Co-founders & affiliates


NicoleNicole C. McKnight, PhD (Co-founder)

After graduating with honors from the University of Chicago Nicole moved home to Boston to work as a lab technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Harvard Medical School) studying prostate cancer. Crossing the river, she then worked as a research associate at Ore Pharmaceuticals (formerly Gene Logic, Inc.), a Millennium Pharmaceuticals spin-off that attempted to re-position failed compounds. In 2006 she entered the PhD program at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute and in 2011, received her PhD from University College London. Nicole was a postdoctoral fellow in the Neurology department at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, investigating autophagy in neurons and its role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. She was Co-chair of the Mount Sinai Postdoc Executive Committee and served on the New York City-wide Postdoc Council as well as the NYC Tech Connect Entrepreneurial Scientist Advisory Panel. Dr. McKnight is currently the Director of New York Operations for BioLabs New York/Cambridge BioLabs.

GabriellaGabriella Casalena, PhD (Co-founder)

Gabriella was previously a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai where she studied the role of mitochondrial bioenergetics and signaling in the initiation and progression of kidney disease. She is an alumnus of the University of Bologna – Italy where she graduated with honors in Molecular Biology. She pursued her doctoral research at the same university and was awarded her PhD in Biochemistry, having presented a thesis on mitochondrial optic neuropathies.  Gabriella engaged her interest in biotech innovation by collaborating with Mount Sinai Innovation Partners and she believes KiiLN will be an invaluable resource to foster life science advancement in NYC.

IlseIlse Daehn, PhD (Co-founder)

Ilse is an Assistant Professor in the department of Medicine in Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Her research has provided a fundamental paradigm shift in our current understanding of chronic kidney disease development. Ilse holds a degree in Biotechnology (Honors) from Flinders University of South Australia. She performed a research placement at the Fundacion Jimenez Diaz, Madrid before starting her Doctorate studies at Flinders University of SA, and was awarded her PhD in 2007. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Cancer Research UK, London and came to NYC to pursue a second postdoctoral fellowship at Mount Sinai. Ilse is a member of the OAEM Steering Committee and former co-chair of the Postdoc Executive Committee at Mount Sinai. Together with Nicole McKnight, she sat on NYC Tech Connect’s Entrepreneurial Scientist Advisory Panel. Ilse has completed the Fundamentals of the Bioscience Industry Program, Stonybrook Manhattan in 2012, and “From Idea to IPO” – The Technology Venture Course at the New York Academy of Science in 2011.  Discovery and innovation are Ilse’s passion, and she anticipates that KiiLN will become a platform to advance medical and scientific breakthroughs, and contribute to making New York City a hub for research innovation.

0G4A6203 smallMerina Varghese, PhD (Co-founder)

Merina is an Instructor in the department of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Her research seeks to understand how altered neuronal structure contributes to neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism spectrum disorder. She is former Co-chair of the Postdoctoral Executive Committee at Sinai. Merina was awarded her PhD from Jadavpur University in 2008 for her thesis on the role of mitochondrial function in Parkinson’s disease. She pursued her doctoral studies as a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Research Fellow working at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, where she was instrumental in planning, installation and operation of the cell biology and proteomics facilities in the laboratory. She holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from Cochin University of Science and Technology, India, graduating as the University topper.  Merina’s interest in entrepreneurial ventures was sparked when her team won the Scientific Entrepreneurship Challenge at the 3rd Annual MSSM Postdoctoral Symposium in 2012.

YanaYana Zorina, PhD (Co-founder)

Yana received her B.A. from Barnard College at Columbia University, and she was awarded her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in 2011. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in neuropharmacology at Mount Sinai, Yana has recently joined a biotech company with a focus on neurological disorders. Yana still maintains close ties to the Mount Sinai postdoctoral community, whereby she seeks to promote opportunities for career development and greater collaboration to enable the success of her postdoctoral colleagues in New York City.  Yana is particularly passionate about bridging the gap between industry and academia in the life sciences.



EllieEleanor M. Wendell, MCRP

Ellie received her Master’s in City and Regional Planning from the Edward J. Bloustein School at Rutgers University where she earned the Outstanding Student Academic Achievement Award and completed research and analysis for Ecologic Development Fund, the Women’s Refugee Commission and UNICEF.  She currently consults for TYTHEdesign, a New York based design and strategy social enterprise, focusing on communications and business development.  Her prior experience includes five years with the Institute of International Education where she managed enrichment activities for the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program. While at IIE, she collaborated with domestic and foreign government officials and traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad representing the program. Before her time at IIE, Ellie taught English in Spain and China. She received her B.A. with departmental honors in Literary Studies from Middlebury College.  Ellie is excited to bring her expertise in development, partnerships, and program management to the KiiLN team.

Pat Donohue, MBA

Pat is experienced in healthcare operations and communications, with a focus on financial oversight, administration, project planning and pre- and post-award grants management. She is currently a business manager with New York University Langone Medical Center. Her previous work includes strategic communications planning and execution for pharma companies and agencies.  Pat is interested in the entrepreneurial nature of the activities at KiiLN and in helping to further biopharma research.