Graduate Students

The Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology has a strong history of providing outstanding training environments for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists. Many of our trainees have gone on to positions at prestigious educational or commercial institutions. The following list provides information about alumni who have trained in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

A Aleksandrova Anastasiia Aleksandrova
Mentor: Brenda Rongish, PhD

My research project is concerned with the early stages of heart development in avian embryos. A comprehension of the processes that occur during heart formation is necessary for understanding the basis of various forms of congenital heart disease. I am interested in the forces that drive the formation of the endocardial (inner) layer of the forming heart. We are trying to understand and compare the roles of active cell migration and global tissue displacements in this process. Also, I am working on preparing the position-fate maps of endocardial cells along with several extracellular matrix molecules that play important roles in cardiac development.
S Bhatt Shachi Bhatt
Mentor: Paul Trainor, PhD

Research Project : Neural Crest in Mammalian Development. My research project focuses on induction of Neural Crest Cells and the role of an orphan nuclear receptor GCNF in the process. Neural Crest Cells are a transient population of multipotent and migratory cells that give rise to numerous derivatives in the vertebrate body. These cells provide an excellent model to study cell induction, migration and differentiation in the developing embryo. Neural Crest abnormalities in any of these events lead to various congenital abnormalities. Understanding the role of neural crest cells is inevitable to understand the cause and nature of these congenital defects.

I would also be working on the role of a mediator subunit during embryonic development.
N Butler Naomi Butler
Mentor: Paul Trainor, PhD

Using a retinoid-deficient mouse line (called Trex), I will study retinoic acid's contribution to organogenesis - most specifically, on the digestive system and enteric nervous system.
R Diaz Raul Diaz
Mentor: Paul Trainor, PhD

I am interested in the evolution and development of the vertebrate skeleton. In Paul Trainor's lab we are looking at the role of miRNA/Dicer's role in fine tuning the development of craniofacial structures in mice (and other vertebrates) and the effect this has on neural crest cells and their derivatives.
Mina Farahbakhsh Mina Farahbakhsh
Mentor: Peggy Petroff, PhD
A Fritz Ashleigh Fritz
Mentor: Matt Gibson, PhD

Bilaterian animals exhibit an incredible diversity of appendage forms. While the molecular pathways governing the development of these structures have been well characterized in both vertebrates and arthropods, very little is known about embryonic appendage development in pre-bilaterian groups. To explore the mechanisms of appendage development in an early-branching metazoan, we are investigating tentacle development in Nematostella vectensis, an emerging cnidarian model species. Our experiments will address the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to this process. Ultimately, our results will provide direct insight into the ancient mechanisms linking patterned gene expression to epithelial morphogenesis and growth control during embryonic development of appendage structures.
B Guillford Brianne Guillford
Mentor: Douglas Wright, PhD

Research Project Diabetic neuropathy is one of the principle chronic complications of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus and currently affects more than half of diabetic patients. Sensory loss, including both chronic numbness and sensitivity to pain or touch, develops in the majority of affected patients. The mechanisms that lead to painful or insensate symptoms in diabetic neuropathy are poorly understood. Oxidative stress is one of many variables that have been implicated as a critical feature in diabetic neuropathy. The goal of my current project is to characterize oxidative stress in painful and insensate neuropathy and determine if antioxidants have differential effects in mouse models that vary in their oxidative stress levels.
A Groover Anna Groover
Mentor: Douglas Wright, PhD

Research: Fibromyalgia is a complex chronic pain disorder affecting approximately 10 million people in the United States, primarily women. It is characterized by widespread pain, sleep disturbances, fatigue, abnormal tenderness and even psychological distress. While a lot is known about the symptoms of Fibromyalgia, not a lot is known about the causes or mechanisms of the disorder. The goal of my research is to look at causative factors, such as sleep deprivation, diet, aging and stress/anxiety, to determine how they affect the development and modulation of pain associated with the syndrome. I also want to look at molecular modulators, like stress kinases, which increase the pain behavior associated with Fibromyalgia.
C Grote Caleb Grote
Mentor: Douglas Wright, PhD

Diabetic neuropathy is a devastating complication of diabetes and is associated with profound loss of distal limb sensation and/or pain, causing significant decline in the quality of life for patients. Currently investigated mechanisms of diabetic neuropathy have mainly focused on neuronal injury associated with hyperglycemia, however these lines of research have yielded poor clinical treatments thus far. Interestingly, the loss of neuronal insulin signaling as a potential contributing mechanism to diabetic neuropathy is poorly understood. However, insulin is known to be essential for proper neuronal function and has potent neurotrophic qualities. My research focuses on elucidating the role that altered neuronal insulin signaling may play in the pathogenesis of diabetic neuropathy, which may potentially highlight new avenues for therapeutic intervention in patients suffering from diabetic neuropathy.
photo of N Katz Natalie Katz
Mentor: Doug Wright, PhD

Millions of individuals worldwide suffer from diabetes, and 60-70% of those individuals will experience some sort of damage to their nervous system. Of those individuals, up to 30% experience pain in relation to diabetic peripheral neuropathy. My project is to investigate a novel enzyme that has recently been identified to be involved in pain signaling pathways. Prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) cleaves AMP into adenosine, and adenosine has well known analgesic effects. Our hypothesis is that diabetes inhibits the function and/or expression of this enzyme, thereby contributing to altered pain states resulting in increased pain sensation. Our goal is to show that this signaling pathway is disrupted in diabetes and to develop ways to stimulate the pathway to alleviate pain sensation in patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
Stefanie Kennon-McGill Stefanie Kennon-McGill
Mentor: Dianne Durham, PhD

I am currently studying the neural correlates of tinnitus. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a common condition affecting many older individuals as well as military personnel. Although it affects many people worldwide, the causes of tinnitus are not yet well known. It is widely believed that when the peripheral auditory system is damaged, deafferentation occurs in the central auditory structures, leading to an imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory input. This imbalance may cause a change in spontaneous neural activity and thus cause the perception of tinnitus. My research focuses on the spontaneous neural activity specifically in the inferior colliculus following acoustic damage to the auditory system.
 X Li Xuanying Li
Mentor: Susan Abmayr, PhD
photo of C Linscheid Caitlin Linscheid
Mentor: Peggy Petroff, PhD

We are interested in the ways that the maternal immune system identifies and responds to the fetus during pregnancy. Specifically, our work seeks to identify and characterize different fetal antigens that are present in the placenta during pregnancy and to determine how maternal T-cells respond to these fetal antigens. This work has important implications for better understanding the behavior of the maternal immune system during different pregnancy complications. We are also interested in the potential impact of this work on developing better transplantation models, with reductions in graft rejection and graft-versus-host disease and enhanced graft-versus-leukemia and graft-versus-tumor effects
photo of X Ma Xing Ma
Mentor: Ting Xie, PhD

I am working on the mechanisms of maintaining the germline stem cells in the niche in the Drosophila ovary. Specifically, I am interested in how DNA damage impairs the self-renewal capacity of the stem cell and how the stem cell niche recognizes stem cells with DNA damage and eliminates those damaged stem cells to maintain tissue homeostasis.
C Neal Christopher Neal
Mentor: Dianne Durham, PhD
A Pierce Angela Pierce
Mentor: Julie Christianson, PhD

There is an adverse effect of stress and pain when such events occur during a critical neurodevelopmental period in neonates induced by the circumstances of being a NICU inpatient with long-term sequelae such as altered processing of nociception later in life. So far there has been no investigation into the effects of neonatal maternal separation on the peripheral nervous system. My project will investigate the long-term effects of neonatal anxiety on peripheral afferents innervating the pelvic viscera such as through examination of changes in the TRP family of receptor proteins in dorsal root ganglion afferents. Ultimately this study is meant to provide a more thorough understanding about the impact and mechanisms of early life experiences in the development of functional bowel disorders to facilitate prevention and treatment for these patients.
S Salah Sally Salah
Mentor: Katherine Swenson-Fields, PhD

Polycystic kidney disease is one of the most common disorders caused by mutations in a single gene. It affects about 500,000 people in the United States. The autosomal dominant form of the disease (ADPKD) is the most common. ADPKD is characterized by fluid-filled cysts that develop within the kidneys and grow steadily over decades leading to both massive enlargement and gross distortion of the kidney. The goal of my research is to examine the effects of non-canonical WNT signaling on the expansion and proliferation of ADPKD cysts. In addition, I am interested in elucidating the signaling pathways by which WNT5a promotes cell proliferation.
S Sarkar Sandipto Sarkar
Mentor: Sushanta Banerjee, PhD
Su Wang
Mentor: Ting Xie, PhD
Bryce Warren
Mentor: Peggy Petroff, PhD
K Watt Kristin Watt
Mentor: Paul Trainor, PhD
  Nathan Wilson
Mentor: Irfan Saadi, PhD
M Yao Min Yao
Mentor: Ting Xie, PhD

My research focus is on understanding the conserved molecular mechanisms which determine germline stem cell fate. By using both mouse male germline stem cells and Drosophila female germline stem cells as models, I work to understand the conserved function governing stem cell fate. Specially, I am focusing on a conserved RNA-binding protein Nanos and its function in germline cells. I have developed in vitro cultured mouse germline stem cells and proved their function by in vivo transplantation. At the same time, other lab members have established a Drosophila germline stem cell culture system. I am now studying Nanos interaction protein partners and its regulation of RNA targets through those cell lines. I verify those functions by fly genetics and mouse germline stem cell transplantation and genetics approaches, and try to understand the conserved role of Nanos gene.
Y Zhou Yi Zhou
Mentor:Ting Xie, PhD

My research interests are mainly focused on Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) metabolism, regulation and pathology of RPE-associated diseases like diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa, etc.. Using the mouse as a model system, we use both genetic and molecular tools to undercover the mechanism of functions of important proteins in the visual cycle. We are also interested in the morphogenesis of the RPE, especially on the ciliary body region and also the signaling pathways governing the morphogenesis process.

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