Hirschhorn Laboratory | Lab Members

Joel Hirschhorn

Director, Center for Basic and Translational Obesity Research

Joel Hirschhorn is the Concordia Professor of Pediatrics and a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, where he directs the Center for Basic and Translational Obesity Research. He is also an Institute Member and co-Director of the Metabolism Initiative at the Broad Institute.

He received his AB summa cum laude in Biochemistry from Harvard College and his MD and PhD in genetics from Harvard Medical School. He subsequently completed an internship and residency in pediatrics, and a fellowship in endocrinology at Boston Children's Hospital. As a postdoctoral fellow with Eric Lander at the Whitehead Institute/MIT Center for Genome Research, he developed and implemented tools and methods to perform and interpret genetic association studies including genotyping technologies and analytic methods.

He started his own laboratory at Boston Children's Hospital in 2001. In 2011, Dr. Hirschhorn was awarded the American Pediatric Society’s Norman J. Siegel New Member Outstanding Science Award and the Society for Pediatrics Research E. Mead Johnson Award.


Analysts, Researcher Assistants, and Coordinators


Benjamin Weaver

Ben graduated from Northeastern University in 2015 with a B.S. in Biochemistry.  He joined the lab in the summer of 2015 where he assists with many of the ongoing lab projects.

Sailaja Vedantam

Christopher Addis

Chris graduated from Boston University in 2014 with a BA in Biology, and joined the lab as the coordinator for the Center for Basic and Transnlational Obesity Research. He also works in the Genetics of Early Onset Childhood Obesity (GECO) study. 


Graduate Students


Michael Guo

Michael Guo is an MD/PhD student at the University of Florida and is doing his PhD at Harvard through the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) program.  He is currently in his fourth year of PhD research.

His dissertation research focuses on two main areas.  First, he is applying genetic and functional approaches to fine-map causal signals at the HMGA2 locus, which has been associated with height and type 2 diabetes by GWAS.  Second, he is applying next generation sequencing to identify novel causes of Mendelian disorders, with a particular focus on growth disorders and disorders of the timing of puberty.  He is also developing new methods and resources to improve Mendelian gene discovery. Michael graduated with distinction from the University of Michigan with degrees in Business Administration and Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Rebecca Fine

Rebecca is a PhD student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at Harvard.  She has a BS from Yale in psychology/neuroscience and is interested in computational approaches to human genetics.  Her favorite things are random trivia, unusual vocabulary words, and Disney movies.

Yu-Han Hsu

Yu-Han is a graduate student in the Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) program at Harvard Medical School. She is developing computational methods for analyzing genomic, epigenomic, and metabolomic data in order to understand human obesity and other diseases.


Postdoctoral Fellows


Dr. David Kantor

David Kantor is a clinical fellow in the Division of Critical Care Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital with an interest in understanding the genetic and genomic components of diseases found in the Intensive Care Unit. Currently he is recruiting a cohort of severe pediatric asthmatics for an RNA profiling study, and working on a GWA study of asthmatic subjects found in large population based cohorts. David received his MD and PhD from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Vidhu Thaker

Dr. Vidhu Thaker is a pediatric endocrinologist with special interest in early onset childhood obesity.

Dr. Thaker’s is the principal investigator of Genetics of Early Childhood Obesity (GECO) Study. This study is recruiting families of children with Class 2 obesity or higher with an onset prior to 6 years of age, focusing on children from underrepresented minorities. Her group will perform whole exome and targeted sequencing in this cohort. We hope to identify the prevalence of rare genetic variants causing severe obesity across multiple ethnic backgrounds. Additionally, the analysis of the data generated from this study is expected to generate integrated clinical risk prediction models for severe obesity. The GECO study uses data from electronic health records for phenotype definition and samples from biorepositories; that has allowed collaboration with several large institutions.  

To identify the clinical biomarkers of the genetic variants, Dr. Thaker’s team is performing metabolite profiling of targeted and untargeted metabolites in adolescents and young adults undergoing bariatric surgery. This study is expected to identify novel biomarkers predictive of long-term cardiometabolic outcomes in severe obesity. She is leading a study on deep metabolic phenotyping of children with rapid onset obesity. This study will assess total and resting energy expenditure, energy intake, body composition, and hormonal response to feeding in children with rapid onset obesity compared with age, sex and BMI matched controls with slower progression of obesity.

Dr. Thaker hopes to integrate the data from these studies to improve the risk prediction and treatment/prevention of children with severe obesity. We hope to identify novel mechanisms, or markers amenable for therapy for the burgeoning epidemic of obesity. 

Dr. Christina Astley

Dr. Astley is a Post-doctoral fellow with research interests in causal inference and autoimmunity. She is developing instrumental variable methods to leverage high-denisty genetic data to better understand the etiology of a range of clinical phenotypes. Dr. Astley is also analyzing T-cell receptor repertoire dynamics to uncover causal factors in type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune endocrinopathies. 

Dr. Astley received her BS in Biological Sciences from Standford Univeristy (honors thesis advisor Prof. Stanley Falkow) and her ScD from the Department of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (doctoral thesis advisor Prof. Marc Lipsitch). Her clinical training was completed at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and Harvard Medical School (MD), the Boston Combined Residency Program at Boston Children's Hospital and Boston Medical Center (Pediatrics residency), and the Division of Endocrinology at Boston Children's Hospital (ongoing clinical fellowship).

Dr. Tune Pers

Tune Pers is a research fellow whose major interest is to develop pathway-based models of heterogeneous traits.

His current goal is to augment existing well-powered genome-wide association studies and extensive re-sequencing studies with complementary trait-specific molecular and literature-based evidence sources to identify novel sets of genetic variants that are unlikely to be identified in 'single data type-based studies' on their own.

Tune attended the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, received his Bachelor's degree in Computer Science in 2005, and his Master's degree in Bioinformatics in 2008. In 2011 he received his PhD from the Center of Biological Sequence Analysis (CBS) from the Technical University of Denmark. Mid 2011 Tune moved to Boston to join Dr. Joel Hirschhorn's research group at the Boston Children's Hospital (Harvard Medical School) and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

In 2011 Tune received the Sapere Aude Award, a carrier award from the Danish Ministry of Science given 'to the best research talents in Denmark'.