INBRE Mentors

The mentoring program for undergraduate INBRE scholars is an integral component of the NE-INBRE program. Each new INBRE Scholar is placed with a mentor in a research laboratory on one of the PhD granting institutions. The role of the mentor is to provide meaningful research experiences for the scholars in their laboratories. This role is a key element to the quality of the research experience and is crucial to the success of the program.


Surinder Batra, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology What happens when a cell becomes a cancer cell? Can we determine the way this happens, what are the important molecules at the molecular level? Our lab is focused on determining the changes that occur in cancer cell development, especially at the early stages. The goal is to both determine what the important features of cancer development are and to determine what molecules might be important early markers of tumor cells with the goal of early diagnosis.
Ken Bayles, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology Bacteria are well known for their ability to rapidly divide and reach very high cell densities in the environment or within an animal host. My research has focused on a previously undiscovered regulatory system that controls bacterial cell death. Using Staphylococcus aureus as a model system, we have demonstrated that the controlled death of bacteria is essential for normal development of multicellular bacterial communities known as biofilms. Furthermore, this research has led to the proposal that this system is functionally analogous to regulatory proteins controlling cell death in more complex organisms including humans.
Erika Boesen, PhD UNMC Cellular & Integrative Physiology Our research centers on better understanding how the kidneys work normally, allowing for control of salt and water balance in the body and therefore blood pressure; and on two different types of kidney injury. One project focuses on acute kidney failure caused by an acute episode of poor perfusion, as can occur during surgical procedures or following traumatic injury. The other project focuses on the slowly developing injury to the kidneys that occurs in the autoimmune disease Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus). Experiments in the lab range from molecular and biochemical measurements in cultured cells and isolated tissues, up to measurements of kidney function and blood pressure in conscious animals.
Gloria Borgstahl, PhD UNMC Eppley Institute The easiest way to learn about how a protein functions is to study its atomic structure.  We use x-ray diffraction of protein crystals along with virtual reality to investigate proteins at the atomic level.  Our focus is on proteins involved in the DNA double-strand break repair pathway with an emphasis on therapeutics to treat cancer.  We are also researching the role of protons in the enzymatic function of superoxide dismutases using perdeuterated, microgravity-grown crystals (SpaceX, NASA, ISS) and neutron diffraction (Oak Ridge National Lab - Spallation Neutron Source).
Steve Caplan, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Cells are constantly interacting with their environments. One form of this interaction that we are studying is the mechanism controlling the uptake of cell-surface receptors and the hormones that they bind. The cell has elaborate mechanisms for this uptake and the process of returning these cell-surface membrane proteins back to the surface of the cell. The Caplan laboratory is interested in understanding the basic mechanisms and pathways that control the movement of receptors, proteins and lipids from point to point within the cell.
Sujata S. Chaudhari, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology Physiological significance of superoxide dismutase in Staphylococcus aureus.  Reactive oxygen species like superoxide (O2•-), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and hydroxyl radicals (OH•) are adventitious byproducts of aerobic metabolism that readily damage cellular macromolecules. The human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus expresses two superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzymes, SodA, and SodM, that can reduce O2•- mediated oxidative stress. Although both SODs have been shown to play important role in countering host-derived O2•-, their role in protection from endogenously​ produced O2•- has not yet been elucidated. In this work, we will investigate the importance of both SodA and SodM enzymes in optimal growth of S. aureus under aerobic conditions and the adverse impact of SodA and SodM mutations on S. aureus central metabolism.
Martin Conda-Sheridan, PhD UNMC COP - Pharmaceutical Sciences Dr. Conda-Sheridan’s lab focuses on the design and synthesis of biomaterials that can self-assemble into nanoparticles. The obtained nanoparticles will be used to treat cancer and bacterial infections by functioning as drug delivery systems of small molecules or as supramolecular drugs (nano-drugs).  In addition, members of the group can get involved in the synthesis and structural modification of small molecules derived from natural products.
Punita Dhawan, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology My lab will have an opportunity for students to do a summer rotation studying the mechanisms of regulation of Colon Carcinogenesis and validate the therapeutic potential of novel protein/s. My lab is focused on understanding the molecular processes of neoplastic growth and progression, to help improve clinical management.  We are investigating how the interface between mammalian cells and the outside environment is modulated during disease processes, and its causal significance with special emphasis on tight junction proteins. My lab is largely focused on developing new therapeutic molecules in the regulation of colonic homeostasis and tumorigenesis. We have recently shown a novel and currently unexplored role of Claudin-1 in the regulation of MMP-9/Notch expression, to regulate epithelial homeostasis and also developing a small molecule inhibitor and determine its therapeutic potential. In addition, we are understanding the non-tight junctional role of claudin-7 in cell-matrix and cell-cell interaction.  To study we use mouse models, in vitro mouse organoid/tumoroid cultures, and cell culture models.
Jixin Dong, PhD UNMC Eppley Cancer Center My laboratory is focused on the Hippo signaling pathway, a novel tumor suppressor cascade discovered in Drosophila. Recent studies have demonstrated that the Hippo signaling plays an important role in controlling organ size by coordination of cell proliferation and cell death or apoptosis.
Andrew Dudley, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy Research in the Dudley Laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanisms of cartilage degeneration and on the development of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine approaches to treat cartilage and bone defects. To accomplish these goals, we study prenatal and postnatal development of model organisms to elucidate the molecular basis of tissue formation and then we apply this knowledge to the development of three-dimensional in vitro tissue systems to generate models to advance studies of disease mechanisms and cartilage regeneration. Current projects include studies of growth plate architecture and biomechanics, the origin of osteoarthritis, and the generation of full-thickness articular cartilage for transplantation.
Dalia Elgamal, PhD UNMC Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center Our research focuses on (i) understanding the pathogenesis of B-cell malignancies and (ii) evaluating novel targeted therapies for B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and Richter's transformation (RT) - an aggressive and incurable diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) that arises in the setting of CLL- with the overall aim of translating effective therapies to the clinic. Specifically, my laboratory aims to explore the dynamic cross-talk between malignant B-CLL cells and their microenvironment through a wide array of cell-based assays to identify "druggable" targets and pathways for therapeutic intervention which will be further evaluated utilizing the available mouse models of aggressive CLL/RT disease. Current studies in the laboratory are focused on epigenetic-based therapies including novel small molecule inhibitors of the bromodomain and extra-terminal (BET) family proteins, and their ability to modulate TME interplay in CLL. This is based on recent studies on the BET family protein “BRD4” which validated BRD4 inhibition as an epigenetic approach capable of downregulating multiple survival pathways in CLL. Importantly, these BRD4 profiling studies in CLL patient-derived tumor B-cells identified previously unrecognized targets of BRD4 implicated in CLL disease biology, progression and CLL-TME interactions including various chemokine/cytokine receptors and immune regulatory checkpoint molecules, indicating unique BRD4-mediated immunomodulatory properties which have yet to be fully investigated. Therefore, a major project in the laboratory aims to (1) investigate the immunomodulatory effects of BRD4 inhibition using in vitro approaches mimicking CLL-TME interplay; (2) study the ability of BRD4 inhibition to reverse immune dysfunction inherent to CLL; and (3) evaluate BRD4 inhibition in mouse models of aggressive CLL/RT, and its ability to reprogram the TME to disrupt protective niches and/or correct the immune defects commonly observed in this disease.
Paul D. Fey, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology Staphylococcus epidermidis is the preeminent cause of infections involving prosthetic heart valves, intravascular catheters, and other bio-material based devices.  The most important step in the pathogenesis of S. epidermidis mediated foreign body infections is the ability of the organism to adhere and to produce biofilm on the surface of the biomaterial.  After initial adherence, certain strains of S. epidermidis produce an extracellular biofilm, or polysaccharide intracellular adhesin (PIA), that is encoded by a four gene (icaA, icaD, icaB, and icaC) operon ica.  We currently study the transcriptional regulation of the icaADBC operon in addition to studying the overall biofilm biology of S. epidermidis.  We are very interested in arginine metabolism and its role in establishing a mature biofilm.   The Fey laboratory is part of a larger group of investigators at the University of Nebraska studying the biology of staphylococci including pathogenesis, immunology, metabolism, antibiotic discovery, animal models, and biofilm. 
Howard Fox, MD, PhD UNMC Neurological Sciences The brain is a unique organ, not only functionally but also in terms of host response to events such as damage and infection. We study processes in which this response leads to neurodegeneration and brain dysfunction. One focus of our recent work is to discover biomarkers, which are objectively measured markers that correlate with disease states. They are useful for predicting risk of disease, development of disease, response to therapy, and other medical indications. Furthermore, they can give important clues to pathogenic mechanisms leading to means to prevent and treat disease, and we are actively following up such mechanistic clues in a variety of systems in the laboratory. There is a distinct lack of such biomarkers in neurodegenerative diseases, representing a significant gap in our biomedical knowledge which we aim to close.
Jered Garrison, PhD UNMC COP - Pharmaceutical Sciences Dr. Garrison’s areas of specialties are:  targeted molecular imaging and radiotherapeutic agent design; development of cancer-specific prodrugs; and polymer based drug delivery.
Howard Gendelman, MD UNMC Pharmacology & Experimental Neuroscience The neuroregeneration laboratory provides the student or postdoctoral fellow with broad research experiences in diagnostics, pathogenic mechanisms and therapies for neurodegenerative disorders. The major focus for our research is on the role played by glial inflammatory activities in brain disease. The work bridges immunology, neuroscience and pharmacology and crosses disease barriers for studies of HIV-1-associated neurocognitive disorders, Parkinson’s disease (PD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The major goal is to use immune-based approaches to reverse nerve cell damage. The laboratory initiative is divided into specific programs with cross-disciplinary support provided through experienced senior scientists. Specific expertise is available in proteomics, immunology, molecular neuroscience, infectious disease, neurophysiology and neuropathogenesis. Research priorities in nanomedicine focuses on drug delivery to the central nervous system using "smart" drugs that are packaged into immunocytes and use “Trojan horse” cell-based mechanisms to by-pass the blood-brain barrier and enter diseased brain areas. These are intertwined with studies of disease pathogenesis focused on studies of the biophysical and effector cell properties of blood-borne macrophages that modulate leukocyte entry and glial immunity. Our nanomedicine program provides laboratory experiences in nanoformulations and physical chemistry linked to characterization of nanoparticles as well as animal studies of disease pathobiology using "state of the art" drug delivery systems. Coordinate drug testing (anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and anti-retroviral) in HIV-1 encephalitis (HIVE) and PD are pursued with adjunctive drugs distinct or part of the nanomedicine efforts. This program is part of multiple National Institutes of Health grant efforts that involve scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy), the University of Rochester, and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The focus is to perform translational research that would move quickly from animals to humans and currently involves human phase I testing.
Gargi Ghosal, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy The research focus of the laboratory is to examine the molecular basis of replication stress response in cancer and age-related disorders. Replication stress results due to stalling of the DNA replication machinery when it encounters, secondary DNA structures, DNA damage or due to factors that alter the levels of dNTP pool, proteins involved in DNA synthesis, hyper-DNA replication caused by the activation of origins and by oncogene over-expression. Stalled forks lead to fork collapse resulting in cell death or chromosomal abnormalities leading to cancer, genetic disorders, aging and diseases with cancer predisposition such as Werner syndrome, Bloom syndrome, Fanconi anemia, to name a few. The laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular mechanism of replication stress response upon DNA damage and oncogene-induced replication stress.  While replication stress can lead to development of cancer, on the other hand, inducing replication stress is the mode of action of most chemotherapeutic drugs used to kill cancer cells. These studies will help understand the basic science underlying replication stress response, identify new targets and bio-markers for cancer therapy and facilitate the development of strategies to overcome drug resistance and improve cancer therapy.
Stacey Gilk, PhD UNMC Pathology and Microbiology Intracellular pathogens have clever strategies to survive inside the very cells which would otherwise kill them. The Gilk Lab studies how one bacterial pathogen, Coxiella burnetii, manipulates the host cell to form a large vacuole which supports bacterial growth. We discovered that Coxiella carefully regulates host cholesterol levels; if they do not, cholesterol accumulates in the vacuole and leads to bacterial degradation. We are investigating how Coxiella regulates cholesterol, both by directly modifying cholesterol as well as using host cell proteins to move cholesterol from one organelle to another. We are also interested in how Coxiella blocks formation of host lysosomes, which would otherwise kill the bacteria. Using a combination of cell biology, lipid biochemistry, and molecular biology approaches, this research will identify weak points in the bacteria’s strategy which can then be targeted to treat infection.
Karen Gould, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy The research in my lab is focused on understanding how genes and hormones impact our risk of developing certain diseases. One project seeks to understand how the hormone estrogen impacts the risk of developing lupus, an autoimmune disease that is ~10 times more common in women than men. We also study how the action of genetic factors that impact lupus risk are influenced by estrogens. A second project focuses on determining the role of genetic factors and estrogens in the risk of colon cancer, which is more common in men than women. This research will not only enhance our understanding of how genes and hormones impact disease risk, but also has the potential to assist in the development of more effective prevention and treatment of these diseases. Toward this goal, my lab is currently investigating the use of targeted drug delivery systems to deliver hormone modulating drugs to treat these diseases.
Babu Guda, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy My laboratory nurtures a wide variety of research areas related to bioinformatics. Research topics can be broadly grouped under novel method development, data mining and knowledge discovery, and the application of machine learning tools to solve biological problems. In addition, we have been developing and supporting web servers and software tools for bioinformatic applications.
Kyle J. Hewitt, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy Our research utilizes diverse approaches to unravel essential molecular and cellular mechanisms that govern blood homeostasis, blood regeneration following injury, and genetic mutations that predispose illness. We value active hands-on training and mentoring, and expect that students develop constructive critical thinking skills to guide their individual projects. The lab is particularly interested in the function of a transcription factor, termed GATA-2, which controls for development and function of the blood system. Mutations in GATA-2 cause myelodysplastic syndrome, acute myeloid leukemia, primary immunodeficiencies, and anemia. We discovered that GATA-2 activation of Sterile α-Motif Domain 14 (Samd14)  is important for stem/progenitor cell function in regeneration, and required for recovery from severe anemia in mouse models. In addition to elucidating the function of Samd14 in hematopoiesis, our lab is discovering new GATA-2 regulated genes which are required for maximal stem cell function in regenerative contexts such as anemia and blood/cardiovascular disorders. Understanding the mechanisms that cause blood disorders and cancer is an essential step toward developing personalized medicine approaches and advancing disease treatments.
Corey Hopkins, PhD UNMC COP - Pharmaceutical Sciences The Hopkins Lab’s primary research interests are related to the design, synthesis and optimization of biologically active small molecules as in vivo probes, drug discovery lead compounds and preclinical candidates.  Their recent research has focused on designing novel positive allosteric modulators related to numerous CNS-related therapeutic areas.  In addition, their interests include in ion channels for kidney failure, kinase targets for rare and neglected diseases, including pediatric cancers and ion channels for insecticide resistant mosquitos relating to malaria and Zika. 
Ricia "Kate" Hyde, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology In the Hyde lab, we study a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia that is caused by an inversion of chromosome 16. This inversion generates a fusion gene between the transcription factor CBFB and the gene for Smooth Muscle Myosin Heavy Chain, MYH11. The fusion gene is called CBFB-MYH11 and encodes the protein CBFβ-SMMHC. Expression of the fusion protein is the initiating event in leukemogenesis, but its mechanism is not well understood. Using genetic mouse models, tissue culture, and molecular biology techniques, we are studying the gene expression changes induced by CBFβ-SMMHC and the co-factors required for its activity. We are also studying the leukemia stem cell population induced by CBFβ-SMMHC and the factors required for their survival. The long term goal of our laboratory is to identify potential drug targets for the development of new therapies for patients with acute myeloid leukemia.
Maneesh Jain, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology My interest has been to develop antibody-based strategies for targeted therapy and diagnosis of diseases, particularly cancer. Our research involves the development of genetically engineered antibody fragments for improved radioimmunotherapy of solid tumors. We are trying to optimize radioimmunotherapy of solid tumors by modifying the molecular design of antibody fragments and introducing sequences that will enhance the uptake and/or retention of radiolabeled antibodies in the tumor tissues without altering their distribution in non-target tissues. Recently, we demonstrated the utility of cell-penetrating peptides in improving the tumor retention antibody fragments. 
Shantaram Joshi, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy Despite advances in treatment, leukemia and lymphoma are often fatal diseases in people.  Our laboratory research is concentrating on find out out in greater detail what changes occur at the molecular level in B-cell cancers of the immune system.  By determining what changes occur, especially in cells that become resistant to chemotherapy, we are trying to help design better therapy for patients.
Tammy Kielian, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology Brain abscess represents a serious infection, especially due the recent emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and can cause long-term deficits including seizures and cognitive loss. Dr. Kielian’s laboratory is interested in studying how bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) influence the immune response during brain abscess development. We utilize a mouse model of infection developed in our laboratory to study many basic questions related to how cell types native to the brain (i.e. microglia and astrocytes) and immune cells entering the infected brain from the blood recognize S. aureus through a family of molecules called Toll-like receptors (TLRs). In addition, we study how infection alters cell-cell communication in the brain that may impact the extent of tissue damage. Our research projects utilize state-of-the-art techniques such as quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track brain abscess evolution and exploit a comprehensive approach to infection by studying responses at the molecular and cellular levels as well as studies in the mouse model.
Sushil Kumar, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology We are investigating the contribution of the tumor microenvironment in pancreatic cancer progression and metastasis. Among various cell types in the tumor microenvironment, cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) play a significant role in developing obstructive and immunosuppressive stroma, a characteristic feature of pancreatic cancer. We are elucidating the mechanisms involved in developing heterogenous stroma and its crosstalk with cancer cells, leading to aggressiveness and therapy resistance in pancreatic cancer.     
Vikas Kumar, PhD UNMC Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy This is a cross-disciplinary project performed by Dr. Vikas Kumar in mass spectrometry and proteomics core and Dr. Lie Gao in the Department of Cellular and Integrative Physiology to elucidate the significance of Nrf2/Keap1 complex, a master transcriptional system to govern hundred cytoprotective genes, specifically in skeletal muscle under exercise training and aging conditions. We hypothesize that Nrf2/Keap1 plays a crucial role in the exercise-induced benefits of skeletal muscle and activation of this system ameliorates the sarcopenia with aging. To address this hypothesis, we created two novel transgenic mouse models, the iMS-Nrf2flox/flox and iMS-Keap1flox/flox, which allow us to conditionally delete Nrf2 or Keap1 genes selectively in skeletal muscle. By employing physiological methods, we are evaluating the influences of Nrf2 deletion or overexpression (i.e. Keap1 knockout) on exercise capacity, scurry wheel performance, whole body tension, and individual muscle contractility. The mass spectrometry is being used to provide the whole protein profile, redox proteomics, and protein S-glutathionylation of skeletal muscle, followed by in-depth bioinformatics analyses to create the integrative network maps of Nrf2/Keap1 signaling. Overall, we employ unique transgenic models, physiological tests, mass spectrometry-based proteomics, and bioinformatics analyses to address our hypotheses. We expect that the data obtained from these multidisciplinary approaches will develop a more sophisticated understanding of Nrf2/Keap1-activated signaling networks underlying exercise benefits on skeletal muscle and therefore highlight novel therapeutic targets for the development of enhanced therapeutic strategies for muscle wasting in aging and other pathological conditions, such as cancer, chronic heart failure, and chronic kidney disease.
Robert Lewis, PhD UNMC Eppley Cancer Center Cells have important intracellular mechanisms for regulating cell growth and development.  We are interested in determining what molecules are involved in this and how they interact to control cellular growth and gene expression.  We are using molecular biology and biochemical techniques and mutant mouse models to study cell signaling mechanisms and how they function.
Ming-Fong Lin, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Why do cancer cells grow uncontrollably?  We are trying to answer this question in prostate cancer.  Our approach is to study the regulation of protein phosphorylation, the addition of a phosphate group to proteins.  This is known to control the activity of many cellular proteins important for cell growth.  We are concentrating on prostatic acid phosphatase (PCAP), which can remove phosphate groups from proteins, with the goal of trying to determine if PCAP is important for prostate cancer development.
Karoly Mirnics, MD, PhD UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute In our first major project we are trying to understand how different inhibitory brain cell types control various behaviors, focusing on those inhibitory interneurons with different mechanisms of action. Furthermore, we are trying to understand how this process is influenced by prenatal maternal immune challenge. We are taking advantage of a novel transgenic mouse technology developed in our laboratory. Our second major project is testing the vulnerability of the DHCR7+/- gene mutation carriers to aripiprazole (an atypical antipsychotic) and trazodone (an antidepressant) exposure. We investigate biochemical, gene expression and behavioral consequences of the interaction between the DHCR7+/- gene mutation and treatment, assessing the long-lasting effects on the progeny. In addition, we are pursuing smaller projects that focus on the transcriptome changes across human brain disorders, generate and evaluate animal models of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders (autism and schizophrenia) and investigate effects of gene-environment interplay and how it effects the developing brain. Finally, we are also interested in understanding neuroprotection by activity and are searching for peripheral biomarkers of neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric disorders. For these studies, we are employing state of the art molecular and cell biology, biochemical, drug screening and behavioral assays. Web site: www.mirnicslab.orgThe other area of our research involves the development of serum assays for the early diagnosis of lethal pancreatic cancer. We are trying several approaches to develop sensitive mucin-based serum assays utilizing the antibodies that we have generated. In collaboration with several groups, we are trying to develop a multimarker nanoparticle-based assay for the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We are also trying to use the antibodies for disrupting the signaling pathways mediated by their targets for therapeutic intervention and engineering the antibodies for human use. Additionally, we are trying to use the antibodies and antibody fragments for the delivery of nanoparticle-encapsulated drugs to various cancers. 
Justin Mott, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Injury and inflammation of the liver are important parts of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A project in the Mott Lab is currently studying how fatty acids cause injury and inflammation in cells lining the bile ducts. This project involves measuring the response of cultured cells to fatty acids. Open questions that are being studied include determining the nature of the initial toxic signaling by fatty acids and identifying protective strategies to reduce injury. Separately, they are investigating cell death pathways in cholangiocarcinoma, an aggressive liver cancer
Wasim Nasser, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Despite recent therapeutic advances, metastasis, especially brain metastasis, remains a lethal malignancy. Historically, the brain was an immune-privileged zone, though recent breakthroughs have revealed immune cell infiltration in BrM lesions, although it remains an immunosuppressive microenvironment. It is crucial to characterize the interaction of immune and tumor cells that drive this immunosuppression. The current focus of my lab is to develop several projects to exploit the role of the brain immune microenvironment in developing brain metastasis.
Amar Natarajan, PhD UNMC Eppley Cancer Center Phosphorylation and de-phosphorylation reactions of cellular proteins are ubiquitous in nature and represent the molecular on/off switch that triggers innumerable signaling events mediated by phospho-specific protein-protein interactions. Our research interest focuses on the use of small molecules to perturb these phospho-specific protein-protein interactions as a first step towards understanding how cells exploit these interactions in signal transduction. Chemical probes for this effort are derived from natural products and the design of conformationally constrained mimics. Synthetic chemistry spearheads the research program, however, biology and computational methods are used synergistically in our quest for a better comprehension of the cellular events contiguous to phospho-specific protein-protein interactions.
Greg Oakley, PhD UNMC COD - Oral Biology Our research interests lie in the area of DNA damage and repair. Specifically, our research focuses on the signal transduction pathways that regulate the cellular responses to DNA damage and how alterations in these pathways contribute to mutagenesis and, ultimately, carcinogenesis. Current studies involve the biochemical activities of the protein complex, M/R/N (composed of Mre11, Rad50 and NBS1), and RPA, and how they work cooperatively and function in the replication stress response. Our primary goal is to achieve an understanding of the mechanistic roles of these proteins and how they cooperate to maintain genomic integrity.
Rebecca Oberley-Deegan, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology The Oberley-Deegan laboratory is focused on understanding the role that free radicals play in normal tissue toxicity during cancer therapy. Specifically, we are focused on mitigating fibrosis and hematological toxicities associated with radiation and chemotherapy used for cancer treatment. We are also interested in the role that free radicals play in cancer progression.
Michel Ouellette, PhD UNMC Internal Med GI My laboratory is focused on two separate aspects of cancer research: telomere biology and pancreatic cancer. A common theme is the enzyme telomerase, its role in cancer development and tissue homeostasis. Telomerase is responsible for the maintenance of telomeres, specialized structures that cap the ends of chromosomes. Because most human cells lack telomerase, telomeres shorten each time cells divide and this attrition acts as a clock that limits their lifespan. This limited lifespan is almost always bypassed during cancer development, most frequently by the aberrant expression of telomerase. We are interested in the molecular mechanisms that control the lifespan of human cells and in particular the means by which cells measure the size of their telomeres. In a related project, we are testing telomerase inhibitors for the treatment of cancers, with special attention to pancreatic cancer. 
Scot Ouellette, PhD UNMC Pathology and Microbiology The Ouellette lab is interested in the consequences of reductive evolution on bacterial physiology.  As Chlamydia has adapted to an intracellular niche, it has lost many genes that are present in free-living bacteria.  These genes/gene pathways that have been lost through reductive evolution (Muller’s Ratchet) typically encode metabolic pathways to synthesize, for example, amino acids.  Since Chlamydia relies on its host cell for many nutrients, it is not surprising that it would eliminate these types of genes.  However, Chlamydia has also eliminated genes that are considered essential for viability or pathogenesis in many other bacteria.  This raises many interesting questions that are the focus of Dr. Ouellette’s research as described below.  Conversely, when Chlamydia has retained genes that are atypical for Gram-negative bacteria (e.g. genes normally found in Gram-positive bacteria), this is also interesting and suggests a function that is important to chlamydial growth otherwise these genes would have been deleted.
David Oupicky, PhD UNMC Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Dr. Oupicky's research is in the broad area of nanomedicine with emphasis on the development of novel approaches to deliver drug combinations to better treat various diseases. Current research focus is on the design of multifunctional nanoparticles with applications in the treatment of metastatic cancer and inflammatory conditions like Crohn's disease.
Youri Pavlov, PhD UNMC Eppley Cancer Center The hallmark of biological systems is heredity, the ability to reproduce their properties in generations. It is based on templated reduplication of nucleic acids containing species-specific information. Heredity is made possible due to coordinated action of specialized protein machinery. Most organisms and cells need accurate reproduction to fulfill their biological duties, however in some, like for HIV viruses or B-cells, inaccurate reproduction is beneficial. The knowledge of atomic structure of the proteins and complexes of proteins with nucleic acids, maintaining the heredity, allows the unparalleled power of genetic analysis, disease prevention and gene therapy.  We study the molecular basis of evolutionary strategies of heredity used by wide range of organisms, from viruses to humans.
Moorthy Ponnusamy, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology My laboratory focused on (i) investigating the role of PD2/PAF1 in induced pluripotent stem cells and cancer stem cells, (ii) developing 3D-organoid culture (submerge and air-liquid interface) and tissue slice 3D-culture models for pancreatic cancer, and (iii) to understand the molecular mechanism for the maintenance of pancreatic cancer stem cells (CSCs) and metastasis.
Eleanor Rogan, PhD UNMC CoPH - Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health My research centers around elucidating mechanisms of activation of carcinogens, identifying carcinogen-DNA adducts, and correlating adducts with oncogenic mutations. From our previous study of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) metabolism and DNA adducts, we have demonstrated that the predominant adducts are lost by depurination, leaving mutagenic apurinic sites in the DNA. This research involved the identification and quantitation of PAH-DNA adducts and the correlation of the adducts with Harvey-ras mutations in mouse skin papillomas induced by the PAH. We have extended our studies to endogenous catechol estrogen metabolites and found that the carcinogenic metabolites form depurinating N3Ade and N7Gua adducts in DNA. We hypothesize that this is the pathway of initiation for human breast, prostate, and other cancers. Studies in test tubes, laboratory animal models, cell culture models, and human subjects have demonstrated the validity of this hypothesis. Now we are working on the early detection of cancer risk by analyzing estrogen metabolites, conjugates, and DNA adducts in urine or serum samples, as well as prevention of cancer by selected natural compounds.
Don Ronning, PhD UNMC COP - Pharmaceutical Sciences Dr. Ronning's laboratory is focused on drug discovery and design with a focus on antibacterial and anticancer targets. Studies afford understanding of the structure/function relationship of these protein targets using biophysical and kinetic methods to assess function. Target structure is assesses using X-ray crystallography and cryogenic-electron microscopy. Together, these studies afford a better understanding of drug mechanism of action and inform further drug design.
Elizabeth A. Rucks, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology Chlamydia trachomatis is one of the most successful pathogens and is the most common cause of bacterial sexually transmitted infections. Hence, there is a great need to identify strategies to reduce/prevent transmission, limit infections to the primary site of inoculation or interrupt/control chlamydial growth and development. We are approaching this problem by studying chlamydial strategies of nutrient acquisition. Within the host cell, elementary bodies (EBs) differentiate into reticulate bodies (RBs) in a pathogen-specified parasitic organelle termed the chlamydial inclusion. To maintain its autonomy, the chlamydial inclusion interacts with very specific host cell pathways, which ultimately influences the lipid and protein content of the inclusion. Paramount to chlamydial survival within the host is the organism’s ability to obtain and utilize host cell-derived lipids. These lipids contribute to the membrane of the chlamydial inclusion, as well as, the chlamydial cell membranes. It is well established that Chlamydia will mimic the lipid composition of their host cells, but the organisms will not incorporate all available host-derived lipids into their cell membranes. The Rucks Lab focuses on the function of eukaryotic SNAREs (N-ethylmaleimide sensitive attachment protein receptor) at the chlamydial inclusion. SNARE proteins serve to decrease the energy required to fuse a host vesicle with a target membrane. In this case, the target membrane is the chlamydial inclusion. We have demonstrated that syntaxins 6 and 10 and VAMPs 3 and 4 localize to chlamydial inclusion. Further, we have demonstrated that syntaxin 6 and VAMP4 (2 out of 4 required proteins to form a fusogenic SNARE complex) interact at the chlamydial inclusion. We hypothesize that the chlamydial inclusion specifically intercepts multiple fusogenic SNARE complexes to create and maintain a defined lipid composition in the inclusion membrane. To study this hypothesis, we use proximity labeling strategies to identify membrane-protein protein interactors. We are also examining the impact of the loss of these specific SNARE proteins on chlamydial growth, development, and organismal membrane organization. We are also developing high resolution imaging techniques to try to visually capture these biochemical interactions. We are interested not only in how Chlamydia gain lipids, but why this is important to their success as a pathogen.
Micah Schott, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology  
Amar Singh, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Our research focuses upon understanding the molecular undertakings of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, colorectal and renal cancer with specific emphasis on the regulation of the neoplastic transformation of the epithelial cells and the cross-talk between epithelial and immune homeostasis. We have generated novel genetically engineered mouse lines, innovative mouse models of IBD and colitis-associated cancer, and established in vitro organ culture in the pursuit of our studies. In addition, we are developing patient-derived organoids and tumor xenografts from known disease stages and variable therapeutic response and ability of longitudinal analysis of the IBD-associated carcinogenesis in genetic or chemical-induced colon cancer using the Carl-Storz mouse endoscope.
Rakesh Singh, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology The majority of cancer deaths are a result of the cancer cells spreading from the original tumor to other sites in the body.  This process is called metastasis.  Our laboratory is studying some of the critical proteins that cancer cells make that help this process occur.  We are also trying to define what are the important proteins that cancer cells make that enable them to go specifically to one organ rather than another.  Once the important metastasis-related proteins are identified, it may be possible to block their activities as a means of treating cancer patients to prevent the spread of cancer within the body.
Joyce Solheim, PhD UNMC Eppley Cancer Center Dr. Solheim's laboratory is engaged in research related to immunology and cancer.  In her laboratory, novel immunotherapy approaches for cancer treatment are being developed that stimulate the patient's own immune response against cancer.  As part of these studies, her laboratory has collaborative studies underway that are exploring new nanomedicine delivery strategies for anti-cancer therapies. Her laboratory is also investigating the molecular mechanisms that regulate the recognition of malignant and infected cells by the immune system, as well as exploring the dual effects of certain proteins on immune function and on cancer cell growth and migration.
Paul Sorgen, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Cells next to each other in a tissue form strong intercellular connections.  One form of these connections is gap junctions, which form pores that can allow the passage of small molecules from one cell to its neighbor.  We are studying one of the molecules that are important for the formation of gap junctions, the connexins.  Our goal is to understand the molecular structure of the connexins and how they regulate gap junction formation and intercellular communication.
Melissa Teoh, PhD UNMC Biochemistry & Molecular Biology For years scientists have studied breast cancer cells to varying degrees to determine why and how they form, thrive and communicate with one another and in some cases resist treatment. Towards this goal, my group is interested in understanding the stroma cells surrounding the cancer cells in the tumor, such as cancer-associated fibroblasts and cancer-associated macrophages that support the cancer cell. My research will address the following questions:  Why are the stroma cells so important? What role do they play in helping the tumor to survive, thrive, and become more aggressive? And how can these stroma cells be altered to stop the progression of cancer? My lab will look at breast cancer-associated fibroblasts that produce proteins and factors that support the cancer cells in hopes of learning more about them.  Specifically, we will investigate how oxidative stress influences the communication between the cancer cells and their surrounding fibroblasts. By looking into the microenvironment of breast tumors, we hope this leads to targeted therapies that attack not only the cancer cells but also block the supportive role of fibroblasts.
Vinai Chittezham Thomas, PhD UNMC Pathology & Microbiology My laboratory studies metabolic adaptations of staphylococci in response to various biologically relevant stresses. We have recently demonstrated that acetic acid, a byproduct of glucose catabolism, induces a novel programmed cell death (PCD) pathway in staphylococci. Although our studies have shown that acetic acid mediates its effects through intracellular acidification, the role of the acetate anion itself is unclear and an area of active research. In addition, we are currently identifying the molecular components of the PCD pathway and how PCD impacts bacterial population fitness. These projects touch upon multiple aspects of bacterial redox metabolism and physiology. Another area of active research involves understanding the physiological significance of staphylococcal nitric oxide synthase. NO is usually toxic to bacterial respiration, and it is unclear why pathogens like Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis would carry an enzyme (NOS) that makes NO. We have recently shown that endogenous NO produced by staphylococci is rapidly oxidized to nitrite and the latter species is the physiologically relevant effector of NOS function. We have determined that nitrite stimulates staphylococcal aerobic respiration and growth. How nitrite accomplishes this task is unknown and a topic that is currently being pursued in my laboratory.
Wallace Thoreson, PhD UNMC Ophthalmology Dr. Thoreson’s lab combines state-of-the-art electrophysiological and imaging techniques to study the physiology of retinal neurons in vision.  His recent studies focus on the role of calcium channels and glutamate release in transmitting visual messages from rod and cone photoreceptor cells. These studies provide insights into both normal vision and retinal disease.  Restoring vision by therapeutic means requires an understanding of the steps that take place during normal vision. Furthermore, damage to proteins involved in neurotransmission from photoreceptors can cause rods and cones to degenerate. Over-stimulation of calcium channels and glutamate receptors at the photoreceptor synapse can also promote neurodegeneration in a number of other eye diseases including glaucoma, stroke, and ischemia. In addition to these studies on fundamental retinal processes, we collaborate with Dr. Eyal Margalit in studies on the physiological mechanisms by which implantation into the retina of prosthetic electronic devices can produce visual perception in previously blind individuals. The aim of this research is to refine implant design and improve visual perception in treated patients.
Jonathan Vennerstrom, PhD UNMC COP - Pharmaceutical Sciences The research activity of Dr. Vennerstrom’s laboratory is focused on antimalarial drug design and synthesis and on the investigation of heme as a mechanistic intersection for antimalarial drugs.
Joseph Vetro, PhD UNMC COP - Pharmaceutical Sciences Increasing the delivery of a drug to the site of disease can dramatically improve its effectiveness.   We are developing different types of nanosized drug carriers to 1) increase drug delivery to tumor blood vessels for more efficacious cancer treatments and 2) increase the delivery of antigens to dendritic cells to improve the efficacy of vaccines.  The student will be given a broad overview of drug delivery research from an analytical and philosophical perspective while performing a project in one of the above general areas.
James Wahl, III, PhD UNMC COD - Oral Biology Our central hypothesis is that changes in desmosomal composition result in differential adhesion and/or altered cell-cell signaling. This hypothesis is based on our previous findings that different junctional proteins confer distinct adhesive characteristics on epithelial cells, and that formation of various cell junctions initiates cell adhesion-dependent signaling pathways.
Elizabeth Wellsandt, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS UNMC College of Allied Health Professions The Wellsandt Lab is housed within the Clinical Movement Analysis (CMOVA) Lab in the Student Life Center on UNMC's main campus. The goals of our lab are to understand and optimize outcomes after lower extremity musculoskeletal injury to promote a safe return to pre-injury activities, lifelong physical activity and function, and long-term joint health. Our primary focus is on individuals after anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injury. We use three-dimensional biomechanical analysis, a research-grade strength testing device called a Biodex, and activity trackers to measure how people move after injury. We use this information to promote their success in returning to sport and preventing the later development of knee arthritis. The student's role in the lab would include assisting with biomechanical data collections, processing of biomechanical data, and additional lab-related tasks and projects.
Nick Woods, PhD UNMC Eppley Cancer Center The Woods lab is focused on protein-protein interaction networks that regulate DNA damage repair as a mechanism of preventing cancer formation as well as sensitizing cancers to DNA damaging therapeutics. This research utilizes cutting-edge mass spectrometry and bioinformatic approaches to evaluate large scale protein interaction networks. The discovery of new molecular interactions important for cancer biology has the potential to identify novel targets for therapeutic interventions.
Todd Wyatt, PhD UNMC CoPH - Environmental, Agricultural & Occupational Health The first line of defense against inhaled particles, toxins, and pathogens is the layer of epithelial cells that line the lungs. These cells form hair-like cilia that are continually beating in a whip-like manner to clear mucus-trapped particles out of the airways. Any injury that slows or inhibits this ciliary beating can result in the growth of bacteria or viruses and an increase in lung inflammation. Alcoholics experience a higher incidence of severe lung infections. Some studies suggest that nearly all alcoholics smoke cigarettes and approximately half of all smokers are heavy drinkers. Our research centers on studying the effects of the combination of cigarette smoke and alcohol on various lung functions. We primarily base our studies on the cellular, biochemical, and molecular biology of the ciliated airway epithelial cells in an attempt to understand how cilia motion is regulated by alcohol, cigarette smoke and their metabolites.
Matthew Zimmerman, PhD UNMC Cellular & Integrative Physiology This laboratory studies two central nervous system-associated diseases, hypertension and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).  We are interested in how reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidants affect the development and progression of these diseases.  Although these two diseases may appear to be quite different, we believe there is a common underlying theme which includes increased levels of ROS produced in mitochondria. To examine mitochondrial-produced ROS in hypertension and ALS, we use molecular biology techniques to increase in the levels of mitochondrial-localized antioxidants in cell culture and animal models. Thus, in this laboratory, students are exposed to an array of research techniques from the molecular level to the whole animal.
Peter Abel, PhD CUMC Pharmacology Research in my laboratory focuses on understanding the actions of G protein-coupled receptors including adrenergic receptors and neuropeptide receptors. Current projects focus on α1-adrenergic receptor subtypes, α2-adrenergic receptor subtypes and the calcitonin gene related peptide receptor family. We are interested in identifying and characterizing receptor subtypes to aid in the design and testing of agonist and antagonist drugs that act at these receptors. The role of the sympathetic nervous system and the immune system in the regulation of receptor functions is also under study.
Jason Bartz, PhD CUMC Medical Microbiology & Immunology Prion diseases are a group of fatal neurodegenerative diseases that affect humans (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease) and animals (e.g. chronic wasting disease).  All prion diseases of animals and a majority of prion diseases in humans are due to prion exposure by a peripheral route (e.g. ingestion).  Details of the mechanism(s) of prion transport to the CNS are poorly understood.  My lab is investigating three areas of prion pathogenesis.  First, we are exploring alternative routes of prion entry into the host in an attempt to better define the possible routes that prions can gain access to the CNS.  Second, we are investigating the role of the innate immune system in the processing and transport of prions to secondary LRS tissues.  Finally, we are interested in factors that influence the susceptibility of neurons to prion infection and/or replication. 
Michael Belshan, PhD CUMC Medical Microbiology & Immunology Viruses are intracellular parasites the require host cell processes to replicate. My fundamental research interest is virus-host cell interactions. Our goal is to understand how virus replication affects the host cell environment and results in disease. We use a multitude of genetic, proteomic, and cell biology approaches to study the mechanisms of virus replication and the cellular pathways utilized by virus. The majority of our studies focus on members in the subgroup (subfamily) of retroviruses known as lentiviruses, including the human and simian (monkey) immunodeficiency viruses (HIV and SIV, respectively), and, more recently SARS-CoV-2, the etiologic agent of COVID-19.
Travis Bourret, PhD CUMC Medical Microbiology & Immunology The Bourret laboratory is focused on determining the molecular mechanisms driving transcriptomic changes required for infectivity by the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and the relapsing fever spirochete Borrelia turicatae. Currently, we are focused on determining how tick-borne oxidants are sensed by Borrelia to coordinate the expression of genes required for infection of mammalian hosts and tick vectors. Additionally, our laboratory conducts active surveillance of ticks throughout Nebraska and screening of ticks for various pathogenic microbes.
Kristen Drescher, PhD CUMC Medical Microbiology & Immunology Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS) in humans. Patients with MS normally experience a chronic progressive loss of motor and/or sensory functions. The origin of MS is unknown, although some investigators have postulated that an environmental agent (i.e. a virus or bacteria) may trigger the disease. My laboratory utilizes a mouse model of virus-induced demyelination (Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus) to study immune factors involved in the development of pathology and clinical disease.
Richard Goering, PhD CUMC Medical Microbiology & Immunology The Goering laboratory is involved in research related to the epidemiological analysis of problem bacterial pathogens (i.e., tracking the movement of infectious agents in patient populations).  They have developed a number of methods that are currently used both nationally and internationally to monitor the movement of these organisms (e.g., pulsed field gel electrophoresis, PCR, and DNA sequence based methods).  With rapid developments in the whole genome sequencing (WGS) of pathogenic bacteria they are searching for ways optimize the use of WGS in epidemiological analysis.  They are also actively looking for new chromosomal “signature” sequences that may help to quickly identify problem bacterial pathogens and better allow them to monitor their spread.
Laura Hansen, PhD CUMC Biomedical Sciences Our research is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms that lead to skin cancer with the goal of using this information to develop novel, molecularly-targeted treatments. Her research employs a variety of cell and molecular biology techniques and involves students at many levels of their education.  
David Zhi-Zhou He, MD, PhD CUMC Biomedical Sciences Inner and outer hair cells (IHCs and OHCs) are the two types of mechanoreceptor cells in the mammalian cochlea of the inner ear that transduce mechanical stimuli into electrical activity. IHCs are the true sensory receptor cells that transmit auditory input to the brain. OHCs are a mammalian innovation with a unique capability to change length in response to changes in receptor potential. Using RNA-seq analysis of adult and aging mouse cochleae, we identified genes that are differentially expressed in these two cell types. The goal is to characterize genes underlying the unique structure and function of IHCs and OHCs as well as molecular mechanisms of biological aging of hair cells.  We employ a variety of in vitro and in vivo experimental techniques including electrophysiology (system and cellular), immunocytochemistry, advanced imaging (electron and confocal microscopy), mouse genetics and molecular biology.
Jee Yeon Hwang, PhD CUMC Pharmacology and Neuroscience Research in our laboratory addresses molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of neurological diseases and disorders such as stroke, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease with the goal of identifying novel therapeutic strategies for these devastating diseases. Our current work focuses on the role of epigenetic regulation, microRNAs, and protein regulation and degradation such as ubiquitination and autophagy in neurodegeneration and cognitive deficits. 
Gopal P. Jadhav, PhD CUMC Pharmacology and Neuroscience My Lab research focuses on the state of the art drug discovery program involving molecular docking, high throughput screening and structure activity relationship (SAR) to design and develop novel druglike molecules  to tackle biological problems such as Cancer, Neuronal disorders, Antibiotic resistant Bacterial infections, and Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Current projects of my lab include (1) Development of Triggering receptors expressed on myeloid cells-1 (TREM1) inhibitors in the management of inflammatory disordered e.g. liver cancer, neuronal disorders and NIHL. (2) Development of small molecules as Mvfr inhibitors to treat antibiotic resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections. 
Kenneth Kramer, PhD CUMC Biomedical Sciences All vertebrate cells are surrounded by a layer of sugars that mediate how cells interact with each other.  Our research is focused on understanding how changes to these sugars control development.  We use zebrafish as a model system, allowing us to easily see organs develop.  We are particularly interested in-ear and vascular development as similar sugars regulate these two distinct processes.
Sandor Lovas, PhD CUMC Biomedical Sciences The three-dimensional (3D) shape of molecules determines their biological activities.  Therefore, we study the structure-biological activity relationships of peptides.  Our studies involve peptide syntheses and characterization followed by biological assays using cell cultures.  The 3D structure of peptides is stabilized by several intra- and inter-molecular interactions including the weakly polar interactions.  The role of the latter one in structure stabilization is not characterized yet, so, we use Molecular Dynamics simulations, ab initio quantum chemical calculations and bioinformatics techniques to describe their role in peptide/protein structures.  We also use spectroscopic techniques, including vibrational circular dichroism (VCD) and electronic CD, to study the conformational properties of peptides.  All the information gained during the structural studies is subsequently used to design bioactive analogs of peptides.
Brian J. North, PhD CUMC Biomedical Sciences Aging is the single greatest risk factor for the development of a wide variety of diseases, yet the mechanistic basis driving this interrelationship remains largely undefined. We are interested in understanding how pathways, particularly those regulating protein homeostasis, control the manner in which we age at the cell and molecular level, and how dysregulation of these pathways leads to the development of disease. A majority of the work in our lab focuses on cancer, but we have an interest in cardiac conduction as well as Parkinson’s disease. We utilize a variety of model systems including cell culture, the nematode C. elegans, and mice, which provides a wide variety of options to involve students at any level of education in our research.
Kristina Simeone, PhD CUMC Pharmacology and Neuroscience Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder affecting more than 60 million people worldwide. A detrimental co-morbidity associated with epilepsy is sleep disorders. Unfortunately, drugs do not control seizures in 30% of people with epilepsy. Of these, 1:150 are at risk for Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). To improve the lives of folks with seizures, we study sleep problems associated with epilepsy, novel anti-seizure therapeutics, and ways to predict and prevent SUDEP. We employ a multi-disciplinary approach including techniques that examine molecular neurobiology, cell-signaling, electrophysiology, and behavior.
D. David Smith, PhD CUMC Biomedical Sciences My research covers all aspects of peptide chemistry. Current interests include (i) the relationship of the conformation and topography of calcitonin gene-related peptide to its biological activity, (ii) the development of a novel oxime linker with increased acid stability for the synthesis of all types of peptides and (iii) the isolation and structural characterization of hormones from Antarctic fishes.
Garrett Soukup, PhD CUMC  Biomedical Sciences The normal development and maintenance of sensory hair cells and neurons in the inner ear are crucial to hearing. Researchers utilize the mouse as a model to study the inner ear because it is nearly identical to the human inner ear in terms of anatomy, physiology, development and molecular genetics. My laboratory is generally interested in microRNAs, many of which play important roles in regulating gene expression in the normal development of specific cell types. Specifically, we study microRNA-183 family members (miR-183, miR-96, and miR-182), which are required for proper formation and function of neurosensory cells in the inner ear and are important in other sensory organs and ganglia. We utilize knockout mice to examine the effects of miR-183 family loss-of-function and to determine the mechanisms by which these miRNAs support proper differentiation, maturation, function and maintenance of neurosensory cells.
Holly Stessman, PhD CUMC Pharmacology and Neuroscience The focus of the Stessman laboratory is to identify and functionally characterize genetic “drivers” of complex human diseases to find new drug targets that may stop disease progression and improve patient quality of life. Specifically, we focus on genetic diversity in two disease systems, autism spectrum disorder and hereditary cancer. As a functional genomics laboratory, we utilize a diverse array of tools, including next-generation sequencing technologies, mouse and zebrafish modeling, human cell line modeling, CRISPR genome-engineering, high-throughput small-molecule screening, and classical molecular and cellular biology approaches. Computational resources also play a central role in multiple aspects of our research.
Patrick Swanson, PhD CUMC Medical Microbiology & Immunology The Swanson laboratory is interested in understanding the enzymes and cells that produce antibodies, and the implication of these mechanisms on immune repertoire diversity, autoimmunity, and cancer. 

Current projects are focused in three main areas:

Mechanisms regulating V(D)J recombination, which is the process by which genes encoding antibodies are assembled.  Specifically, we are interested in understanding how one of the two proteins involved in V(D)J recombination, called RAG1, is regulated at the protein level to constrain levels of V(D)J recombination in the cell.  We are also interested in determining if upregulated RAG1 levels contribute to genome instability and cancer.
Analyzing antibody selection and receptor editing (which is a process in which V(D)J recombination is repeated to avoid self-reactivity) in autoimmune conditions found in mouse models and certain human diseases such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
Analyzing anti-tumor immune responses associated with certain surgical techniques.
Yaping Tu, PhD CUMC Pharmacology and Neuroscience My research focuses on the regulation of the interaction among G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), G proteins and RGS (Regulators of G Protein Signaling) proteins in cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. GPCR/G protein-mediated signaling controls many cellular processes. G proteins stimulate intracellular signaling proteins (effectors) when they bind GTP in response to receptor. RGS proteins can act as GTPase-Activating Proteins (GAPs) and may accelerate the deactivation of G proteins by 1000-fold. It is important to understand how RGS proteins can act as tightly regulated modulators and integrators of multiple GPCR/G protein signaling pathways. This elucidation will not only help us understand the roles RGS proteins play in physiology and diseases, but has the potential to provide crucial information for RGS-target drug development.
Arthur “Trey” Andrews, PhD UNL  Psychology Dr. Andrews directs the Latino Mental Health and Treatment Outcomes (LMHT) Lab. His research focuses on understanding mental health disparities among Latino populations, particularly immigrant and Spanish-speaking populations. He is particularly interested in understanding what contributes to lower utilization of numerous healthcare services and worse mental health treatment outcomes. As examples, his studies have examined the roles of poverty, discrimination, trauma exposure, and linguistic status as some potential variables that may explain these disparities. By identifying these mechanisms, Dr. Andrews then evaluates strategies for reducing disparities, such as interprofessional service delivery and technological adjuncts to care.
Peter Angeletti, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences My research is focused on three main topics relating to sexually transmitted Human papillomaviruses (HPVs). The first topic involves the analysis of cis and trans-acting signals required for stable replication of HPVs.  A second topic of interest is the analysis of the packaging requirements for HPVs.  A final area of interest for the lab is in discovery of the rates of genital HPV infection and genotypes present in HIV positive populations in Zambia, Africa.  In these studies we hope to determine if HIV plays a role in susceptibility to HPV infection and whether it influences progression of HPV lesions to cancer. 
Audrey Atkin, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences The Atkin Lab studies gene regulatory mechanisms in eukaryotic model systems with the goal of understanding how cell and developmental biology is regulated. Using a combination of molecular genetic and systems biology approaches, they investigate the regulation of wild-type gene expression by the nonsense-mediated mRNA decay pathway, the regulation of morphogenesis of Candida albicans by quorum sensing and how dietary RNAs affect human gene expression.
Greg Bashford, PhD


Biological Systems Engineering

Our laboratory conducts research in biomedical imaging and biosignal analysis with a focus on diagnostic ultrasound imaging. Most of our work involves ultrasound for two main purposes: assessing cardiovascular health via measurement of blood flow and estimating biomechanical properties of tissues (especially cardiac and tendon) via novel ultrasonic methods. Current projects include developing methods to use transcranial Doppler ultrasound to measure brain activity during somatosensory stimuli and developing ways of using ultrasound for quantitatively measuring the health of healthy and injured tendons and fascia. We work on all aspects of ultrasound imaging, including building the equipment, developing image processing methods, and scanning human subjects in clinical environments. We endeavor to train students not just to solve biomedical problems using engineering skills, but also to develop an understanding of the needs of the medical professionals who ultimately will use the equipment and techniques we develop
Heriberto Cerutti, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences - Ctr for Biotechnology The Cerutti Lab studies the biological roles and the mechanisms of RNA interference (RNAi), an evolutionarily conserved process in plants, fungi, and animals. While the complete details of how RNAi works are still unknown, it appears that the machinery, once it finds a double-stranded RNA molecule, cuts it up into small RNAs, separates the two strands, and then proceeds to destroy other single-stranded RNA molecules that are complementary to one of those segments. Since many viruses produce double-stranded RNA as part of their life cycle, it is becoming apparent that RNAi has important roles in viral defense and transposon silencing. Cells also employ the RNAi machinery to regulate endogenous gene activity. Perhaps more exciting, however, is the emerging use of RNAi as a tool to knock out expression of specific genes on a genomic scale, to learn about their normal function and potential role in diseases. Moreover, RNAi is also being tested as a therapeutic approach for treating genetic diseases.
Soonkyu Chung, PhD UNL Nutrition & Health Sciences My research program focuses on understanding mechanisms of human brown adipogenesis and epigenetic regulation of obesity and insulin resistance. Particularly, we are studying bioactive compounds that could effectively reduce obesity and its associated metabolic syndrome either by augmenting adaptive thermogenesis or by decreasing inflammation. These studies are important in developing novel strategies for attenuating epidemics of obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Lindsey Crawford, PhD UNL Biochemistry Our lab studies how viruses manipulate the human immune system. Specifically, we are focused on how HCMV (a common human herpesvirus) infects and controls hematopoietic stem cells (the foundational cell for the immune system). Projects in the lab address fundamental questions about viral biology, stem cell biology, and immune system development, and students will learn to use tools and techniques from biochemistry, virology, immunology, and stem cell biology. These questions are aimed at developing a more complete picture of human immune system development, disease pathogenesis, and intrinsic mechanisms of stem cell biology. 
Clay Cressler, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences My research focuses on understanding how ecological and evolutionary dynamics are shaped by the cross-scale interaction between individual-level and population-level processes. Currently, I am studying how host diet influences within-host and between-host disease processes, ultimately shaping host and parasite evolution. Because both the immune system and parasites require host resources, diet has a fundamental but often overlooked role in regulating the outcome of infection. Moreover, diet generates feedbacks between within-host and among-host processes.
Hernan Garcia Ruiz, PhD UNL Plant Pathology Our research is focused on virus-hosts interactions and on virus replication. Using model plants and model RNA viruses, we are interested in the mechanisms of antiviral immunity in plants, particularly in the biogenesis and activity of virus-derived small interfering RNAs and the molecular mechanism of initiation and activity of antiviral RNA silencing. These projects combine genetic, genomic, and bioinformatic approaches to the profiling of small interfering RNAs formed during virus infections. These and prior projects provide a robust environment for training undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers in molecular virology, plant molecular virology, genetic engineering, plant small RNA biology, genomics, proteomics, viromics, and bioinformatics.
Eileen Hebets, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences My research program focuses on understanding the diversity associated with communication systems, with much of my current concentration on intra-specific communication relating to reproductive behavior. Research in my laboratory uses various arachnid groups to ask questions relating to the evolution and function of animal signals.
Tomas Helikar, PhD UNL Biochemistry My research expertise is in computational systems biology, technology development, and STEM education.
Michael Herman, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Our lab focuses on the interactions of bacterivorous nematodes, important members of the soil decomposition food web, with bacteria, which serve not only as food sources but also as potential pathogens. We have specifically focused our efforts on the study of the interaction between the bacterivorous nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the ubiquitous and emerging nosocomial bacterial pathogen Stenotrophomonas maltophilia. We aim to elucidate the genes that C. elegans employs to respond to pathogenic bacteria in the environment. The study of this interaction has ecological and medical relevance as S. maltophilia and other members of the Stenotrophomonas genus are found in association with C. elegans in the wild and S. maltophilia has been isolated from various clinical sources. 
Oleh Khalimounchuk, PhD UNL Biochemistry Mitochondria are highly dynamic and complex organelles responsible for cellular energy conversion, a plethora of key metabolic pathways, maintenance of ion homeostasis and programmed cell death. Perturbations of mitochondrial homeostasis and integrity result in dysfunctions that manifest in a spectrum of early to adult-onset neurological and cardiovascular disorders and are contributor to certain types of cancer, type II diabetes and neurodegeneration. Understanding the molecular bases of mitochondrial function/dysfunction is key for finding ways to combat these currently incurable disorders. Our research utilizes yeast and mammalian cell models to address the following questions:
Qingsheng Li, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Qingsheng’s research focuses on better understanding the interaction of human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) with its host in the earliest infection to elucidate key steps and critical events in the mucosal transmission of HIV-1, to identify correlates of protection, and ultimately to develop an effective anti-viral topical microbicide and vaccine.
Colin Meiklejohn, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences My lab studies evolutionary genetics using the model genetic organism Drosophila. We use classical, molecular and population genetics methods as well as functional and comparative genomics to study divergence between species and disrupted gene interactions in species hybrids. We are currently studying the genetic basis of speciation, regulatory evolution, and co-evolution between nuclear and mitochondrial genomes.
Kristi Montooth, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Our research connects genome variation to organismal phenotypes and fitness to understand:
1. how physiological traits evolve to fit organisms to their ecologies, and
2. how evolutionary forces shape the genetic and biochemical pathways underlying physiological change.
The pathways of physiology provide systems of genes that link genetic variation and divergence to whole-organism physiological performance traits, such as development rate, metabolic rate, flight velocity, ethanol tolerance and stress responses. Our research integrates experimental, comparative, quantitative genetic, population genetic/genomic, bioinformatic and classical genetic approaches to link genes to their evolutionarily and ecologically significant function.
Etsuko Moriyama, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences - Ctr for Biotechnology  I am interested in bioinformatics, molecular evolution, and molecular population genetics. Owing to many genome projects, almost infinite amount of molecular data is becoming available. They are filled with evolutionary footprints. My interest revolves around mining such information from sequence data, reconstructing the evolutionary process of sequences, genes, and genomes, and applying knowledge we gain from these analyses for protein function prediction and gene mining.
Hideaki Moriyama, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Relationships between planetary-scale changes in the environment and biological adaptation are of important concern.  The long-term goal of my research is to elucidate mechanisms of biological adaptation and to predict the future form of organisms through the atomic description of biological macromolecules.  To approach this goal, I am proposing a concept of “temperature driven evolution,” in which I try to organize information and to model the biological system along physical factors including temperature.
Carl Nelson, PhD UNL Mechanical & Materials Engineering Dr. Nelson's research lab is dedicated to projects blending mechanical design, robotics, medicine, rehabilitation, and assorted other topics with societal relevance.
Angela Pannier, PhD UNL Therapeutic Nanoparticles The long-term goal of the Pannier Lab is to understand and design innovative biomaterials and gene delivery systems to advance biotechnology, diagnostics, fundamental understanding of embryology and tissue development, and regenerative medicine therapies. Research projects within the Pannier Lab are focused in three different themes including nonviral gene delivery, tissue engineering, and protein-cell-biomaterial interactions. Within the nonviral gene delivery theme, our aim is to determine and understand the mechanisms that render cells responsive to the transfer of genetic material (e.g. DNA), concentrating on the cell microenvironment, the interaction between cells and biomaterials, and the intracellular processes and subsequent signaling involved during nonviral gene delivery. Within the tissue engineering theme, our objective is to develop biomaterial scaffolds and culture systems to understand and promote tissue, organ, and organism development, regeneration, and growth. Within the protein-cell-material interaction theme, projects aim to make use of a novel combinatorial spectroscopic ellipsometry and quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation analytical technique to uncover new and unique information on processes that occur at biomaterial interfaces, which are critical to the performance of biomaterials in biotechnological and therapeutic applications.
Jessica L. Petersen, PhD UNL Animal Sciences The focus of the Animal Genetics and Genomics lab is to identify genetic variants that act to alter phenotypic traits and understand their mechanisms of function. Much of our work is focused upon understanding genetics of disease, but other works include the study of traits such as muscle mass and coat color.  Our current focus is to understand the genetic architecture underlying disease and muscle phenotypes to apply this knowledge to advance animal health within each species, across species, and to produce information that may also benefit human medicine.  Genetic studies of animals are exciting for several reasons. First, by learning more about how genetics influence individual traits, we can use this information to improve animal health and production. Second, because of the unique population structure of domestic species such as cattle and horses (breeds that represent nearly closed populations of animals all with very similar genetics, and with many highly related individuals), we have greater statistical power to map genes and mutations in domestic animals than we would studying diverse, outbred populations. Finally, the gene(s) that influence an animals' susceptibility to disease, their patterns of growth and metabolism, and other traits, are often under similar genetic control to traits found in humans. Agricultural species such as cattle and horses are often overlooked, but provide great potential as a model for understanding the biology of human disease and traits. 
Amanda Ramer-Tait, PhD UNL Food Science & Technology Current research projects are aimed at understanding how host-microbial interactions in the gastrointestinal tract contribute to the pathogenesis of chronic, inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel diseases and obesity. We are also intensively involved in research concerning the interactions among diet, the gut microbiota, and the immunological and metabolic health of the host. To study these complex relationships in vivo, we employ conventional flora, germ-free, and defined microbial community mouse model systems. We utilize approaches spanning the disciplines of cell biology, microbiology, and immunology to mechanistically interrogate the regulation of gastrointestinal homeostasis and inflammation.
Wayne Riekhof, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Research in my lab focuses on using microbial eukaryotic model organisms as systems to study various aspects of lipid metabolism, including membrane lipid and fatty acid trafficking between organelles, the regulation of membrane lipid and triglyceride synthesis, and the regulation of lipid droplet assembly and morphology.
James van Etten, PhD UNL Plant Pathology The Van Etten lab characterizes viruses that infect algae.  The algal viruses are among the largest DNA viruses discovered to date and have 375 or more protein-encoding genes as well as many transfer RNA encoding genes. The biological function of about 50% of these virus-encoded proteins have been identified.  Many of these proteins are completely unexpected and have not been found in viruses previously.  The algal viruses also contain other properties that are more typical of cellular organisms including introns and inteins.

Accumulating evidence indicates that these viruses and their genes have a long evolutionary history, possibly dating back to the time that prokaryotes and eukaryotes diverged, more than 3 billion years ago.  Our lab has a wide range of projects dealing with these viruses that range from basic molecular biology to more ecological studies.
Hiep Vu, PhD UNL Animal Sciences My laboratory studies two important viruses of swine: porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) and influenza A virus of swine (IAV-S). The research topics that are studied in my laboratory include: (i) Host immune responses to natural infection or vaccination, (ii) Molecular characteristics of the viruses currently circulating in the swine population, and (iii) Viral proteins and/or epitopes capable of eliciting protective immunity. Collectively, results obtained from these studies will be valuable for the optimal design of safe and effective vaccines against divergent viral strains circulating in the field.
Rebecca Wachs, PhD UNL Biological Systems Engineering Department  The goal of her lab is to understand mechanisms of orthopedic pain and develop targeted biomaterial therapeutics to treat this pain.  Low back pain is one source of orthopedic pain recognized as a widespread clinical problem resulting from degeneration and innervation of the intervertebral disc. Dr. Wachs’ current research aims to create novel biomaterial therapies to target undesired nerve growth and sensitization, and develop in vitro test beds to understand mechanisms of pain.
Karrie A. Weber, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Two-thirds of all microbial life on Earth lives in soils and the continental subsurface (including groundwater—Nebraska’s drinking water).  The microorganisms that live in these environments influence the quality of our soil and water which can directly impact human health.  Research in the Weber laboratory focusses on the microorganisms that live in these environments and how they change the chemistry.  These changes in environmental chemistry can have impacts that i) can either remove toxic chemicals or alternatively can create a problem or provide nutrients to plants and other organisms.  We monitor the change in microbial community structure using metaomics techniques concurrent with the changes in chemical reactions occurring in these environment.  We also use traditional microbiological techniques isolating unique microorganisms and describing previously unidentified microbial physiologies.  Elements of particular interest in our laboratory research are those that are essential to human and plant health such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron and those that can create problems to human health such as nitrogen (nitrate), uranium, and arsenic. 
Shi-Hua Xiang, PhD UNL Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences Our research interests are focused on HIV/AIDS, with the ultimate goal of developing an effective vaccine or a long-term preventive strategy to counter this devastating pandemic. Our laboratory research is focused on HIV envelope structure, envelope-based vaccine design and development, and other anti-HIV research approaches.
Janos Zempleni, PhD UNL Nutrition & Health Sciences Dr. Zempleni is the director of the Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases at UNL. His research focuses on the roles of dietary nanoparticles and their various RNA cargos in foods, and the roles of these compounds in gene regulation and human health. Members of the Zempleni team use various models in their research, including cell cultures, animals and human subjects. Lab members use cell biology and molecular biology protocols in their research. The laboratory is funded by various federal agencies and foundations.  Dr. Zempleni has an exemplary mentoring record. Since 2001, he has mentored 90 trainees, specifically 13 postdoctoral students, 12 doctoral students, 20 master’s students, 40 undergraduate students, two high school students, and three visiting scientists. The majority of these students were women (65) and a considerable number were minorities (five Hispanic, two African American). Students in the Zempleni laboratory have been recognized with more than 80 awards, including ten research awards at the national level. Every student who has graduated from the Zempleni laboratory has secured employment in academia or industry, including professorships and leadership positions in biotechnology companies.
Limei Zhang, PhD UNL Biochemistry Owing to their versatile reactivity, transition metals are widely used as a powerful weapon by the host and bacterial pathogens during infection. Knowledge of the structure and function of metalloproteins involved in the metal homeostasis and stress response is highly desirable because of their potentials as promising targets for new antimicrobial therapies. Research in the Zhang laboratory focuses on metalloproteins in sensing and responding to redox stress. Students in the Zhang group use interdisciplinary approaches to decipher the action mechanism of these redox sensors.
Luwen Zhang, PhD UNL School of Biological Sciences Dr. Luwen Zhang’s laboratory studies the transformation processes. Epstein-Barr virus is (EBV) a human herpesvirus of increasing medical importance. EBV infection has been associated with the development of several human cancers. In immunocompromised individuals, such as organ transplant recipients or AIDS patients, EBV almost certainly causes two fatal cancers: post-transplantation lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) and AIDS-associated central nerve system (CNS) lymphoma.  The Zhang lab tackles the problems related to how virus interacts with cell, and transforms normal cells into cancerous ones.  Also, potential treatment of human cancers is also on their agenda. Zhang lab has been testing a novel approach to specifically block the viral transformation events that lead to the development of human cancers.