Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Irina Balyasnikova Lab

Lab Members

Meet the Balyasnikova Lab team members. We welcome requests for information about our work and collaboration opportunities.

Principal Investigator

Irina VBalyasnikova

Irina V Balyasnikova, PhD
irinabal( at )
Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery
PhD: National Cardiology Research Center, Moscow, Russia, Cardiology (1994) Postdoctoral Fellowship: University of Pennsylvania, Institute for Environmental Medicine (1997) Postdoctoral Fellowship: University of Illinois, Chicago, Anesthesiology (2000)
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My research focus is on the development of novel targeted approaches for the treatment of malignant brain tumors. In particular, I am interested in developing and utilizing antibodies and genetically engineered variants against tumor-specific antigens in order to enhance and deliver therapeutics specifically to brain and other tumors. Another area of my interest is in the development of stem cells as therapeutic carriers. It includes investigation of various routes of delivery, mechanism of migration of stem cells and non-invasive tracking of therapeutic stem cell to solid brain tumors and metastatic lesions.

Postdoctoral Fellows


Dolon Maji, PhD
Post-doctoral Scholar
Dolon Maji received a PhD in Biomedical Engineering (May 2017) from the laboratory of Dr. Samuel Achilefu at Washington University in St. Louis. Her PhD research focused on the development of novel florescent and multimodal molecular probes for imaging cancer and cardiovascular diseases. She received the NIH T32 Imaging Sciences Pathway Fellowship for her research. Dolon joined the Balyasnikova lab in September, 2017. She will combine her expertise in molecular imaging with cutting edge cancer therapeutics being developed in the lab for her post-doctoral research. She is currently exploring new therapeutic regimes for gliomas combining stem cell based chemotherapy and immunotherapy. She is also interested in developing new imaging technologies for tracking therapeutic stem cells in vivo. Dolon is actively involved in multiple international societies. She is currently on board of the Membership and Communities committee of the International Society of Optics and Photonics, and serves as a reviewer for the Journal of Biomedical Optics. Outside scientific research she enjoys painting, dancing and amateur improv.


Katarzyna Pituch, PhD
Post-doctoral Scholar
PhD: University of Illinois at Chicago

Katarzyna C. Pituch completed her PhD training at the laboratory of Dr. Givogri in the University of Illinois at Chicago. During that time, she studied various aspects of a sulfatide’s regulatory role in gliogenesis and how this pertains to remyelination-stimulating therapies in demyelinating illnesses. Her work merging glycolipid chemistry and cell biology aspects in neuroscience earned Katarzyna the NRSA award. She is an expert in stem cells and glia biology encompassing the analysis of lipids' function in cellular processes. In Dr. Balyasnikova’s laboratory, Katarzyna is focusing on the immunology of brain tumors and immunotherapeutic approaches used to treat brain cancers, with particular emphasis on the anti-glioma activity of IL13Ra2-CAR T cells in preclinical GBM models. She also investigates how deregulated N-linked glycosylation enzyme N-acetylglucosaminyltransferase I (MGAT1), a critical part in the production of complex and hybrid glycan chains, affects gliomagenesis.


Markella Zannikou, PhD
Post-doctoral Scholar

Markella Zannikou completed her doctorate in the Laboratory of Immunology at the Hellenic Pasteur Institute in Athens, Greece under the supervision of Dr P. Lymberi. Her research focused on natural and pathological autoimmunity, emphasizing the role of natural autoantibodies in homeostasis in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Markella received her post-doctoral training in the Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology, Inflammation, Fibrosis and Lung Cancer at BSRC “Alexander Fleming” in Athens, Greece, where she researched pathological mechanisms and new biomarkers of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and in Dr. Horiuchi’s lab at Northwestern University. In Dr. Balyasnikova’s lab Markella is focusing on the development of new immunotherapeutic approaches for glioblastoma.

Research Staff


Liliana Ilut
Liliana Ilut, M.S. graduated in 2010 with a Master of Science in Animal Biotechnology from the University of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in Romania. Her interest for research started in college where she worked in the Molecular Biology Laboratory, as part of College of Veterinary Medicine, where she studied the genetic variability of Trichinella isolates and the impact of Trichinella spiralis on public health. During this time she became interested in cancer research, moving to United States to pursue her career in the field. Now, Liliana is part of the team developing targeted cell-based treatments for malignant brain tumors.



Michael Chastkofsky, PhD
Michael.chastkofsky( at )
Post-doctoral Scholar
PhD: University of Illinois at Chicago (2014) MS: University of Wisconsin – Madison (2006) BS: University of Georgia (2003)

Michael I. Chastkofsky completed his PhD in the laboratory of Dr. Angela Tyner at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His doctoral research focused on signaling mechanisms of skin carcinogenesis and tumorigenesis and was supported by a T32 training grant. He is interested in translational biological research and exploring therapeutic models for the treatment of human disease. He joined Dr. Balyasnikova’s lab in February of 2016 and is currently investigating intranasal delivery of stem cells to treat glioma, particularly preclinical models of DIPG, a pediatric brainstem glioma.


Gina Li
Lab Manager / Research Technologist
BA, International Studies: University of Chicago

Gina Li recently graduated with honors from the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. As a part of her major, she worked in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti for a summer, where she managed the water filtration and women’s health programs as a community health intern. In addition, she completed the College’s pre-medicine curriculum and is currently applying to medical schools. During her undergraduate education, she volunteered with Dr. Balyasnikova, contributing to research on stem cell-based oncolytic virotherapy. Following graduation, she joined the lab as its research technologist and lab manager.


Dou Yu, MD/PhD
neurons( at )
Research Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
MD: Beijing Medical University (1997) PhD: Boston University, Neuroscience (2004)
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