Faculty List

Available Mentors

Yehenew Mekonnen Agazie, Ph.D., Associate Professor

The Agazie lab focuses on the role of the Src homology phosphotyrosyl phosphatase 2 (SHP2) in receptor tyrosine kinase and the Wnt/ ß- catenin signaling pathways and its role in cancer.

Andrey Bobko, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Bobko is interested in developing of new probes and approaches for in vivo multifunctional spectroscopy and imaging using electron and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques. We focus on synthesis of paramagnetic probes for measurement of tissue microenvironment parameters (e.g. acidity (pH), redox, glutathione (GSH), inorganic phosphate (Pi), glucose, oxygenation (pO2)) using Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) or/and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and imaging and their combinations.

Steven Frisch, Ph.D., Professor

The mechanisms of anoikis, Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition and tumor immunity;   development of therapeutics based on these mechanisms.

Michael R. Gunther, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Dr. Gunther’s research has been directed towards understanding how mutant forms of the protein superoxide dismutase cause the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The primary interests of the lab have been identifying and characterizing free radicals formed on proteins with the hope of understanding how these unstable species might contribute to disease pathophysiology. In recent years we have been studying mitochondrial defects that arise from the expression of the ALS-causing mutant superoxide dismutase proteins in yeast. The main tools used in our laboratory are UV-visible spectroscopy and EPR spectroscopy, which is used to study free radicals.

Brad Hillgartner, Ph.D., Professor

The Hillgartner lab is interested in the mechanisms mediating the nutritional and hormonal regulation of genes involved carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

Alexey Ivanov, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor

The laboratory of Alexey Ivanov, Ph.D., focuses on mechanisms that regulate gene expression with a special emphasis on how the DNA-packaging structure of chromatin is regulated during cellular processes. The laboratory seeks to define the biochemical and molecular mechanisms that govern the normal silencing of genes during development and homeostasis, as well as disruptions of these governing mechanisms during tumor initiation and progression.

Valery V. Khramtsov, Ph.D., Professor

Most of my research is devoted to the development and application of new magnetic resonance approaches to biomedicine, including electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy and imaging and Overhauser-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (OMRI or proton-electron double-resonance imaging, PEDRI). Our current projects develop the unique paramagnetic probes allowing noninvasive simultaneous detection of tissue oxygenation, acidity (pH), redox status, intracellular glutathione (GSH) and interstitial inorganic phosphate in living subjects.

Gregory W. Konat, Ph.D., Professor

My research interests are primarily focused on the immune-to-brain communication. In particular, the research objective of my laboratory is to elucidate mechanisms by which inflammatory episodes in the periphery alter brain function.

Roberta Leonardi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Our lab is interested in the development of new strategies to manipulate the metabolic network for the treatment or prevention of metabolic disorders like type 2 diabetes. In particular, the lab focuses on coenzyme A (CoA)-an essential cofactor that acts as a global regulator of cellular metabolism- and on the role of CoA-degrading enzymes in the regulation of CoA levels and energy metabolism. We are also interested in understanding, at a mechanistic level, the connection between neuronal CoA levels, neurodegeneration and brain iron accumulation in PKAN disease to identify new therapeutic targets for this neurological disorder.

Jun Liu, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Dr. Liu is investigating Angiogenesis and Cell Motility. Angiogenesis is a process by which new blood vessel develops from pre-existing capillary. As for Cell motility, We have found that during cell migration, caveolin-1 and caveolae polarize at the rear of migrating cells. We hypothesize that when cells are stimulated to migrate, caveolin-1 moves to the rear of a migrating cell in a sequence-specific fashion as a mechanism to sequester it away from signaling proteins that direct cell motility at the leading edge.

Elena Pugacheva, Ph.D., Associate Professor

The fundamental question we are interested in is how cell adhesion and cell mitotic machineries communicate with each other. It is the matter of life for a multi-cellular organism, where specific and oriented adhesions were evolutionary necessary to develop. The focus of the Pugacheva Lab is the focal adhesion scaffolding proteins of the Cas family and their role in proliferation and invasion. Our current efforts are dedicated to outlining the molecular mechanisms governing Cas dependent activation of oncogenic kinase AurA and finding AurA substrates responsible for tumor progression.

Vazhaikkurichi M. Rajendran, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Rajendran is interested in investigating the electrolyte transport processes that regulate colonic fluid movement during physiological and pathophysiological (diarrhea and ulcerative colitis) conditions. We focus to identify the Ca2+-activated intermediate conductance (also known as KCNN4) K+ channel isoform that provides the driving force for Cl- secretion in several fluid secreting epithelial cells. To achieve this goal, we employ electrophysiology, biochemical, molecular and biophysical techniques.

Aaron Robart, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Non-coding RNAs play diverse cellular roles acting as messengers, regulators, structural scaffolds, and catalytic ribozymes. We use a combination of biochemistry and structural biology to understand the architecture and catalytic mechanisms of RNA molecular machines, exploring the complexity of RNA structure and the proteins that coordinate to them. The lab is currently focused on two RNA machines: the RNA splicing apparatus and the telomerase ribonucleoprotein (RNP) complex.

Mike Ruppert, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chair

The Ruppert lab is interested in the role of the zinc finger transcription factors KLF4/GKLF and Gli1 as regulators of chromatin structure, gene transcription and malignant transformation in epithelial cells, and their role in tumors such as breast cancer and skin cancer.

Lisa M. Salati, Ph.D., Professor

The Salati laboratory has studied the molecular mechanisms by which nutrients such as fatty acids and nutritional status alter the rate of splicing of mRNA that encodes genes important in liver metabolism.  More recently, I have turned my attention to graduate education and work with the Health Science Center leadership to direct graduate programs and to devise innovative strategies to train students so that they are best prepared for their future career.

Michael D. Schaller, Ph.D., Professor and Dept. Chair

Dr. Schaller is interested in signal transduction and the regulation of cell growth, survival and motility in normal cells, cancer cells and endothelial cells. Signaling events regulated by tyrosine kinases and phosphatases following cell adhesion to the extracellular matrix are of particular interest. Multiple strategies, including molecular, biochemical, proteomic, structural, cell biology and animal model approaches, are being applied in his lab to study the mechanism of action of these types of enzymes.

Richard E.B. Seftor, Ph.D., Research Professor

Our laboratory is a cancer biology laboratory that utilizes functional assays coupled with biochemical and molecular analyses to dissect and identify the proteins, molecules and signaling pathways associated with the aggressive cancer cell phenotype. Our methodology utilizes a comparative approach between aggressive and poorly aggressive cancer cells (with melanoma being our primary model), or comparison to "normal" cells when available.

Andrew K. Shiemke, Ph.D., Associate Professor

The main focus of research in this laboratory is the structural and mechanistic characterization of metal-containing enzymes and proteins. Many protein active sites contain one or more of the transition elements (Fe, Cu,, Mn, etc.) making them amenable to investigation using Spectroscopic techniques specific for the metal center. Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR), resonance Raman, and X-ray Absorption spectroscopies are used to probe the structure of the metal center, from which the detailed mechanism of the enzyme may be deduced.

David M. Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor

My lab's passion is to understand how the proteasome functions at a molecular level. The proteasome is a molecular machine that finds proteins, unfolds them, and injects them into an internal chamber were they are destroyed. This protein degradation process plays important roles in the development of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and cancer. Understanding these disease and molecular mechanisms is also allowing us to develop new proteasome modulating compounds that could be useful to treat these diseases.

Peter Stoilov, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Regulation of alternative pre-mRNA splicing; Alternative splicing in cancer progression; Drugs targeting alternative splicing as cancer therapeutics and research tools; High-throughput research methods.

Mark Tseytlin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

My collaborators and I are developing new spectroscopic and imaging methods for in vivo Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR). EPR is in many ways analogous to better known Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and its imaging modality MRI. While NMR and MRI methods detect signals produced by nuclear spins in protons and other chemical elements, EPR measures electron spins in all kinds of free radicals.

Knox Van Dyke, Ph.D., Professor

Research interests in the Van Dyke laboratory are centered in two main areas: chemotherapy and inflammation.

Scott A Weed, Ph.D., Associate Professor

The Weed laboratory focuses on the underlying molecular mechanisms that drive tumor cell invasion and metastasis, the key events in cancer progression responsible for lethality.

Jing Jie Yu, M.D., Research Professor

Dr. Yu is interested in the relationship between platinum-drug resistance and DNA repair mechanisms. Her primary research focus is inhibition of DNA repair pathways by blocking critical genes to overcome platinum resistance, and identification of new drugs for more effective cancer chemotherapy.

Joint/Adjunct Faculty

Jianhai Du, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Our lab integrates multidisciplinary approaches including mass spectrometry, stable isotope tracers, gene editing, animal models and stem cell technology to study the roles of metabolic regulation and dys-regulation in the heathy and diseased retinas.

Qiang Ma, Ph.D., Professor

Humans are constantly exposed to toxic agents from the environment to cause disease conditions. Dr. Ma’s research seeks to understand: (1) the function and mode of action of xenobiotic-activated receptors (XARs) in mediating pathologic responses to xenochemicals; and (2) the mechanism underlying lung fibrosis and cancer due to inhalation of chemicals, particles and fibers, and nanomaterials.

Peter Mathers, Ph.D., Associate Professor

The Mathers laboratory is specifically interested in studying genes that are critical for forming the sensory organs of the head: the eyes, the ears, and the nose.

Visvanathan Ramamurthy, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Biochemical mechanisms behind gene mutations that result in photoreceptor cell death; Protein methylation in neurons; Gene therapy for blinding diseases.

Max Sokolov, Ph.D., Associate Professor

The primary research interests of the Sokolov laboratory are understanding molecular mechanisms of protein homeostasis in neurons that require molecular chaperones.