Current Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRAT) Fellows

Philip Adams

NIH Independent Research Scholar

Philip Adams is an NIH Independent Research Scholar and affiliate PRAT fellow. His group studies the Lyme disease pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi. Using a combination of R​NA-sequencing, biochemistry, and genetic approaches the Adams group aims to discover and characterize a variety of bacterial regulatory RNAs. This type of gene regulation is critical for the infectivity of many pathogens, yet largely unstudied in Lyme disease, the foremost tick-borne bacterial infection in the world. Dr. Adams earned his Ph.D. at the University of Central Florida in the laboratory of Dr. Mollie Jewett where he characterized novel B. burgdorferi RNAs expressed during tick and mammalian infection. He completed a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Gisela Storz at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), where he studied RNA regulation in the model organism Escherichia coli.

Learn more about research in the Adams lab

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.

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.

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.

Jacquelyn Evans

Jacquelyn Evans is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Elaine Ostrander at the National Human Genome Research Institute where she studies the genetic basis of naturally-occurring cancers in purebred dogs as a model for human disease. Specifically, she is investigating histiocytic sarcoma, an aggressive, rare hematopoietic cancer in humans, which is prevalent in Bernese Mountain Dogs and Flat-coated Retrievers, as well as gastric cancer, which disproportionately affects Belgian Shepherd breeds and Chow Chows. Dr. Evans earned her Ph.D. at Clemson University in the laboratory of Leigh Anne Clark where she determined that a complex autoimmune disease of collies and Shetland sheepdogs is caused by a combination of risk alleles at three genes, two of which have an epistatic relationship. Her long-term goal is to become an independent investigator studying hereditary traits in dogs as a model for human genetic disorders.

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.

Britney Hardy

Britney Hardy is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Anupama Khare at the National Cancer Institute. She obtained his Ph.D. in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, where she studied polymicrobial interactions with Staphylococcus aureus in the lab of D. Scott Merrell. Britney has had a long-standing interest in polymicrobial interactions, and her PRAT research expands on this by investigating molecular interactions and signaling between commensal bacteria and the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the context of Cystic Fibrosis. Ultimately, these studies promise to reveal new roles for the airway microbiota in preventing colonization and virulence of P. aeruginosa. She would like to run a small research program at a primary undergraduate institution that would encompass bacterial pathogenesis research and scientific public outreach.

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.

Vivien Maltez

Vivien Maltez is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Ron Germain at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) where she studies the spatial organization and responsiveness of the tumor microenvironment to immunomodulatory cancer therapies. Despite significant advances in cancer treatments, many tumors fail to respond to standard treatment protocols. By studying where and how a variety of cell populations in the tumor react to combination therapies, she hopes to discover new approaches to treating these nonresponsive tumors. Dr. Maltez earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the laboratory of Dr. Edward Miao. There, she discovered new mechanisms by which the innate immune system coordinates programmed cell death pathways to defend against bacterial infections. Her long-term goal is to become an independent investigator with a laboratory focused on mechanisms of host immune defense against pathogenic and tumorigenic assault.

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.

James Marks

James Marks is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Markus Hafner at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases where he studies the mechanisms of coordinated post-transcriptional gene regulation by RNA binding proteins. In eukaryotes, RNA binding proteins control the processing, localization, expression, and degradation of their gene targets and dysregulation of RNA binding proteins can lead to various diseases. Dr. Marks earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Chicago in the laboratory of Drs. Alexander Mankin and Nora Vazquez-Laslop where he studied the mechanisms of bacterial protein synthesis inhibition by chloramphenicol and linezolid. His long-term goal is to lead a research team focused RNA biology.

Elizabeth Martin

NIH Independent Research Scholar

Elizabeth Martin is an NIH Independent Research Scholar at NIEHS and affiliate PRAT fellow. Her group studies maternal epigenetic reprogramming during pregnancy and the role of environmental exposures in disrupting this process. The Martin group utilizes a transdisciplinary approach that harmonizes molecular biology, toxicology, and epidemiological approaches to address (1) the impact of environmental exposures on normal developmental epigenetic programming, (2) the persistence of epigenetic changes that occur during pregnancy, and (3) the influence of exposure-induced changes on maternal health later in life. Dr. Martin earned her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the laboratory of Dr. Rebecca Fry where she studied how environmental exposures impact pregnancy conditions and infant health outcomes. Following this she completed a translational fellowship with Dr. Shaun McCullough at the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clinical Research Branch to advance the incorporation of molecular data into chemical risk assessment for inhaled toxicants. She then joined the lab of Dr. Paul Wade at National Institute of Environmental Health Science where she completed a three-year fellowship where she studied the role of the activation of the transcription factor progesterone receptor in histone modifications.

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.

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.

Saniya Rattan

Saniya Rattan is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Humphrey Yao at the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences. She obtained her Ph.D. in comparative biosciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied the effects of a synthetic chemical, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, on the reproductive functions of three generations of female mice in the laboratory of Dr. Jodi A. Flaws. Her PRAT research investigates the cellular and molecular mechanisms of interstitial cell lineage specification in the ovary using the mouse as a model. These studies help identify the mechanisms by which a healthy ovary forms and provides critical information related to the ovarian diseases related to interstitial cell defects, namely polycystic ovarian syndrome. She is interested in the study of the establishment and maintenance of cell lineage specification in the ovary and would like to help translate basic understanding of development into new discoveries and clinical interventions.

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.

Marcos J. Ramos-Benitez

Marcos J. Ramos-Benitez is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Dr. Daniel S. Chertow at the Clinical Center, Critical Medicine Department where he studies the pathophysiology and molecular pathogenesis of severe emerging viral infections. Currently, by combining imaging and electrophysiology techniques he’s aiming to elucidate the mechanisms of gastrointestinal fluid loss through diarrhea in Ebola virus disease. Defining and understanding the mechanism of Ebola virus induced fluid and electrolyte loss will provide the grounds for the development of novel practical treatments. Concurrently, as COVID-19 pandemic develops, he is leading a project to evaluate the association of circulating Neutrophils Extracellular Traps (NETs) with viral load, excess inflammation, microthrombosis, and tissue injury in these patients. Dr. Ramos-Benitez earned his Ph.D. at the University of Puerto Rico-Medical Sciences Campus in the laboratory of Dr. Ana M. Espino where he studied the anti-inflammatory potential of parasite-derived proteins in models of gram-negative sepsis. His long-term goal is to lead a research program that focuses in understanding the various aspects of host–pathogen interactions to facilitate the description of novel therapeutics target.

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.

Nathan Williamson

Nathan Williamson is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Peter Basser of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development where he studies new methods to measure water motion in living organisms with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In the United States, one in three people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, and one in fifteen pregnant women are likely to suffer from preeclampsia. The chances of fatality increase as detection is prolonged. Dr. Williamson’s research will develop new, noninvasive, ways to detect such diseases earlier by imaging differences between the blood flow in healthy vs. diseased tissue with MRI. Dr. Williamson earned his Ph.D. at the University of South Australia in the laboratory of Prof. Magnus Nydén where he studied porous materials and polymers with magnetic resonance. His long term goal is to be a university professor, spreading passion for science.

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.