Current Postdoctoral Research Associate Training (PRAT) Fellows

Philip Adams

Philip Adams is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Gisela Storz at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) where he studies regulatory RNAs in bacteria. He uses a combination of RNA-sequencing, biochemistry, and genetic approaches to characterize RNA-mediated gene regulation in the model organism Escherichia coli and the Lyme disease pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi. Regulatory RNAs are 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. His long-term goal is to run an academic research group that investigates the molecular mechanisms of B. burgdorferi gene regulation and infectivity.

Mahamat Babagana

Mahamat Babagana is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Myong-Hee “Mia” Sung at the National Institute On Aging where he studies the epigenetic changes associated with aged immune cells and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Using DNA collected from aged mouse models or AD patient plasma over-time, he examines the enzymatically induced or naturally occurring DNA fragmentation patterns, respectively, to identify ‘signatures’ associated with physiological aging and AD progression. This work is important as it could potentially provide a non-invasive early disease staging and patient stratification methodology, which are essential for patient care and clinical trial design. Additionally, his research may identify novel pathways playing a role in AD pathophysiology and thus, reveal potential candidates amenable to pharmacological targeting. Dr. Babagana earned his Ph.D. at the University at Buffalo in the laboratory of Eugene Kandel where he elucidated mechanisms of resistance to targeted BRAF inhibitors in mutant BRAF cancers and identified strategies to overcome said drug insensitivities. His long-term goals include continuing to understand the physiology of aging and the underlying pathophysiology of AD in efforts to provide innovations into healthy aging.

Sofia Beas

Sofia Beas is a PRAT fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the lab of Mario Penzo. Her research focuses on the neural mechanisms by which stress impacts the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) neurocircuitry. Specifically, Dr. Beas uses a combination of in vitro and in vivo assessments to investigate how modulatory systems are integrated in the PVT to impact its overall function in stress-related behaviors. She obtained her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Florida, under the mentorship of Dr. Jennifer Bizon and Dr. Barry Setlow where her studies were focused on understanding the neural mechanisms of age-related changes in executive functions and decision-making. Her long-term goal is to lead a research program focused on understanding the mechanisms underlying affective and motivated behaviors.

Jonathan Busada

Jonathan Busada is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of John Cidlowski at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He obtained his Ph.D. at East Carolina University in anatomy and cell biology where he studied the cellular processes regulating spermatogonial stem cell differentiation and self-renewal in the laboratory of Chris Geyer. His postdoctoral research is on the role of glucocorticoids in suppressing gastric inflammation and metaplasia. He is interested in the cellular and physiological processes that maintain tissue homeostasis and suppress inflammation in the stomach, and how disruption of these processes leads to inflammatory disease, metaplasia, and eventually gastric cancer. Jon’s long-term goal is to continue his research in gastric biology as an independent investigator at an academic institution.

Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto

Laura Corrales-Diaz Pomatto is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Rafael de Cabo, National Institute on Aging. She received her Ph.D. in biology of aging from the joint program between the University of Southern California (USC) and the Buck Institute on Aging, and is first in the nation to be awarded a doctorate in this new program. Under the mentorship of Kelvin J. A. Davies, Pomatto explored the age-related changes in the adaptive stress response in the model organism, D. melanogaster. She uncovered not only sex-dependent differences in the activation of the stress response, but the age-dependent loss in its activation. She characterized similar trends in other models including the nematode worm and a mouse model for smog exposure in young and middle-aged female mice. At the NIH, Pomatto plans to pursue her desire to uncover not only the mechanism behind the adaptive stress response, but interventions to restore its age-dependent loss. She is very excited to explore this area of research in conjunction with caloric restriction and other non-pharmacological interventions identified in extending the lifespan.

James D’Amour

James D’Amour is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Chris McBain, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. He obtained his Ph.D. in physiology and neuroscience at The New York University Medical School, where he studied inhibitory synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation in the lab of Robert Froemke. In his PRAT research, James is studying the development of cell-type specific neuronal circuitry in the hippocampus using a mouse model of the genetic disorder lissencephaly, in which cells improperly migrate and fail to form canonical layers. By examining preserved versus lost synaptic (cell-cell) connections as a result of cellular mispositioning, James hopes to gain insights on the developmental processes instructing circuit specification. His broader scientific interests are in disentangling the various factors governing neuronal circuit formation in healthy and diseased brains for the purposes of therapeutic intervention.

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.

Marina Feric

Marina Feric is a PRAT fellow at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the laboratory of Tom Misteli. As a PRAT fellow, Marina researches the mechanisms that cause the cell to age at accelerated time scales. Using the premature aging disease Hutchinson Gilford Progeria Syndrome as a model system, she is investigating the role of phase separation in the assembly and regulation of nucleoprotein complexes called mitochondrial nucleoids, which are known drivers of aging. She earned her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University under the mentorship of Clifford Brangwynne. During her graduate studies, Marina probed how the physical organization of the cell changes as it grows, and that gravity becomes a dominant force during growth in the eggs of Xenopus laevis. Her overarching goal is to lead a research team to explore how biophysical interactions among proteins and nucleic acids across multiple scales contribute to proper cellular organization and how their dysregulation gives rise to disease.

T. Chase Francis

T. Chase Francis is a PRAT fellow at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) working in the laboratory of Dr. Antonello Bonci. He has a long-standing interest in how high frequency stimulation, commonly used in deep brain stimulation, alters motivational states. At NIDA, he focuses on how stimulation facilitates peptide release within Nucleus Accumbens local circuitry and its effects on behavioral responding to salient stimuli. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland, Baltimore working in the molecular neurocircuitry lab of Dr. Mary Kay Lobo. There, he uncovered differential neurophysiological effects of social defeat stress on distinct populations of medium spiny neurons in the Nucleus Accumbens. Additionally, he discovered molecular and structural mechanisms which underlie these physiological changes and drive behavioral outcomes to social defeat stress. His long-term goal is to lead an independent laboratory focused on refining neuromodulation therapeutics to treat affective and reward disorders.

Adenrele Gleason

Adenrele Gleason is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Julia Cooper at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). At the NCI, the Cooper lab has established that telomeres and centromeres share an ability to coordinate. As a PRAT fellow, Adenrele is delineating the molecular features that give chromosomes the ability to coordinate nuclear envelope disassembly and ensure their correct distribution to daughter cells. She received her Ph.D. in cell and developmental biology from Rutgers University, under the mentorship of Barth Grant where she examined the subcellular dynamics of endocytic transport and cell signaling pathways. Her long-te¬rm goal is to lead a research group in an academic or government institution.

Sofiya Hupalo

Sofiya Hupalo is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Joshua Gordon at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), where she studies the neural bases of normal and disrupted cognition using animal models of genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia. Cognitive deficits are ubiquitous in psychiatric disorders, and although available drugs treat affective symptoms, there are currently no approved treatments for the cognitive deficits. Therefore, a better understanding of the neural processes that promote cognition can lead to novel therapies for cognitive dysfunction. Dr. Hupalo earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the laboratory of Dr. Craig Berridge. There, she investigated the cognitive and neurophysiological actions of the neuropeptide, corticotropin-releasing factor. Her long-term goal is to investigate the pathophysiology underlying psychiatric disorders and to improve treatments for mental illness.

Agnes Karasik

Agnes Karasik is a PRAT fellow working in the laboratory of Nicholas Guydosh at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). There she studies the non-canonical role of virus activated ribonuclease L in protein translation using cutting edge methods, including single molecule microscopy and ribosome profiling. She obtained her PhD in molecular and cellular biology at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences where she characterized a novel group of precursor tRNA processing enzymes from various eukaryotic organisms in the laboratory of Markos Koutmos. Prior to that she completed her MSc thesis research on the working mechanism of a subset of ABC transporters at the Institute of Enzymology in Hungary. In the long term, she would like to lead a research group focusing on current problems in RNA biology.

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.

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

Elizabeth Martin is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Paul Wade at the NIEHS where she studies how reproductive health choices impact the epigenome during mammary gland development and how these changes influence cancer risk, with a specific focus on the role of progesterone receptor. It has been established through numerous epidemiological studies that reproductive history, (e.g. use of birth control, history of childbirth, and breastfeeding), can impact breast cancer risk. However, the biological mechanisms that link these factors to breast cancer risk have not been well characterized. Dr. Martin’s goal is to understand whether epigenetic reprogramming related to birth control use, pregnancy, and breastfeeding play a role in increasing or decreasing breast cancer risk. 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 prenatal environmental exposures impact infant health outcomes and maternal pregnancy complications. Her long-term goal is to understand how environmental exposures and lifestyle choices impact the epigenome through changes in epigenetic reader, writer and eraser enzymes.

David Reiner

David Reiner is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Yavin Shaham at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) with Brandon Harvey and Alex Chesler as co-mentors. David studies studying the neural mechanisms that underlie fentanyl relapse in rats, with a focus on how pain potentiates synthetic opioid seeking. He obtained his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Pennsylvania where he studied how neuroendocrine signals act in the hindbrain to regulate food intake and energy balance in the laboratory of Matthew Hayes. His long-term goal is to transition to a role as independent investigator studying the overlapping neurocircuitries that underlie feeding behavior and drug taking/seeking behavior.

Apollo Stacy

Apollo Stacy is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Yasmine Belkaid, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). As a PRAT fellow, he is integrating immunological techniques to explore the host’s contribution to polymicrobial infections. Currently, he is investigating how alterations to the microbiome after primary gut infections can increase the host’s resistance to secondary gut infections by heterologous pathogens. He obtained his Ph.D. in microbiology from The University of Texas at Austin where he developed genomic approaches to study inter-bacterial interactions that enhance the severity of polymicrobial, skin and soft-tissue infections in the laboratory of Marvin Whiteley. His long-term goal is to continue working on host-microbiome interactions as an independent investigator.

Abhignya Subedi

Abhignya Subedi is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Harold A. Burgess at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. She obtained her Ph.D. in biology from The Johns Hopkins University under the supervision of Dr. Marnie Halpern at the Carnegie Institute of Science. As a graduate student in Dr. Halpern’s laboratory, she defined distinct subregions of the interpeduncular nucleus, a brain structure that is highly conserved in vertebrates, and established the connectivity of these regions in the zebrafish brain. As a PRAT fellow, she is characterizing the raphe nucleus in zebrafish brain using molecular, imaging and behavioral techniques. Her long term goal is to become a principle investigator and study the molecular basis of developmental disorders using zebrafish as the research organism.

Tommy Vo

Tommy Vo is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Shiv Grewal, National Cancer Institute. He obtained his Ph.D. in molecular biology from Cornell University under the supervision of Haiyuan Yu, where he studied the structure and evolution of protein interactome networks in yeasts. As a PRAT fellow, he studies the role of transcription machinery in shaping the epigenetic landscape within cells. His long-term goal is to lead a research program focused on understanding mechanisms underlying epigenetic plasticity and inheritance.

Erin Wall

Erin Wall is a PRAT fellow in the lab of Susan Gottesman, National Cancer Institute. She obtained her Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular biology and genetics from Virginia Commonwealth University under the mentorship of Gail Christie. There she explored mechanisms of phage capsid morphogenesis as well as unique ribosomal biology in Staphylococcus aureus that led to a novel target for antibiotics. As a PRAT fellow, she is utilizing bacterial genetics to explore the structure and mechanism of the signaling cascade that regulates virulent capsule formation in the Enterobacteriaceae, many of which are now multidrug-resistant hospital pathogens. She has collaborations with Susan Buchanan’s lab at NIDDK for structural biology of membrane proteins and Matt Hall’s group at NCATS for high throughput screening of small molecules against a bacterial reporter  assay. Her main interest is to continue to develop novel genetic systems and pursue antimicrobial targets in recalcitrant bacteria.

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 reasonence 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.

Sara Young-Baird

Sara Young-Baird is a PRAT fellow in the laboratory of Thomas E. Dever, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.  She obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Indiana University School of Medicine while working in the laboratory of Ronald C. Wek.  During her graduate work, Sara studied the regulation of protein synthesis for key factors that are central to cellular stress remediation and cell viability. Specifically, her work centered on translational mechanisms involving short open reading frames (uORFs) in the 5’-leader of mRNA transcripts. For her post-doctoral work, Sara’s PRAT-funded research focuses on how misregulation of protein synthesis contributes to the symptoms of MEHMO syndrome, an X-linked intellectual disability disease caused by mutations in EIF2S3.  Sara is utilizing induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) from MEHMO patients and genome-wide informatics approaches to identify global and gene-specific disruptions in protein synthesis that may contribute to MEHMO syndrome. The results of Sara’s work will hopefully benefit both our understanding of this debilitating neurological disorder, and the molecular mechanisms underlying the fidelity of protein synthesis.