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Group Members

Sandra Siegert

Group leader

“I am always driven by the question of how genetic malfunction causes a disease phenotype. This apparently simple question contains numerous facets: From the discovery of the underlying cause of a genetic malfunction and its functional impact, to the translation into medical treatment. The field of neuroscience is particular exciting for me, because any neuronal loss leads immediately to severe, mostly irreversible, functional impairment.

Since August 2015, I am an Assistant professor at IST Austria and have the unique opportunity to shed light on this question. Before that I was a postdoctoral associate at MIT/ The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge, USA with Li-Huei Tsai working on epigenetic mechanisms of schizophrenia. I obtained my Ph.D. on the “molecular logic of retinal cell types” with Botond Roska at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland.”


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Katarina Bartalska

Laboratory Technician

Katarina is our molecular biology and cell culture experts. She obtained her extensive experience by working as a technician in the laboratory of Michael Glotzer and Barry Dickson at IMP. Since December 2015, she is part of our group. She manages the molecular side of the lab as well as becoming an expert in generating human 3D retinoids.




Gloria Colombo

Graduate student (ISTScholar)

”I joined Professor Siegert’s group as an ERASMUS student in November 2015 after I obtained my Master’s degree in Neurobiology at the University of Pavia, Italy. Here, I was focusing on the role of microglial activation and microgliosis in the onset of tinnitus.

I am excited to join soon the PhD program at IST Austria, where I will investigate the response of microglia to micro-environmental changes during retinal development. I will take advantage of transgenic mice lines that label distinct neuronal and glial cell types, as well as in vitro 3D retinal models of the mouse and human retina.”




Ryan John Cubero

ISTplus Fellow

“I joined in Professor Siegert’s lab in October 2019 as the advanced math guy of the group. I finished a PhD in Statistical Physics at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy where I traced the origin of broad distributions in many biological data using statistical mechanics and information theoretic arguments. During my PhD, I performed transcriptomic analysis of exogenously administered microRNAs that induce heart cell proliferation in collaboration with the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Trieste, Italy) and Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretic Physics (Trieste, Italy) and then moved to Kavli Institute in Systems Neuroscience (Trondheim, Norway) to analyse electrophysiological data from the medial entorhinal cortex and calcium imaging data from the posterior parietal and secondary motor cortex.

Working in Professor Siegert’s group allows me to combine my interest in molecular biology, neuroscience, and data analysis and extend it to immunology. I am currently focusing on finding transcriptomic signatures of the microglial population from singe cell RNA sequencing data by developing algorithms based on the results of my PhD work. In particular, I am exploring whether the expression patterns of a gene set that maximise the information content can determine microglial cell states and delineate these populations from invading macrophages.”


Verena Hübschmann

PhD student

“I studied Biotechnology at University for Natural Resources and Life Science Vienna and joined Siegert group in 2017 to perform my master thesis. The experiences of master project confirmed my intension to stay in academia and to continue with a PhD in Sandra’s group. For my PhD project I will assemble retinal organoids and microglia differentiated from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to address questions in early human developmental stages.”




Medina Korkut

Project technician

“My name is Medina and I am working as a project technician in professor Siegert’s lab. I joined the lab after obtaining my Master’s degree in Molecular Biotechnology at the FH Campus Wien, University of Applied Sciences. I was always fascinated by the discovery of Shinya Yamanaka, who reprogrammed adult human mature cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). These cells can then be differentiated to generate human organoids. I am excited to work on a project focusing on microglia and retinal differentiation using human iPSC and to model neuronal development and disease in human 3D models.”




Margaret Maes

Postdoctoral fellow (ISTFELLOW)

“I obtained my Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Pathology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. My thesis work focused on the mechanisms of the pro-apoptotic protein, BAX, during retinal ganglion cell death. I also investigated BAX function in the process of mitochondrial fission, which first sparked my interest in the role of mitochondria in disease. My work in Professor Siegert’s laboratory will focus on how changes in mitochondrial dynamics and metabolism influence microglia ‘activation’, which is a hallmark of many chronic neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases.”

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Benedetta Mendicino

Scientific intern

“I joined Professors Siegert’s Group as an internship student in March 2019. I got my Master’s degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Padova, Italy.
The aim of my project is to investigate how microglia interact with neurons in the brain reward system and to see whether they are connected to drug addiction. “






Bálint Nagy

Postdoctoral fellow

“I received my PhD in Neuroscience from Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, Tübingen. I studied the glutamatergic synapses between neurons and oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs); and how the proliferation and differentiation of OPCs are modulated by their glutamatergic input.

Microglia, the immune cells of the central nervous system, are known to modulate neuronal connectivity by synapse pruning. However, it is unknown how this affects the neuronal network output. In Professor Siegert’s group, I am focusing on how microlgia regulate the formation of retinal circuits, and how they alter the physiology of retinal ganglion cells during development.”

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Florianne Schoot Uiterkamp

PhD student

“I joined the graduate program at IST in 2018 after completing my master in Molecular Neuroscience at the University of Amsterdam. After rotating in Professor Siegert’s group, I decided to join the group for the rest of my PhD. For my PhD project I will be investigating signaling pathways in microglia and their role in the interaction between microglia and neurons. “

Rouven Schulz

Graduate student (OeAW Doc fellowship)

Rouven is currently a scientific intern from Austria, and just got accepted to the IST Austria graduate school. He obtained his Master’s degree in the laboratory of. Prof. Monika Bradl at the Center for Brain Research in Vienna. His thesis was about the discovery of small peptides mimicking human autoantibody epitopes in neuromyelitis optica, a severe neuroinflammatory disease of the CNS.

“For me, being a scientist means to embark on a journey into the “Unknown” with a vision in your head and unexplored territories along the way. Sometimes this journey can be a bit “bumpy” but often is rewarded with new and unexpected insights. It’s exciting for me to contribute to these discoveries because I enjoy the challenge to constantly adapt my way of thinking.”




Alessandro Venturino

Laboratory Technician

“I’m Alessandro and I’m a technician in professor Siegert’s lab. During my Ph.D. in Neurophysiology at the University of Pavia, Italy, I studied the role of microglia in rat cochlear nuclei during tinnitus onset. After my defence, I joined Sandra’s group where I am applying imaging techniques and morphometrical analysis to characterize microglia in the retina and in other brain regions.”




Gabriele Wögenstein

Scientific intern/ Master thesis

“I am studying Molecular Biotechnology at the FH Campus Wien. To perform my Master thesis, I join the Siegert group. Here, I will focus on optimizing strategies for an efficient transgene delivery in microglia. I am glad to work on this project as it combines different areas which I am interested in (Neurobiology, Immunology).”






Rita Six

Assistant to Professors


Sonja Altkind

Technician/ Pre-clinical facility/ Colony manager