Recent Graduates

2017

Brandon Jones

Brandon Jones, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Elena Pugacheva

Yuriy Loskutov 

Yuriy Loskutov, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Elena Pugacheva

Kim Alonge

Kimberly Alonge, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Brad Hillgartner, Ph.D.

Kimberly presented her doctoral dissertation defense in February 2017. Kimberly moved to Seattle Washington right after defending. She is doing research at the University of Washington in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition. The title of her dissertation was "Novel Mechanisms Controlling the Expression of the Antidiabetic Hepatokine Fibroblast Growth Factor 21".

Jessica Hall

Jessica Hall, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Michael Schaller, Ph.D.

Jessica Hall presented her doctoral dissertation defense on Friday, March 17, 2017. The title of her dissertation was “Biochemical Characterization of the Release of FAK Autoinhibition” Jess is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bucknell University. This year she taught upper level Cell Biology & Molecular Biology, next year she will be teaching Intro to the Cell & Molecular Biology. Jess is doing research with 3 undergrads over the summer as well! :  

Helen Rodgers

Helen Rodgers, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Peter Mathers, Ph.D.

Helen defended her dissertation in May 2017

2016

Zach Wright 

Zachary Wright, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Vishy Ramamurthy, Ph.D.

Zachary, defended his thesis in July 2016 at the Eye Institute Lecture Hall The title of his Dissertation was "Complex Regulation of Protein Trafficking and Photoreceptor Cell Development by Small GTPases".

Nachiket Pendse

Nachiket Pendse, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Vishy Ramamurthy, Ph.D.

Nachiket defended on Tuesday, August 16th, 2016 at the Eye Institute Lecture Hall. The title of his Doctoral Dissertation was: "Role for protein prenylation and CAAX processing in photoreceptor neurons".

Philip Pifer 

Philip Pifer, Ph.D.
Degree: MD/Ph.D.
Advisor: Steven Frisch, Ph.D.

Phillip defended his dissertation in June 24th, 2016. After defending his dissertation, Phillip returned to medical school to finish his 3rd and 4th year, expecting to graduate in May 2018. His plan is to prepare for a cancer related residency yet to be determined. The title of his dissertation was "Grainyhead-like-2 inhibits the co-activator p300, suppressing tubulogenesis and the epithelial-mesenchymal transition”.

Josh Farris

Joshua Farris, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Steven Frisch, Ph.D.

Josh Farris, Graduate Student in the Cancer Cell Biology Dept. with Dr. Steven Frisch’s Lab, defended on Friday, June 3rd, 2016. After finishing his time in Dr. Frisch's lab, he plans to return to 3rd year medical school. Ultimately, Josh hopes to practice radiation oncology. The Title of his dissertation was "Grainyhead-like-2 Reverses the Metabolic Changes Induced by the Oncogenic Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition: Effects on Anoikis”.

Daniel Murphy

Daniel Murphy, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Stoilov

Daniel Murphy is now doing a postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis.

Elisha Martin

Elisha Martin, M.S.
Degree: M.S.
Advisor: Agazie

2015

Mark Farrugia

Mark Farrugia, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Ruppert

Mark Farrugia is (currently third year medical student, WVU MD PhD Program).Mark defended his thesis in May 2015. He studied Kruppel-like factors (KLFs) in HER2+ breast cancer. He showed dynamic roles of KLF4 and KLF5 as cooperative mediators of therapeutic resistance, using lapatinib resistance as a model. He will receive the MD and PHD degrees following completion of medical school in 2017.

Sriganesh Sharma

Sriganesh Sharma, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Ruppert

Sriganesh Sharma (currently third year medical student, WVU MD PhD Program)Sri defended his thesis in May 2015. Sri studied the regulation of RAS-ERK signaling by KLF4. He showed that KLF4 directly regulates the transcription of two microRNAs (miRs), miR-206 and miR-21. These two miRs compose a novel activator of RAS-ERK through suppression of GTPase activating proteins (GAPs), including RASA1 and the Spred1/NF1 complex. His results provide the rationale for a novel antagomiR-based approach for treatment of cancer, regardless of the RAS mutational status, and may explain the paucity of activating point mutations in RAS genes in certain cancers such as breast cancer. He will receive the MD and PHD degrees following completion of medical school in 2017.

Amanda Suchanek

Amanda Suchanek, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Salati

Amanda defended her dissertation in August in which she demonstrated that the splicing factor SRSF3 is involved in enhancing RNA splicing during the fed state. She also developed an new reagent that can be used in liver to find new targets for SRSF3. Amanda has moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she is doing post-doctoral studies with Dr. Rosalind Coleman. The Coleman lab studies enzymes involved in the entry of fatty acids into cells and their subsequent metabolism.

Daniel Vanderbilt

Daniel Vanderbilt, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Ruppert

Dan Vanderbilt (currently third year medical student, WVU MD PhD Program)Dan defended his thesis in June 2015. Dan identified a critical mechanism that stabilizes the Gli1 transcription factor and maintains the malignant phenotype of cancer stem-like cells (CSCs). He found that the HMG box transcription factor Sox9 binds to the Skp/Cul/Fbox (SCF) E3 ligase component beta-TrCP, and prevents its association with Skp1. When Sox9 is suppressed, SCF-beta-TrCP targets nuclear Gli1 for degradation, resulting in loss of CSCs and loss of malignant properties such as tumor cell survival. He will receive the MD and PHD degrees following completion of medical school in 2017.

2013

Zachary Hartman

Zachary Hartman, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Agazie

Zach defended his thesis in November of 2013. He studied the role of the EGFR/HER2-SHP2 signaling axis in breast cancer. He showed that SHP2 was an essential downstream signaling molecule whose protein tyrosine phosphatase activity promoted cell transformation and tumorigenesis induced by the EGFR-HER2 duo in breast cancer cells. Currently, Zach is a scientific writer for prIME Oncology in Atlanta, GA.

Travis Cyphert

Travis Cyphert, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Salati

Travis completed his Ph.D. in May of 2013. Travis identified a role for hnRNP K, a splicing regulatory protein in the inhibition of splicing during starvation. He is now expanding his skills into more physiological approaches via a postdoctoral position at Vanderbilt with Dr. Owen McGinnis.

2012

Ben Cieply

Ben Cieply, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Frisch

Holly Cyphert

Holly Cyphert, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Hillgartner

Holly defended her thesis in November of 2012. She characterized transcriptional and posttranscriptional mechanisms mediating the nutritional regulation of fibroblast growth factor 21, a novel hepatic hormone controlling metabolic fuel partitioning. Holly is pursuing her postdoctoral studies in Roland Stein’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University where she is investigating transcriptional mechanisms controlling pancreatic islet beta-cell development and function. She recently received a NIH F32 postdoctoral fellowship.

Christy Ku

Christy Ku, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Ramamurthy

Fatimah Matalkah

Fatima Matalkah, M.S.
Degree: M.S.
Advisor: Agazie

Catherine Kinzer

Catherine Kinzer-Woodard, M.S.
Degree: M.S.
Advisor: Sokolov

2011

Jeff Christiansen

Jeff Christiansen, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Ramamurthy

Heather Knupp

Heather Knupp, M.S.
Degree: M.S.
Advisor: Salati

After graduating in 2011, Heather worked for the University of Pittsburgh Vascular Medicine Institute studying the molecular mechanisms behind sickle cell disease related pulmonary arterial hypertension.

She left the VMI in 2014 moving from basic science into patient care, with the goal of entering nursing school. Heather worked at UPMC Shadyside as a patient care technician on a hematology/oncology floor and currently she is a patient care technician at UPMC Children's Hospital on an ortho/neuro/trauma floor.

Heather started nursing school at CCAC-Allegheny in August 2017 and will graduate with her RN in May 2019. She plans to continue on to earn her BSN building her knowledge base and expertise.

Chen Chung Lin

Cheng-Chun Lin, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Ruppert

Chen-Chung defended his dissertation, titled “MicroRNA Regulation of Kruppel-Like Factor 4 in Breast Cancer” in July 2011. His first publication was in Molecular and Cellular Biology (May 2011). Another first author publication is in submission and a third paper is partially completed. Chen-Chung plans to complete two postdoctoral years with his graduate school mentor, Mike Ruppert, and then apply for a postdoctoral position in the general area of microRNAs in development and cancer.

2010

Sanjeev Kumar

Sanjeev Kumar, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Frisch

Sanjeev Kumar joined the Frisch lab in September, 2004 and finished his Ph.D. in April, 2010. While in the lab, he investigated the mechanisms by which E-cadherin and EMT regulate a specific apoptotic response known as anoikis. He discovered elements of a novel pathway leading from E-cadherin to transcriptional regulation. A manuscript based on this work is under review for Molecular Cell. He is now a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Alan Diehl's lab at the Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania.

2009

David Howell

David Howell, M.D., Ph.D.
Degree: M.D., Ph.D.
Advisor: Mathers

David Howell, MD, PhD, successfully defended his dissertation work in 2009 in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Program. His dissertation focused on the role of the DCC-netrin signaling pathway in regulating axon guidance and cellular migration of auditory neurons in the developing mouse brainstem. He is currently a resident in the Pathology Department at WVU.

Alison Kohan

Alison Bloom-Kohan, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Salati

Ali completed her Ph.D. in the summer of 2009. Her work established an important mechanism for intracellular regulation by dietary fat. She carried out her postdoctoral work with Dr. Patrick Tso at the University of Cincinnati and successfully obtained a F32 postdoctoral fellowship and a K01 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award from the NIH. Ali is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University Connecticut.

Dr. Kohan's research program focuses on the role of apolipoprotein C-III in mediating inflammatory disease. The canonical role of apolipoprotein (apo) C-III is to inhibit lipid uptake by peripheral tissues and liver, stimulating hypertriglyceridemia. Her lab first reported that overexpression of human apoC-III in mice results in delayed dietary fat absorption and secretion of smaller chylomicrons.

Prior to this discovery, all other known effects of apoC-III were deleterious. Genetic variants in apoC-III exist, but there is only one family known to have a complete loss of apoC-III, suggesting a strong evolutionary pressure to retain apoC-III expression.

She and her lab have now determined that in addition to the delay in dietary fat absorption, apoC-III overexpression confers significant protection from colitis in mice (induced with dextran-sulfate sodium (DSS), and confers resistance to all associated pathologies including weight loss, colon shortening, macroscopic damage, and pro-inflammatory secretion of IL-17.

Major efforts in her research laboratory are focused on: (i) mechanism of apoC-III regulation of intestinal regulatory T cells (Tregs); (ii) the interplay between dietary lipid absorption-chylomicron secretion-and apolipoprotein expression and inflammatory bowel disease; and (iii) the influence of plasma lipoproteins, particularly triglyceride-rich lipoproteins with apoC-III, on intestinal lipid metabolism. The laboratory has extensive experience in intestinal lipid absorption, lipoprotein synthesis and secretion, plasma lipoprotein metabolism, and they developed the primary intestinal organoid model for the study of lipoprotein synthesis and secretion.

The overall goal of Dr. Kohan's research is to determine the mechanisms through which intestinal apolipoproteins impact disease in human populations, and the therapeutic implications of this physiology.

Hongman Song

Hongman Song, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Sokolov

Hongman defended her dissertation in the summer of 2010. Her graduate studies resulted in two first-authorship publications in Journal of Biological Chemistry and Journal of Proteome Research and a number of collaborative papers in Biochemistry, Journal of Neuroscience, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, Journal of General Physiology, Journal of Neurochemistry, and PNAS. Hongman continues her endeavor in the field of Photoreceptor Biology and Visual Signal Transduction, working as a postdoctoral fellow at Dr. Paul Sieving laboratory at the NIH.

Callee Walsh

Callee McConnell-Walsh, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Salati

Callee defended her dissertation in November of 2009. Her work identified a critical protein for regulated splicing in liver and the work has appeared in several laboratory publications. She went on to do postdoctoral work with Dr. Aaron Timperman to learn the field of proteomics. She is now a research scientist with Protea Biosciences developing novel technologies and products for bioanalytics as well as continuing to collaborate with scientists at West Virginia University.

Brian Zamora

Brian Zamora, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Mathers

Dr. Zamora, PhD, completed his doctoral dissertation work in December 2009 in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Graduate Program. His project explored the role of the Rx homeobox gene in early mouse eye development, and combined conditional gene deletion and transgenic approaches to manipulate the timing of Rx gene deletion and possible compensation mechanisms. He is currently completing his clinical training at the WVU School of Medicine.

After completing his clinical training, He graduated with honors from West Virginia University School Of Medicine in 2012. Following graduation, Brian completed a Transitional Year Internship at WVU from 2012-2013, followed by his Ophthalmology Residency from 2013 through 2016 at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Zamora is  is currently completing a Vitreoretinal Surgery Fellowship at Wake Forest University from 2016-2018.

Having more than 5 years of diverse experiences, especially in Ophthalmology, Dr. Zamora affiliates with many hospitals including North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Davie Medical Center, and cooperates with other doctors and specialists in medical group Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

2008

Sushant Bhatnagar

Sushant Bhatnagar, Ph.D.
Degree: Ph.D.
Advisor: Hillgartner

Dr. Bhatnagar completed his Ph.D. in December 2008. He discovered that fibroblast growth factor 19 was a component of the bile acid signaling pathway controlling the hepatic lipogenic gene expression. Sushant recently obtained a NIH K99 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award. After completing his Ph.D. from the Department of Biochemistry at WVU, Sushant went to the laboratory of Alan Attie at the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison for post-doctoral training. During his postdoc, he acquired experience in the area of genetics of type 2 diabetes. In 2015, Dr. Bhatnagar started his independent laboratory working on understanding mechanisms of insulin secretion in type 2 diabetes. The lab is located in the Comprehensive Diabetes Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.