophoblast biology and development in the first trimester of pregnancy, with a specific focus on the genetic machinery regulating trophoblast differentiation in vivo and in our 3D trophoblast organoid in vitro models. Outside of the lab, Matt tries to keep active by swimming, running the Vancouver seawall, and finding new mountains to climb/campsites to explore. Otherwise, he can be found relaxing at home with his two cats and a good book.

Gina McNeill

PhD Student

2020 - Present
BSc, Medical Cell Biology, Western University (2019)
Hometown: Milton, Ontario, Canada

Gina is a MSc Student in the Cell and Developmental Biology graduate program at UBC. She is interested in the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie trophoblast differentiation, particularly the role of oxygen in these processes.

Burak Köksal

MSc Student

2021 - Present
BSc, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Bilkent University (2021)
Hometown: Ankara, Turkey

Burak is a MSc student in the Cell and Developmental Biology program at UBC. His research focuses on the impacts of maternal and paternal obesity on cellular and molecular mechanisms during the peri-implantation window.

Victoria Leonard

MSc Student

2022 - Present
BscH, Biology, Western University (2021)
Hometown: London, Ontario, Canada

Bio under construction

Undergraduate students

Grace Bernard, Summer student
Sana Samadi, Co-op student


Sana Samadi, Co-op student
Grace Bernard, Summer student
Jasmin Wächter, MSc Student and Lab Assistant/Tech
Jennet Baltayeva, MSc Student and Lab Assistant/Tech
Jenna Treissman, MSc Student
Hoa Le, Post-doctoral fellow
Desmond Hui, Lab Assistant/Tech
Katherine Watt PhD Candidate
Danielle Mara, Lab Assistant/Tech
Jawairia Atif, Co-op student
Vassilena Sharlandjieva, Co-op student
Alejandro Majali‐Martinez, visiting PhD Student
Megan Marziali, Co-op student
Kathy Chan, Co-op student
Sophie Perdu, Lab Assistant/Tech
Yoona Kim, MSc Student
Lauren De Luca, MSc Student
Kate Irvine, PhD Student
Mahroo Aghababaei, MSc Student