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Principle Investigator
Mark Nitz Professor Mark Nitz
Mark grew up in Prince Rupert on the Northwest Coast of Canada.  He completed his undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of British Columbia.  After earning his PhD with David Bundle at the University of Alberta, Professor Nitz worked as a postdoctoral fellow with Barbara Imperiali at MIT.  He started his independent career in 2004 in the Chemistry Department at the University of Toronto and was promoted to full professor in 2014. Professor Nitz’s research program spans the areas of carbohydrate chemistry, microbial glycobiology and bioanalytical chemistry.


Post-Doctoral Fellows
Willis_Lisa Dr Lisa Willis
Lisa has lived all over Canada and her favorite city is Toronto. She received her BSc from the University of Victoria in BC, spent four years working at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa, and then obtained her PhD from the University of Guelph under the supervision of Dr. Chris Whitfield. Her field of expertise is glycobiology, and she is working on several glyco-related projects in the Nitz lab, where she was the recipient of a Banting postdoctoral fellowship. As she is trying to be competitive for faculty positions, she doesn’t really have spare time. However, she loves trying interesting food, new wines, and expensive scotch.

Graduate Students
nesrin Nesrin Vurgun
Nesrin completed her BSc in chemical biology at McMaster University, where she worked in the group of Dr. Jim McNulty on Amaryllidaceae alkaloids as well as medicinal chemistry of aromatase (P450 19A1) inhibitors. For her PhD work, she has been developing methodologies to enable the selective functionalization of polycationic beta-cyclodextrins for applications in drug delivery and molecular recognition. In her free time, she enjoys working on various art projects, attending TSO concerts and collecting cute trinkets. Her desk in the lab can be easily identified by the over-abundance of Hello Kitty merchandise, Kurt Vonnegut books and a mountain of packing slips from Sigma Aldrich orders.

ben Benjamin DiFrancesco
Ben completed his undergraduate degree in Chemical Biology at McMaster University, working with Dr. Jim McNulty during his final year on the development of CYP19A1 (aromatase) inhibitors as hormone-dependant breast cancer therapeutics. Sparking his love for research at the interface of chemistry and biology, he joined Dr. Mark Nitz’s lab in 2011. Since that time, he has worked on diverse projects related to the biosynthesis of the PNAG polysaccharide, encompassing structure-based drug design, virtual screening, traditional and protecting-group free carbohydrate synthesis, and assay design. Outside the lab, Ben enjoys craft beer, board games, listening to new music, and exploring Toronto’s restaurant scene. His favourite things are Björk, the Food & Drink magazine, and hiking.

Hanuel Hanuel Park
Hanuel completed his BSc at the University of Western Ontario in 2012, with an Honors Specialization in Chemistry. For his undergraduate thesis, he worked with Prof. Leonard Luyt on developing a F18 PET imaging agent to investigate orexin receptor expressions in colorectal carcinomas. As a Ph.D student in the Nitz lab, his project is focused on the development of novel organotellurium scaffolds for mass cytometry reagent development. In his free time, he enjoys watching football and basketball with a rather large pint of beer.

adam Adam Forman
Adam is a Toronto native, born and raised in the neighbourhood of Cedarvale. He did his undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, double majoring in Mathematics and Biological & Pharmaceutical Chemistry. He then stayed at Guelph to complete his MSc, researching oligosaccharide synthesis in Dr. France-Isabelle Auzanneau’s lab. His current research in the Nitz lab revolves around developing substrates for bacterial enzymes which are responsible for the biosynthesis of biofilm exopolysaccharides. Outside of the lab, Adam is quite fond of his perpetual existence as a person. He also enjoys hockey, soccer, tennis, 90’s music, and for reasons passing understanding strives to be more like Larry David.

jay1 Jay Bassan
Being curious about Tim Horton’s, maple syrup, and poutine, Jay came to Toronto from the UK. He finished his undergraduate studies and MChem with Stuart Conway at the University of Oxford, researching phosphate bioisosteres in the context of AMP analogues. In the Nitz group, he works on the synthesis and evaluation of organotellurium probes for hypoxia in cancer. When not in the lab, he enjoys wine, the TSO, and snapchat filters.

Jose José Méndez Campos
José’s hometown can be found amongst the misty mountains on Vancouver Island. In between watching Netflix, playing soccer and squash, and avoiding the west coast winter rains, José somehow managed to finish his BSc in Biochemistry at the University of Victoria. Thinking it was time to experience a real Canadian winter, José ended up at the Nitz lab at the University of Toronto working on the biofilm project. He is currently synthesizing monosaccharide substrates for the deacetylase enzymes IcaB and PgaB.

rahul Rahul Rana
Rahul completed his undergraduate degree in Biological Chemistry at University of Toronto. Deciding to pursue a graduate degree, he joined the Nitz group as a PhD student in 2016. Rahul is currently working on synthesis of organotellurium scaffolds and evaluating their use as enzymatic activity probes in cellular biochemistry. Outside of lab, he enjoys football, swimming and basketball, random political science documentaries and keeping up with rap/hip hop music.

daniel Daniel Lee
Daniel was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. He completed his undergraduate degree in biological Chemistry at the University of Toronto. Daniel has been working as a research assistant for the Nitz group since January 2016, and is now a full time master’s student. He is currently working on a new protein conjugation method for antibody drug conjugates. Daniel often spends his spare time playing soccer, socializing, and reading.

zach-picture-for-website Zach Morrison
Zach was born and grew up in Sydney, Nova Scotia. He completed his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and chemistry at Dalhousie University. His undergraduate thesis, supervised by professor Stephen Bearne, concerned the catalytic mechanism of the enzyme mandelate racemase. He joined the Nitz lab in September, 2016. Currently he is developing inhibitors against the enzymes PgaB and IcaB. In his free time, Zach enjoys cooking, jogging, and drinking tea.

Ehsen Tayyabi
Ehsen is a Toronto local, born and raised in Markham. He completed his undergraduate degree in Biopharmaceutical sciences at the University of Ottawa. For his undergraduate thesis, he worked with Prof. Jean N. DaSilva at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute investigating the role of norepinephrine in heart disease and working in radiochemistry. He then completed his MSc at the University of Ottawa with Prof. Adam Jason Shuhendler investigating methods for characterizing reactive drug metabolites in vivo. As a PhD student in the Nitz lab he works on developing metal based probes for bio-marker detection. In his spare time, Ehsen enjoys watching basketball, listening to hip-hop music, and developing his clothing business. His role model is ASAP Rocky.

Ethan Lee
Ethan was born and raised in Vancouver BC and did his undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of British Columbia. While there, he completed an undergraduate thesis with the Straus Group, focusing on the characterization of aurein 2.2 peptide derivatives. He joined the Nitz Group at the University of Toronto in September 2018 as a Master’s student, and is currently working on producing bisubstrate GlmU inhibitors. Ethan spends most of his time playing basketball, crocheting, and arguing with others about how Taylor Swift’s country albums are way better than her pop albums.

dsc_0077 Alexander Eddenden
Alex is a PhD student at the University of Toronto. He is exploring the usage of bacterial toxins to generate defined glycoproteins. When not working, he enjoys amateur birdwatching in nice weather or curling up in front of a computer when the weather is lousy. He also heartily recommends checking out some of David Attenborough’s nature documentaries as an escape from reality.

Nicole Potter
Nicole completed her B.Sc.(hons.) degree at Memorial University, in her home province of Newfoundland. 3 days after her convocation, she headed to Toronto to begin work in the Nitz lab, and officially started her Master’s degree in September 2018. Her research focuses on the development of a tellurium-based amino acid probe, with hopes that it will be incorporated into small peptide drugs for use in bio-distrubition studies. Outside the lab, she can be found searching for new local craft breweries, or dog-watching in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Jamie Yongjia Bu
Jamie completed her B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Chemistry at the University of British Columbia (2018). Her thesis project involved the synthesis of peptide derivatives as potential ligands for metallic catalysts of the hydroamination reaction. She joined the Nitz group in fall of 2018 and is working on the bio-incorporation of tellurium-containing amino acid analogues/probes. Outside of the lab, you may find Jamie reading (non-scientific literature), doing arts and crafts, terrorizing her friends with pictures of yummy food over instant messaging, or listening to JK Rowling’s inspiring Harvard commencement speech for the nth time.

Ten points to Gryffindor!

Undegraduate Students

Julia Li
Julia is a third year undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, specializing in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. She is working on designing a novel molecular probe that labels proteins using azide-alkyne click chemistry. When she’s not in the lab or drowning in lots and lots of homework, she enjoys baking, biking, painting, and reading Homer’s epics.

Benjamin Zheng
Ben is originally from Victoria, BC but is currently an undergraduate biochemistry specialist student at the University of Toronto. He will be working on designing and synthesizing monosaccharide inhibitors for enzymes utilized in the formation of biofilms by pathogenic bacteria. Outside of working in the lab and studying, Ben enjoys going to the gym, hiking, playing computer games and watching films.
Former Group Members

rodolfo Dr RODOLFO GÓMEZ Biagi
Rodolfo earned his Ph.D. under the tutelage of Prof. Nitz. He then went to Oxford to work under Prof. Bayley and Davis to work with nanopores. Afterwards he developed chemical methodology for the development of a polysomal extraction device at a start-up in Italy. Then, eager to continue research joined the laboratory of Prof. Gunning developing anti-cancer compounds. He worked with Prof. Nitz in developing new metal-based probes for protein bio-marker detection.

disney-princess Jobette Santos
Jobette is from Edmonton, Alberta. She completed her undergraduate degree in Chemistry and Biological Sciences at University of Alberta working on Human Milk Oligosaccharides. Escaping the cold winters, she moved to Toronto to pursue her MSc degree in Biological Chemistry. She worked on developing a new metal-free bioorthogonal reaction with N-hydroxylamines. When not doing science, she loves going out for brunch, staying active, listening to music (house, deep house, electro house, progressive house and more house music) and eating chocolates. She is also obviously a Disney Princess (just look at that photo!).

professional-headshot Alan Nguyen
Alan was born and raised in Toronto where he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, with a focus in Chemistry and Human Biology. He worked on the development of tellurium-based probes in monitoring rates of protein synthesis. In his spare time, he enjoys travelling, reading and dining. He is also an avid Drake listener with a special love for sad Drake songs.

Amanda Tajik
Amanda was a co-op student, majoring in biochemistry, from the University of Waterloo. Her aim in the Nitz lab was to synthesize a carbohydrate-protein conjugate for the development of a vaccine against an infectious fungus. In her free time, she enjoys watching comedies, going for walks and annoying her twin sister.