Current Postdoctoral Advisees

Andreas Berroth

PhD: Biology, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Kiel, Germany

Mentor: Christopher Contag, PhD

Research: I am involved in understanding the role of microRNA’s in the pathogenesis of Pachyonychia Congenita. Therefore, I am developing organotypic culture models and mouse models to test the microRNA’s in human skin equivalents.

Meng-meng Fu

PhD: Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA

Mentor: Ben Barres, MD, PhD

Research: In the brain, neurons communicate electrically via long extensions called axons.  These axons are wrapped in many concentric layers of fatty myelin, which act like insulation around electrical wiring and facilitate the speedy relay of electric signals in the brain.  In the Barres Lab, I study the maturation of oligodendrocytes, the cells that make myelin. Specifically, we hope to better understand the cellular mechanisms that underlie myelin production by identifying novel proteins involved in this process. Understanding this developmental phenomenon will give us clues to why some oligodendrocytes don't differentiate properly, remaining immature in certain preterm infants who are especially vulnerable to white matter injury, or failure to properly form myelin. This may lead to lifelong neurological problems, including cerebral palsy.

Kazumichi Fujioka

MD: Kobe University in Kobe, Japan

PhD: Kobe University in Kobe, Japan

Mentor: David Stevenson, MD

Research Summary: Heme oxygenase (HO) is the rate-limiting enzyme in the degradation of heme to produce bilirubin. Because hemolysis can lead to increased bilirubin production and cause neonatal jaundice, the use of HO-inhibitors, e.g. metalloporphyrins (Mps), may be an ideal preventive strategy. We have designed formulations of zinc protoporphyrin (ZnPP) using polymeric particulate delivery systems (microparticles) to improve its stability and enhance gastric absorption. Our objective was to test a lipid-based preparation for oral bioavailability and subsequent potency after a heme load in a newborn mouse model.  

Masamitsu Kanada

PhD: Cell Biology, Graduate School of LIfe and Environmental Sciences in Tsukuba University, Japan

Mentor: Christopher Contag, PhD

Research: Extracellular vesicle (EV)-mediated transfer of proteins and nucleic acids has recently been described as a previously untapped means of cell-cell communication, when in fact it may have utility in drug delivery. In addition, the EV packaged biomolecules in serum may have tremendous potential for diagnosing cancer, Alzheimer's, or other diseases that are difficult to detect in the early phases. I am studying this means of communication using various kinds of imaging techniques in the Contag lab. 

Sana Mujahid

PhD: Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology, Tufts University of Medicine in Boston, MA

Mentor: Richard Bland, MD

Research: The Bland lab research program focuses on lung growth and development, and the adverse impact of prolonged mechanical ventilation on the incompletely formed lung. In very premature infants, this often leads to chronic lung disease. Using miRNA microarrays and RNA sequencing, I am investigating which pathways mediate the detrimental effects of mechanical ventilation on the developing lung and how therapeutics can be used to mitigate this injury.

Ji-Yeon Park

PhD: Medical Physics & Engineering, Catholic Medical College in Seoul, Korea

Mentor: Christopher Contag, PhD

Research: My goal is to evaluate the qualitative and quantitative effects of radiotherapy on cells using molecular imaging. I am also developing optimal radiotherapy schemes and strategies. The latest radiotherapy uses intensity-modulated radiation fields to effectively kill cancer cells by delivering higher doses to targeted areas, sparing critical organs. We verify the cellular responses to these non-uniform dose distributions using multimodal molecular imaging. Ultimately, based on the verified radiation responses, we will develop dose optimization techniques to improve radiotherapy effects.

Stephan Rogalla

MD: Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany

PhD: Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany

Mentor: Christopher Contag, PhD

Research: The goal of my research is to improve the diagnostics and treatment of medulloblastoma, the most common childhood brain tumor. Using molecular imaging devices, we hope to discover new treatment options. Specifically, I plan to investigate highly specific molecular probes for cancer cell detection in combination with a handheld dual axis confocal microscopes to improve the quality and outcome of surgical resection. Other projects involve exploring early detection of malignancies of the gastrointestinal tract.

Bat Zion Shachar

MD: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel

Mentor: Gary Shaw, DrPH

Research: My research focuses on the etiology and prevention of preterm birth (PTB). Defined as delivery at 37 weeks of gestation or less, preterm birth the leading cause of perinatal mortality in the developed world. Short interpregnancy interval (IPI) has been shown to increase the risk for PTB. I have recently published a review about this association in Obstetrics and Gynecology Survey (Shachar et al. 2013). Most important, the majority of studies from developed countries showing an association between IPI and PTB use data collected nearly 15 years ago. Many changes have since occurred in the US including the rise in obesity among Hispanics and Blacks, folate fortification, improved obstetrical care, and delayed childbirth. Therefore, we performed a large-scale study examining whether short IPI is still associated with PTB in a current US population. A short IPI of less than 6 months and also an IPI of 6-11 months was associated with increased risk for preterm birth in our large California cohort.

Ryan Spitler

PhD: Cellular and Developmental Biology, University of California, Irvine in Irvine, CA

Mentor: Christopher Contag, PhD

Research: I am working on the development of thermal-inducible magnetotatic bacteria (MTB) for the regulation of mammalian cell genetic circuitry through bacterial gene expression. This new nanoplateform can then be used for detection and control of cancer and cellular reprogramming. MTB's will allow for the delivery and control of complex genetic circuitry within cells without modification of the host genome.