Georgia Panagiotakos’ research interests stem from a curiosity about how undifferentiated stem cells integrate intrinsic and extrinsic developmental signals to generate the diversity of cell types in the brain. Building on her undergraduate training in molecular biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she first pursued these interests in the laboratories of Lorenz Studer and Viviane Tabar at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, performing in vivo and behavioral studies investigating the specification and transplantation of pluripotent stem cell derivatives into the normal and diseased brain. This research, aimed at developing cell replacement therapies for neurodegenerative disorders, formed the basis for a long-standing fascination with the mechanisms by which cells decide their fate and how these mechanisms go awry in the context of disease.
Using this background as a springboard, Panagiotakos’ doctoral studies at Stanford University in the laboratories of Theo Palmer and Ricardo Dolmetsch explored the function of calcium signals through a channel implicated in neuropsychiatric disease on the differentiation of specific neuronal subtypes in the developing mouse cortex and in human stem-cell-derived neurons. Based on this work, Panagiotakos was selected to start her lab at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), as a Sandler Faculty Fellow in November of 2013. Since arriving at UCSF in late 2014, she has put together a research team that is integrating a variety of complementary approaches to investigate the role of electrical activity, calcium signaling and ion-channel diversity in sculpting forebrain development and evolution, with an eye toward elucidating how these mechanisms are altered to give rise to neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism spectrum disorders, or to drive neurodegenerative processes later in life.