We are a young research group focused in offering a comprehensive view of Caspase function through several research programs (see below). If you think you can help us to achieve our goal, do not hesitate to contact us

Current members

Principal Investigator

Luis Alberto Baena López

I am a Drosophila geneticist and developmental biologist interested in uncovering the molecular details that regulate the proliferation, specification and elimination of cells. My hope is to attain through this basic knowledge a comprehensive view not only of some essential developmental processes, but also of multiple diseases, including cancer.


I was fortunate to start my scientific career under the supervision of Professor Antonio García-Bellido at the C.B.M.S.O (Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa) in Madrid. Besides a general view of developmental biology, I learnt many of the secrets of classical genetics in Drosophila under his guidance. I moved then to London where I expanded my technical and conceptual knowledge aided by the stimulating supervision of Professor Jean-Paul Vincent. Currently in Oxford, I have begun the exciting adventure of becoming independent scientist. The theme of choice for this new stage of my career is extensively summarized in this webpage, but is focused mainly in deciphering the link between several biological processes and the evolutionarily conserved family of proteins named Caspases.



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Postdoctoral Researcher

Alessia Galasso

I did my undergraduate and PhD projects in the laboratory of Dr. Franco Graziani, at the Institute of Genetics and Biophysics "Adriano Buzzati-Traverso" (Naples, Italy). During this time, I learnt much of what I know about Drosophila genetics and cell signalling. After my PhD, I moved to the CEINGE Institute (Naples, Italy) where I studied the molecular origin of the phenomenon known as metastasis.


The first step of my postdoctoral research was carried out at the University of Warwick (UK) in the laboratory of Dr. Kevin Moffat and Prof. Bruno Frenguelli. My research project was focused on setting up a Drosophila model of tau-neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. After that, I continued working in models of neurodegeneration, with the aim of elucidating the molecular interactions between the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) and the Wnt-PCP pathway in mouse nervous system at the University of Louvain (Brussels, Belgium). These postdoctoral positions gave me the opportunity of working in mammalian cell lines and animal models, broadening decisively my conceptual framework and set of technical skills.


Since February of 2015, I joined Alberto's group, motivated by the potential links between cell signalling and pathology of his research project. My skills in molecular biology, Drosophila genetics and confocal microscopy will contribute to decipher the biological aspects of caspases as regulators of cell proliferation and differentiation.



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Postdoctoral Researcher

Sebastian Kittelmann

I have always been fascinated with the plethora of life forms on earth, and during my studies I became interested in the question how different morphologies evolve. Evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”) allowed me to use genetic and molecular biology approaches to contribute towards the answer to this question. For my PhD I joined the lab of Professor Gregor Bucher in Goettingen. In order to understand the large variety in head morphology in arthropods I studied embryonic head development in the model system Tribolium castaneum, the red flour beetle.

I then did a short project on embryonic muscle differentiation in Drosophila with Dr. Gerd Vorbrueggen at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen. With the switch to Drosophila melanogaster as a model I also expanded my expertise to Drosophila genetics, binary expression systems, immunostainings and confocal microscopy.

With a research Fellowship from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) I joined Professor Alistair McGregor at Oxford Brookes University to study the genetic basis for changes in a gene regulatory network which result in morphological differences (size of the “naked valley”) within and between Drosophila species. During this project I greatly expanded my knowledge on evolutionary and developmental biology, on the Drosophila model system, and was also able to use novel techniques like ATAC-seq, RNAseq, and the bioinformatics tools for their analysis.

Recently I became interested in the question how mutations are generated, as they form the basis of evolutionary change but can also lead to disease. One process during which mutations in the genome can occur is DNA damage repair. In January 2018 I started working in Alberto’s lab where I want to understand what roles caspases play in this process.


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PhD student

Lewis Arthurton

The role of the caspases in programmed cell death has always been a fascination of mine since beginning my undergraduate degree in Physiology (University of Liverpool, England). I discovered Alberto’s group and scientific interest in the non-apoptotic roles of the caspases whilst searching for a PhD to commence after completing my degree. My fascination with the caspase biology along with the prospect of discovering further novel roles for the caspases in cellular physiology is what motivated me to apply for a PhD in Alberto’s group.


Prior to undertaking my PhD I completed a Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship, investigating the signalling of glucocorticoid receptors in mammalian skeletal muscles (University of East Anglia, England). Additionally, I completed a dissertation project investigating the effects of Galectin-3 on the proliferation of colon cancer cells (University of Liverpool, England). Recently I have returned from Sierra Leone after working in a Diagnostic lab at an Ebola treatment centre.


In October 2015 I commenced my PhD in Alberto’s group, hoping to find new non-apoptotic roles of the caspases.



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PhD Student NIH-OxCam program

Derek Xu

The son of two biology professors, I grew up in Knoxville, TN (USA), watching the life of a scientist, and originally had little intention of following my parents’ footsteps. However, after spending some time working in a lab during my final year of high school I came to appreciate the scientific process and thrill of discovery. Consequently, I sought out other opportunities to pursue scientific research, interning at MedImmune and spending a semester abroad in a laboratory at the University of Oxford. As part of my undergraduate studies at Princeton University, I joined the laboratory of Professor Elizabeth Gavis, studying the regulation of dendrite morphogenesis in Drosophila dendritic arborization neurons.

As part of the NIH-OxCam program, I will be carrying out my PhD project in both Alberto’s lab and Dr. Kenneth Yamada’s lab at the National Institutes of Health in the United States. I was drawn to Alberto’s lab by the surprising potential for caspases to have important developmental and physiological roles outside of apoptosis, the process of cellular suicide for which they are best known. I hope to study the role of caspases in cell migration and metastasis.

Outside of science, I like to dabble in creative fiction and screenplay. During my time at Princeton, I also rowed for the Varsity Lightweight Men’s Rowing Team, and hopefully will continue rowing in some capacity here at Oxford. Derek graduated from Princeton with a degree in Molecular Biology and a certificate in Neuroscience.


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DTP BBSRC Rotation Student

Claire Hill DTP (BBSRC) Rotation Student

I am a PhD student at the Oxford University Doctoral Training Centre, studying for a doctorate in Interdisciplinary Bioscience. I completed my undergraduate Masters degree in Biochemistry at Queen’s University, Belfast (QUB). During my undergraduate career I developed an interest in developmental biology, genetics and the biological basis of disease. During my Masters research project I investigated the role of micro (mi)RNAs in the growth, development and survival of a globally important parasite that undermines human health and impacts global agriculture. 

I am currently a shared PhD student between Alberto and Dr. Dave Carter, from the Department of Biological and Medical Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. My project aims to investigate the basic details that allow exosome loading, combining Drosophila and mammalian cellular models. Solving this fundamental biological question could be key to understand fully the relationship between exosomes and diseases such as cancer or neurodegeneration, as well as to harness EVs as cell-specific drug delivery vehicles. 


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alberto's Phone: +44 (0) 1865 618653
Lab Phone: +44 (0) 1865 618652