Current Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRAT) Fellows

Andrew Beaven

Andrew Beaven is a PRAT fellow in the labs of Dr. Alexander Sodt and Dr. Joshua Zimmerberg at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) where he studies how the molecular details of lipid-protein and lipid-lipid interactions influence lipid membrane reshaping. Each individual lipid species in the body promotes or restricts certain membrane shapes, and correspondingly, each species responds differently to cellular machinery perturbing the membrane. Understanding how proteins and lipids work together to remodel the membrane and how lipids subsequently behave can help explain a range of imperative cellular functions, from trafficking to neurotransmitter release. Dr. Beaven earned his Ph.D. at the University of Kansas in the laboratory of Dr. Wonpil Im where he primarily studied lipid properties around a model ion channel. His long-term goal is to apply computational modeling to rigorously quantify cellular mechanisms, and their malfunctions, that remodel lipid membranes.

Aisha Burton

Aisha Burton is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Gisela Storz at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Aisha obtained her Ph.D in microbiology at Indiana University, where she studied the role of SigN, a novel sigma factor identified in the ancestral strain of Bacillus subtilis. Her PRAT research in the Storz lab aims to identify regulators of two component systems that are small proteins (50 amino acids or less). Two component systems provide the bacteria with a mechanism to combat stressful conditions and are tightly regulated in bacteria to prevent erroneous and energetically costly gene expression. These studies will help expand the limited knowledge on small protein regulators and this work could potentially translate to eukaryotic research on protein kinases. Additionally, Aisha plans to run a research program that identifies and characterizes novel small proteins in model organisms such as E. coli and apply that knowledge to diverse microorganisms.

Theodore Busby

Theodore Busby is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Tom Misteli at the National Cancer Institute where he studies epigenetic regulation of genome organization. To do so he uses single-molecule fluorescence imaging to visualize and quantitate changes to genome structure on a single cell level. By taking snapshots of the DNA at specific genes, like those known to be important for cancer formation, new mechanisms can be uncovered to understand gene regulation in 3D space. Dr. Busby earned his Ph.D. at The University of Alabama at Birmingham in the laboratories of Drs. Hao Jiang and Quamarul Hassan where he studied interactions between epigenetic regulators during development and tumor formation to identify therapeutic targets. His long-term goal is to become an independent investigator at a research-intensive institute or university studying epigenetics and genome organization in tumor cells.

Danielle Chisolm

NIH Independent Research Scholar

Danielle Chisolm is an NIH Independent Research Scholar through the NIAMS institute and an affiliate PRAT fellow. The goal of her research group is defining the molecular mechanisms by which transcription regulates T cell differentiation. She is interested in understanding how different external cues (i.e. cytokines, TCR-signaling, and metabolism) promote T cell specification decisions at the epigenetic level. Dr. Chisolm earned her Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the laboratory of Dr. Amy Weinmann. There she studied how the transcription factor CCCTC-Binding Factor (CTCF) translates Interleukin-2- and alpha-ketoglutarate-sensitive events into differential T cell gene programs.

Jonathan Chow

Jonathan Chow is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Yavin Shaham at the NIDA IRP where he studies the neurobiological mechanisms associated with choice between nondrug rewards and drugs of abuse. The goal of Dr. Chow’s research is to understand how alternative rewards can compete with drugs of abuse, and possibly identify novel neurobiological mechanisms that may improve treatment. Dr. Chow earned his Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky in the laboratory of Dr. Joshua Beckmann where he studied decision-making. His long-term goal is to have his own lab and continue investigating decision-making and its associated neurobiology.

Luis Colón-Cruz

Luis R. Colón-Cruz is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Shawn Burgess at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), where he studies the gene expression, chromatin structure, and chromosomal conformation regulating the regenerative capacity of hair cells in the adult inner ear of a non-mammalian vertebrate, the zebrafish. This could identify genomic features crucial to developing therapies to trigger hearing restoration in humans. Although there are modern devices that amplify sounds, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, there is still no cure, and these do not restore hearing. Therefore, a better understanding of the regulatory programs of hair cell development and regeneration in the adult inner ear at a single-cell level can advance otolaryngology research and make sensory regeneration a possible reality. Dr. Colón-Cruz earned his Ph.D. in Anatomy and Neurobiology at the University of Puerto Rico - Medical Sciences Campus in the laboratory of Dr. Martine Behra. There, he investigated the interplay of neurogenetics and altered behaviors by generating several CRISPR/Cas9 loss-of-function zebrafish mutants involved in the central and peripheral nervous system development and function, particularly the cannabinoid receptors. His long-term goal is to lead a research program to define the foundations and consequences of genomic structural changes of the hair cells’ regenerative plasticity as a proxy to comprehend the broader field of wound healing and tissue regeneration.

Rachel Cosby

Rachel Cosby is a PRAT fellow in Todd Macfarlan’s lab in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She obtained her Ph.D. in genetics, genomics, and development at Cornell University, where she studied how transposons, mobile genetic invaders that are highly abundant their host genomes, can be repurposed, or coopted, by natural selection to generate novel transcription factors and their associated regulatory networks. Her PRAT research builds on this foundation to understand the biological function of one such family of transcription factors, the THAP proteins, in vivo and how mutations in these genes lead to human disease. Specifically, she is investigating the role of THAP7 in vertebrate neurodevelopment and human intellectual disability using mice as a model organism. Her goal is to establish an independent research program investigating the spectrum of interactions between transposons and their host organisms, including conflict, cooperation, and cooption.

Rodolfo Flores Garcia

Dr. Rodolfo Flores Garcia is a PRAT fellow in the Unit of Neuromodulation and Synaptic Integration led by Dr. Hugo Tejeda at the National Institute of Mental Health. He earned his Ph.D. Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Texas at El Paso (2019) studying sex differences and the role of ovarian hormones in modulating the rewarding effects of nicotine and the aversive effects of nicotine withdrawal in rats. His PRAT research examines the neural circuits underlying motivational and affective processes, such as reward and aversion, and their role in approach-avoidance conflict decision-making. To achieve this, he will combine transgenic/viral approaches, single-cell Ca2+ imaging, optogenetics, and machine learning. He is interested in studying motivation and decision-making and would ultimately like to establish a program in an academic setting.

Liz Garcia-Peterson

Liz Garcia-Peterson is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Xiaoling Li at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences where she studies how gene-environment interactions affect colorectal cancer by examining a family of protein modification enzymes called sirtuins. Specifically, she is focused on the interaction between SIRT1, an important cellular metabolic sensor and epigenetic modulator, on gut microbiome, a critical environment factor whose importance in immune remodeling and antitumor immunotherapy are still being unraveled. Dr. Garcia-Peterson’s goal is to understand how deficiency of SIRT1 in intestine-originated innate immune cells known as Paneth cells, impacts environmental influences on intestinal epithelial homeostasis and how this interaction can alter intestinal and systemic immune function, which can impact anti-tumor immunity and the efficacy of anti-tumor immunotherapies. Understanding the role of SIRT1 in intestinal epithelial in the context of Paneth cells will shed light on to how disruptions on Paneth cells can result in changes of gut microbiome, altered immune functions, and disrupts epithelial homeostasis. Dr. Garcia-Peterson had a highly successful graduate training with Dr. Nihal Ahmad at University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied the role and functional significance of Sirtuin-6 in melanoma development and progression. Dr. Garcia-Peterson’s career goal is to be an independent investigator in an academic university/research institute, with focus on cancer biology.

Evan Hart

Evan Hart is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Geoffrey Schoenbaum at the National Institute on Drug Abuse where he studies the neurobiology of associative learning and decision-making using in-vivo recording and interference methods. Alterations in these fundamental psychological processes contribute maladaptive behavior that occurs in addiction and other neuropsychiatric conditions. Dr. Hart earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles in the laboratory of Dr. Alicia Izquierdo where he studied cortical contributions to effort-based decisions using in-vivo imaging approaches. His long-term goal is to run a research lab focused on applying large-scale neural recording methods in combination with complex behavior and computational approaches to data analysis, ultimately furthering understanding of the basic mechanisms of learning and how aberrations in this learning contribute to maladaptive behavior.

PamelaSara Head

PamelaSara Head Ph.D. is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Charles P. Venditti M.D., Ph.D. at the National Human Genome Research Institute where she studies the molecular mechanisms that drive pathophysiology of methylmalonic acidemia (MMA), an inborn error of metabolism. MMA is a rare, life-threatening genetic disease with multisystemic manifestations resulting from deficiencies in mitochondrial methylmalonyl-CoA mutase (MMUT), the enzyme responsible for the terminal catabolism of essential amino acids, odd chain fatty acids, and cholesterol (acyl-CoA metabolism). Dr. Head is exploring an alternative consequence of this impaired acyl-CoA metabolism: the unregulated accumulation of MMA specific posttranslational modifications (PTMs) on enzymes in critical intracellular pathways, and their contribution to MMA pathophysiology. After graduation from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Head earned her Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology at Emory University in the laboratory of Dr. David Yu M.D., Ph.D. where she studied regulation of the DNA damage response (DDR), genomic instability, and cancer. Her long-term goals are to define the disease mechanisms in MMA and to develop a new class of gene and cellular therapies targeted at the reversal of excessive PTMs as a treatment for MMA and related organic acidemias.

Amber Lockridge

Amber Lockridge is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. John Hanover at the NIDDK where she studies the relationships between lipid metabolism and the nutrient-sensitive protein modification - O-GlcNAcylation. Her current project is focused on how the O-GlcNAc attachment/detachment enzymes help cells to utilize either glucose or fatty acids to produce energy. This type of “fuel switching” is important for the body to adapt to different nutrient conditions such as right after a meal, during an overnight fast or in response to a high fat diet. Metabolic fuel inflexibility has been implicated in heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Dr. Lockridge earned her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota in the laboratory of Dr. Emilyn Alejandro where she showed how the protein O-GlcNAc Transferase (OGT) is required for pancreatic beta cells to potentiate their glucose-stimulated insulin secretion in response to a high lipid environment. Her long-term goal is to become the PI of her own research lab, studying the amazing diversity of cellular memory and adaptation mechanisms in the context of systemic nutrient metabolism.

Sierra Marker

Sierra Marker is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Martin Schnermann at the National Cancer Institute where she studies how to improve cyanine probes for deep-tissue fluorescent imaging. Fluorescent imaging is a valuable tool for clinicians for both diagnostic and surgical resection of tumors, however, optimal fluorophores are needed that absorb and emit in the near-infrared region for high contrast and resolution. Therefore, my research focuses on developing cyanine probes, which are brighter than traditional probes, and have improved tumor-targeting capabilities. Dr. Marker earned her Ph.D. at Cornell University in the laboratory of Prof. Justin Wilson where she studied the use of rhenium complexes as anticancer agents. Her long-term goal is to become a professor at a primarily undergraduate institute (PUI) and run her own chemical biology research group and be actively involved in scientific outreach.

Fatma Sezen Meydan Marks

Fatma Sezen Meydan Marks is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Nicholas Guydosh at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), where she studies the role of ribosome collisions in cellular homeostasis of eukaryotic organisms. Obstacles during protein synthesis can cause ribosomes to collide with each other and dysregulated rescue of collided ribosomes is implicated in neuronal diseases. She aims to identify where ribosome collisions occur in the cell and how they are linked to neuronal health. Dr. Meydan Marks earned her Ph.D. at University of Illinois at Chicago in the laboratory of Drs. Alexander Mankin and Nora Vazquez Laslop, where she studied unconventional translation events that diversify the bacterial proteome. Her long term goal is to be an independent investigator to continue studying the causal link between translation and various diseases, and to develop potential treatments that can modulate protein synthesis.

Andrew Moehlman

Andrew Moehlman is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Richard Youle at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke where he studies innate immunity pathways in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) models. Genetically inherited PD is linked to mutated alleles of mitochondria-related proteins such as Parkin and Pink1, which are involved in the removal of damaged mitochondria. These genes are conserved in the fruit fly model organism, Drosophila melanogaster, which Dr. Moehlman is using to study the role of innate immune signaling in neuron degeneration and onset of PD-like motor defects. Dr. Moehlman earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in the laboratory of Dr. Helmut Krämer where he studied post-translational modification of the ER chaperone BiP and regulation of insect visual neurotransmission. Andrew’s long-term goal is to obtain an independent investigator position at a public research university.

Ian Morgan

Ian L. Morgan is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Keir C. Neuman at the NHLBI where he uses state-of-the-art biophysical tools to study the molecular mechanism of antimicrobials. According to the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance is one of the top ten global health threats facing humanity. By better understanding the mechanism of current antimicrobials, we can help improve current treatments and/or guide the development of new antimicrobials. Dr. Morgan earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the laboratory of Omar A. Saleh where he developed new single-molecule tools for studying the structure of intrinsically disordered proteins. His long-term goal is to better understand the molecular mechanisms of enzyme-drug interactions in order to improve human health.

John O'Malley

Dr. John (JJ) O’Malley is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Mario Penzo at the NIMH where he studies the role of inhibition of the midline thalamus. Specifically, how thalamic inhibition shapes the selection of defensive behaviors such as avoidance or freezing in response to a threat. These defensive behaviors are important for an organism’s survival but can be come maladaptive resulting in neurological disorders such as anxiety-related disorders. Understanding the how the brain governs the selection of these behaviors can help us understand the underlying cause or causes to neurological disorders which may provide key insights to new treatments for those disorders. Dr. O’Malley earned his Ph.D. at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Beierlein where he studied the cellular and circuit mechanisms in the thalamic reticular nucleus that generate slow oscillations. His long-term goal is to continue researching how thalamic inhibition shapes anxiety-related behaviors while teaching neuroscience to the next generation of scientists.

Rachael Philips

Rachael Philips is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. John O’Shea at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) where she studies how a gain-of-function mutation in signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT1) alters gene expression and immune cell function. STAT1 is an important transcription factor that mediates cellular responses to interferons and other cytokines, yet largely understudied in patients with STAT1 gain-of-function mutations who develop a broad spectrum of disease, including chronic infections (fungal, bacterial, viral), autoimmunity, and cancer. This research will provide critical insights into basic principles of a STAT1 signaling and potential treatment options for patients. Dr. Philips earned her Ph.D. at the Mayo Clinic in the laboratory of Dr. Virginia Shapiro where she studied how histone deacetylase 3 regulates gene expression during T cell development. Her long-term goal is to become an independent investigator who studies how epigenetic mechanisms govern a healthy and aberrant immune response.

Veronica Ryan

Veronica Ryan is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Michael Ward, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She obtained her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Brown University, where she studied neurodegeneration-associated mutations in the RNA binding protein hnRNPA2 and their effect on hnRNPA2 phase separation and interactions with mRNA transport granule proteins in the labs of Nicolas Fawzi and Anne Hart. Her PRAT research investigates the mechanisms of mRNA transport granule assembly in neurons and how this assembly is altered in neurodegenerative disease, specifically amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia (ALS/FTD). These studies will provide critical understanding of mRNA granule packaging and transport in neurons as well as identify potential therapeutic targets to treat or prevent neurodegeneration. Her long-term goal is to lead an independent laboratory focused on investigating the basic biology of neuronal mRNA transport and its intersection with neurodegeneration.

Stephanie Sarbanes

Stephanie Sarbanes is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Antonina Roll-Mecak at the NINDS where she studies how cells sense and respond to damage of the microtubule cytoskeleton. When cells perceive microtubule damage they buffer the level of the subunits that make up microtubules by rapidly destroying the mRNA transcripts encoding those subunits. This process termed “tubulin autoregulation” is still poorly understood. However, a key protein in this pathway has been recently linked to intellectual disability suggesting this feedback pathway may be important in neurons where construction and regulation of the microtubule cytoskeleton is particularly critical. Dr. Sarbanes earned her Ph.D. at The Rockefeller University in the laboratory of Dr. Charles Rice where she studied how viruses navigate and hijack the cell for their own ends. Her long-term goal is to lead a research group studying the response of the cytoskeleton to pathogens and damage while promoting scientific education and engagement.

Omar Soler-Cedeno

Omar Soler-Cedeno is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Zheng-Xiong Xi at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, where he studies the neural structures underpinning addiction. Dr. Soler-Cedeno investigates the cell-type-specific mechanisms underlying opioids' rewarding, analgesic, locomotive, and respiratory effects. Understanding how opioids affect these systemic processes could help discover novel targets and medications for treating addiction and other conditions, such as chronic pain. Dr. Soler-Cedeno earned his Ph.D. at the Ponce Health Sciences University in the laboratory of James T. Porter. At Ponce, he studied fear learning and memory-induced brain changes in a rodent model of posttraumatic stress disorder. His long-term goal is to become an independent investigator and establish a research program to study mental health and chronic pain comorbidity.

Tiffany Zarrella

Tiffany Zarrella is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Anupama Khare at the National Cancer Institute where she studies polymicrobial interactions between the co-infecting bacterial pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus which often cause chronic, antibiotic resistant infections. She is elucidating the environmental conditions and molecular mechanisms that govern interbacterial communication and modulate antimicrobial production and resistance. Understanding these underlying molecular pathways in interspecies interactions will lead to the identification of novel targets for therapeutics that disrupt chronic bacterial infections. Dr. Zarrella earned her Ph.D. at Albany Medical College in the laboratory of Guangchun Bai where she researched the role of the bacterial signaling nucleotide cyclic di-AMP in controlling stress responses and competence in the pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae. Her long-term goal is to lead an independent research group studying bacterial signaling in more native environments, including multispecies systems.

Rilee Zeinert

Rilee Zeinert is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Gisela Storz at the NICHD where he studies small protein regulators of protein degradation. Given small proteins are found in all domains of life and are known to regulate various biological processes it is likely these proteins could serve as novel therapeutic targets. Dr. Zeinert earned his Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Chien where he studied bacterial protein degradation. His long-term goal is to run his own lab at a university.