Prior Research Accomplishments

After the initial derivation of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), concerns were raised regarding their functional equivalency to embryonic stem cells (ESCs). In response, we generated a large number of lines and characterized their genome-wide DNA methylation and expression profiles, and their ability to generate different neural cell types including postmitotic neurons (Boulting, Kiskinis et al., Nat Biotech; Bock, Kiskinis et al., Cell). We demonstrated that iPSCs are functionally equivalent to, and as variable as, ESCs. We also co-developed a novel quantitative method to assess pluripotency based on the expression of rationally selected, developmentally critical genes. This work has been cited more than 1200 times. Based on our findings, Life Tech developed a quality control assay for iPSCs (known as the Scorecard), which is widely used by the stem cell community.



We also developed some of the first iPSC-based cellular models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an untreatable neurodegenerative disease that selectively targets motor neurons (Kiskinis et al., Cell Stem Cell; Wainger, Kiskinis et al., Cell Rep; Kiskinis et al., Stem Cell Reports). Using patient-specific iPSCs we uncovered a range of molecular pathways that lead to the selective degeneration of patient neurons. Our major finding was a previously unknown interaction between endoplasmic reticulum-related stress and electrophysiological defects that was mediated by impaired potassium current. This work led to a Phase II clinical trial with Ezogabine, a potassium channel agonist, which was recently completed, successfully meeting its clinical endpoints. Collectively, our work has contributed to the validation of iPSC technologies and provided one of the first examples of a discovery made using an iPSC model that was directly translated to the clinic.


Central Directions of the Lab


The lack of easy accessibility to the cells of the nervous system has hampered progress towards the discovery of degenerative mechanisms as well as more effective treatments for neurological diseases. The groundbreaking technology of reprogramming, which allows for the generation of patient specific iPSCs has created an unprecedented opportunity for a new approach towards developing cellular models of human disease. Pluripotent stem cells, which renew indefinite, retain the unique ability to generate every cell in the human body including the myriad neuronal subtypes that make up the nervous system. Our research interests are focused on the following broad programs:



Uncovering the degenerative mechanisms that give rise to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

ALS is a clinically and genetically heterogenous disease characterized by the selective loss of cortical and motor neurons. While the majority of cases are sporadic, around 10% of ALS can be caused by mutations in genes implicated in diverse set of cellular functions. Nevertheless, all patients are uniformly characterized by a common pattern of progressive degeneration with accumulating neuropathological protein aggregates. This raises the possibility that different disease initiating events could coalesce in one or more common molecular pathways. To address this, we are generating patient-specific iPSCs from genetic cases, using gene-editing approaches to fix the mutations and are analyzing the phenotypic alterations in diseased motor neurons. We are using these models to discover disease mechanisms and illuminate broadly relevant routes for therapeutic intervention that may lead to rationally designed clinical trials and personalized treatments.

Developing iPSC-based models of epileptic channelopathies

Epileptic channelopathies are defined as seizure involving syndromes caused by mutations in ion channels such as KCNQ2 and SCN2A. Despite the availability of multiple anti-epileptic drugs, the treatment of epilepsy remains inadequate. It is often unclear why a patient suffering from epilepsy does or does not respond to a specific drug treatment. We are focused on developing cellular models of epileptic channelopathies using reprogramming and gene editing techniques (Simkin and Kiskinis, Epilepsy Curr; Simkin et al., biorXiv). We use a combination of high-throughput electrophysiological assays including multi-electrode array (MEA) systems and the Optopatch, which allows for neuronal recordings with single cell resolution in an all-optical fashion. Our goals are to gain insights into the pathophysiological processes that give rise to epilepsy, discover novel therapeutics and determine whether we can predict pharmacological responses of patients by studying their neurons in vitro.

Deciphering the role of DNA methylation dynamics in the CNS

DNA methylation is an epigenetic mechanism that mediates gene expression potential and cellular function. Genetic studies have implicated DNA methylation dynamics in neurodevelopmental disorders, although its exact role in the development and function of the central nervous system remains unknown. To address this gap in knowledge we have been using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genetic and epigenetic editing to generate distinct neuronal subtypes of the human nervous system that lack DNA methylation enzymes. We recently discovered that DNMT3A, one of the two de novo methyltransferases, safeguards the development and functional maturation of spinal motor neurons (Ziller, Ortgea et al., Cell Stem Cell). It does so, by coordinating the spatiotemporal expression of key transcription factors. Our ongoing work is focused on the role of DNA methylation in neuronal plasticity and adaptive responses to injury and disease.


Publications

View a full list of our publications on Pubmed.
View the impact of our work on Google Scholar.
View representative publications below and a full list per year here.

Dissecting the Functional Consequences of De Novo DNA Methylation Dynamics in Human Motor Neuron Differentiation and Physiology

Ziller MJ, Ortega JA, Quinlan KA, Santos DP, Gu H, Martin EJ, Galonska C, Pop R, Maidl S, Di Pardo A, Huang M, Meltzer HY, Gnirke A, Heckman CJ, Meissner A, Kiskinis E





Cell Stem Cell. 2018 Apr 5 | PMID: 29551301

Pathways disrupted in human ALS motor neurons identified through genetic correction of mutant SOD1

Kiskinis E, Sandoe J, Williams LA, Boulting GL, Moccia R, Wainger BJ, Han S, Peng T, Thams S, Mikkilineni S, Mellin C, Merkle FT, Davis-Dusenbery BN, Ziller M, Oakley D, Ichida J, Di Costanzo S, Atwater N, Maeder ML, Goodwin MJ, Nemesh J, Handsaker RE, Paull D, Noggle S, McCarroll SA, Joung JK, Woolf CJ, Brown RH, Eggan K


Cell Stem Cell. 2014 Jun 5 | PMID: 24704492

Impaired M-current in KCNQ2 Encephalopathy Evokes Dyshomeostatic Modulation of Excitability

Simkin D, Searl TJ, Piyevsky BN, Forrest M, Williams LA, Joshi V, Zhang H, Ryan SH, Schwake M, Robertson GL, Penzes P, Laux LC, McManus OB, Dempsey GT, Millichap JJ, George Jr AL., Kiskinis E




BioRxiv. 2019 Feb 1

Latest News

See our latest news and social interactions here.

  • ‘Organic interactions’ grow into new discoveries: Global researchers form lasting collaboration at SQI, May 2019.

  • Lab awarded a new NIH grant R21 NS111248 entitled “Defining the Mechanisms by Which NEK1 Genetic Variants Associated With ALS Patients Lead to Motor Neuron Degeneration", April 2019.

  • Congratulations to Alberto Ortega for being awarded a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship from the French Muscular Dystrophy Association AFM-Téléthon to study C9orf72 disease mechanisms, Feb 2019.

  • New paper out in collaboration with the Stupp Lab on the use of supramolecular particles to deliver siRNAs into human neurons: PMID: 30775231, Feb 2019.

  • For more news click here.

    People

    Our lab is currently comprised of 13 exceptionally talented, hard-working and passionate individuals.
    These include 1 lab manager, 4 postdoc fellows, 4 graduate students, 3 undergraduate and 1 master’s student.
    Click here to meet our team members.

    Evangelos Kiskinis, PhD Principal Investigator

    Assistant Professor of Neurology and Physiology
    Director Stem Cell Core Facility, Co-Director Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Initiative

    Evangelos was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. He moved to the UK when he was 19 and did his undergraduate studies at the University of Surrey and graduate work at Imperial College London. In between, he spent a year in Basel, Switzerland working as a research trainee at Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Evangelos trained as a postdoctoral fellow in Kevin Eggan’s lab at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute working on harnessing the utility of stem cells to study and treat neurodegenerative disease. He has been the recipient of postdoctoral fellowships from the European Molecular Biology Organization (2008), the New York Stem Cell Foundation (2011) and the Charles King Trust (2013). Evangelos moved to Northwestern University in January 2015 to head his own group, which focuses on studying neurological diseases using stem cell-based approaches. At Northwestern, he also serves as the Director of the Stem Cell Core Facility and the Co-Director of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Initiative. He enjoys spending his time with his young family as well as reading about his literary heroes that include Corto Maltese and Hellboy.

    Phone: 312-503-6039 | E-mail: evangelos.kiskinis[at]northwestern.edu

    Lab Life

    Click each photo, to view the respective gallery.

    Join us

    For inquires related to job opportunities and the research we do please contact Evangelos
    Phone: 312-503-6039 | E-mail: evangelos.kiskinis[at]northwestern.edu

    Summer Internships

    If you are interested in joining our lab for a summer internship please email us with a copy of your CV and a short cover letter explaining your interest in our lab.

    Undergraduate Students

    We are always looking for motivated and dedicated students who are willing to commit at least one year to the lab. Please email us with a copy of your CV and a short cover letter explaining your interest in our lab.

    Masters Students

    We are always looking for motivated and dedicated students who are willing to commit at least one year to the lab. Please email us with a copy of your CV and a short cover letter explaining your interest in our lab.

    PhD Students

    Prospective PhD students can join the lab only through Northwestern's Interdepartmental Neuroscience (NUIN) program, the Driskill Graduate Program (DGP) in Life Sciences, or the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP).

    Post-Doctorate Fellows

    We are accepting post-doctoral applications. Applicants should have a PhD with at least three years of proven research experience as well as at least one first author publication. Expertise in any of the following approaches: neurobiology, biochemistry, computational biology, single-cell RNA Sequencing, bioinformatics and molecular biology are highly favorable. Please email us with a copy of your CV, contact information for three references and a cover letter.

    Information for ALS Patients

    Clinical Trials
    The Northeast ALS Consortium (NEALS) is an independent consortium of researchers who conduct clinical research in motor neuron diseases. Find information on clinical trials for ALS

    The Dedicated ALS Clinic at Northwestern
    The Lois Insolia ALS Clinic at the Les Turner ALS Center is dedicated to the total care and support of people with ALS, their families and caregivers.

    The ALS Association
    The ALS Association is a national non-profit organization fighting ALS on every front. By leading the way in global research, helping people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters, coordinating multidisciplinary care through certified clinical care centers, and fostering government partnerships, The Association builds hope and enhances quality of life while aggressively searching for new treatments and a cure.

    Contact Us

    The lab is superbly located in the downtown Chicago area, a few minutes away from Lake Michigan,
    the shopping and restaurants of Magnificent Mile, within the historical Montgomery Ward Memorial Building.

    For general lab inquires please contact Haley, our lab manager at: Phone: 312-503-6126 | E-mail: haley.smith1[at]northwestern.edu

    Address

    Evangelos Kiskinis Lab | Northwestern University
    Feinberg school of Medicine | Department of Neurology
    Ward 12-013 | 303 East Chicago Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60611, USA