Clinical Students

Clinical Students

Department: Clinical Students

Eric Kwong

Education: University of California, Irvine, B.S. Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
PhD Advisor: Huiping Zhou, PhD
Graduate Program: Microbiology and Immunology
Bio: Eric completed his PhD dissertation on the role of sphingosine kinase 2 in alcoholic liver disease. His primary research interests are in gastroenterology and the molecular mechanisms of liver disease. On his free time, he enjoys spending time being in the outdoors and the beach.

Chelsea Cockburn

Education: James Madison University, B.S. in Biology
Hometown: Harrisonburg, VA
PhD Advisor: Jason Carlyon, PhD
Graduate Program: Microbiology and Immunology
Bio: Chelsea’s research background has been a combination of neuroscience and infectious disease through experiences and internships at JMU, Amgen, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and University of Cape Coast, Ghana. Chelsea hopes to combine her interests in infectious disease, immunology, and global health to identify and develop targets for therapeutics and vaccines for some of the world's most burdensome diseases. During her downtime, you can find her exploring one of Richmond's farmers markets, cooking, or posting on her MD/PhD life-healthy cooking-triathloning-traveling the world blog.

Michael Evans

Education: Auburn University, B.S. in Biomedical Sciences
Hometown: Huntsville, AL
PhD Advisor: Iain Morgan, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM
Bio: Michael's research interests broadly lie in the realm of cancer biology. His current work focuses on understanding mechanisms by which human papillomavirus type 16 modulates the host innate immune response and the implications this has on therapy for HPV-related head and neck cancers. In his free time Michael enjoys playing soccer, hiking, following college football and spending time with his goldendoodle, Murphy.

Audra Iness

Education: California State University, Fresno, Smittcamp Family Honors College, B.S. in Biology (2013)
Hometown: Fresno, CA
PhD Advisor: Larisa Litovchick, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM
Bio: In December 2018, Audra completed her PhD in Clinical and Translational Research, Cancer and Molecular Medicine, under the mentorship of Dr. Larisa Litovchick. She earned an F30 fellowship grant for her dissertation project on oncogenic B-Myb's disruption of the cell cycle regulatory DREAM complex in ovarian cancer. Audra enjoys working out and eating peanut butter with her husband and two cats.

Joseph Lownik

Education: Beloit College, B.S. in Biochemistry (2013)
Hometown: Wisconsin Rapids, WI
PhD Advisor: Daniel Conrad, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM (Microbiology and Immunology)
Bio: Joe is currently interested in broad topics in immunology, particularly in the areas of allergy, autoimmunity as well as metabolic inflammation. While Joe is not in lab or school, he likes to spend his free time with his wife and animals, as well as enjoying Richmond's food experiences. 

Janina (Vaitkus) Pearce

Education: University of Maryland in College Park, B.S. in Bioengineering
Hometown: Edgewater, MD
PhD Advisor: Francesco Celi, MD, MHSc
Graduate Program: CCTR/CaMM (Internal Medicine/Endocrinology)
Bio: Janina’s previous research experience was focused on elucidating mechanisms of adipose tissue plasticity in breast cancer. In the future, Janina plans to pursue translational and clinical women’s health research related to endocrinopathies during the reproductive years. In her free time, Janina enjoys baking, training for triathlons, and spending time with her family and friends.

Sarah Kim

Education: College of William and Mary, B.S. in Neuroscience (2012)
Hometown: Vienna, VA
PhD Advisor: Pamela Knapp, PhD
Graduate Program: Neuroscience
Bio: Sarah completed her PhD in Neuroscience where her dissertation work explored the role of the chemokine receptor CCR5 in mediating HIV-1 Tat and opiate neurotoxicity and alterations in behavioral phenotype. She utilized primary murine neuron-mixed glia co-cultures as well as whole animal transgenic mouse models to also begin exploring the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor as a potential therapeutic avenue against the converging actions of HIV-1 Tat and opiates at the level of CCR5 in the central nervous system. Her personal interests include finding new things to love about Richmond with friends, staying active at Pure Barre and exploring the James River Park System.

Adam Blakeney

Education: University of Alabama at Birmingham, B.S. in Biomedical Engineering (2010)
Hometown: Gulfport, MS
PhD Advisor: Murthy Karnam, PhD
Graduate Program: Physiology and Biophysics
Bio: Adam’s research interests include smooth muscle signaling, fatty acid signaling, image analysis, signals processing, and materials processing and synthesis. In June of 2018 he defended his thesis, “Branched Short Chain Fatty Acid Isovaleric Acid Causes Smooth Muscle Relaxation via cAMP/PKA Pathway, Inhibits Gastrointestinal Motility, and Disrupts Peristaltic Movement”, which in addition to classical molecular science benchwork, incorporated novel video and image analysis techniques and custom 3D-printed equipment to determine how common components of our diet affect the gut. In his spare time, Adam enjoys team sports, walking along the James River, and the booming restaurant, brewery, cidery, and social scene in Richmond.

Kimberlyn Maravet Baig-Ward

Education: Texas A&M University, B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology (2007), B.S. in Biomedical Science (2007)
Hometown: Bryan/College Station, TX
PhD Advisors: James Segars, MD, PhD (NICHD, National Institutes of Health); Jerome Strauss, III, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: Biochemistry
Bio: K. Maravet Baig-Ward's research interest includes elucidating the molecular and behavioral underpinnings of psychiatric and addiction disorders. Maravet was the first to publish on AKAP13's role in murine behavior, and hopes to further elucidate its role in human disease. Maravet is also interested in cardiac and women's health research. 

Marc Cantwell

Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, B.S. in Chemistry (2008), B.S. in Biology (2008)
Hometown: Clifton, VA
PhD Advisor: Andrew Larner, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: Biochemistry
Bio: His research interests include metabolism, development, obesity, and the pathophysiology of diseases associated with obesity. His personal interests include running, outdoors, tabletop games, and collaborative storytelling.

Zachary Curry

Education: Winthrop University, B.S. in Chemistry (2012)
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
PhD Advisor: Aron H. Lichtman, PhD
Graduate Program: Pharmacology and Toxicology
Bio: During his PhD work, Zach used pre-clinical models of neuropathic pain to assess neural and inflammatory changes associated with pain development and analgesia. Ultimately, he aims to conduct research to improve both treatment and functional outcomes for patients with neurologic and musculoskeletal diseases. In addition to research and clinical work, Zach enjoys spending time with his family and friends.

Angela Gupta

Education: Mary Baldwin College, B.S. in Biology (2012)
Hometown: Lynchburg, VA
PhD Advisor: Tomasz Kordula, PhD
Graduate Program: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Bio: Angela’s dissertation focused on investigating the role of the transcription factor RelB in regulating adaptive responses of glial cells during neuroinflammation. Further, Angela has worked on various basic science and clinical research projects centered around glial cell biology, cytokine cell signaling, and sterile inflammatory skin disorders. In her free time, Angela enjoys spending time with friends and family, hiking, throwing pottery, and exploring the newest restaurants in Richmond.  

Sophia Karandashova

Education: Oregon State University, Honors B.S. in Microbiology (2008); Stephen F. Austin State University, M.S. in Biotechnology (2010)
Hometown: Moscow, Russia
PhD Advisor: Judith Voynow, MD
Graduate Program: CCTR (Cancer and Molecular Medicine)
Bio: Sophia’s overarching research interests include inflammation and fibrin turnover in pulmonary disease. Her PhD dissertation investigated the role of the sphingolipid ceramide in neutrophil elastase induced inflammation in the lungs. Sophia has a wide variety of interests, from skiing to board games; she has enjoyed watching Richmond grow and evolve over the past several years— especially the new culinary diversity!


Luke Legakis

Education: Cornell University, B.S. in Biology (2013)
Hometown: Stony Brook, NY
PhD Advisor: Sidney Negus, PhD
Graduate Program: Pharmacology and Toxicology
Bio: Luke's research interests include studying the interactions of neuropathy and analgesia in nociceptive behavior and the impact of chemotherapy on the abuse potential of opioid analgesics. Additionally, Luke is interested in studying the potential for sex differences in his clinical and preclinical research. Outside of his academic pursuits, Luke enjoys playing soccer, exploring the outdoors, and traveling. 

Ryan Mischel

Education: University of North Dakota, B.S. in Biology/Pre-Health
Hometown: West Fargo, ND
PhD Advisor: Hamid Akbarali, PhD
Graduate Program: Pharmacology and Toxicology 
Bio: Ryan's undergraduate research surveyed the role of adrenergic receptor subtypes in hippocampal neurogenesis and epileptogenesis. His PhD dissertation investigates the role of gastrointestinal microbiota in morphine tolerance development. Ryan's clinical interest is in psychiatry, and his leisure time is spent exploring music production, photography, and philosophy. 

Andrew van der Vaart

Education: University of Virginia, B.A. in Cognitive Science (2009)
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
PhD Advisor: Michael Miles, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: Pharmacology and Toxicology 
Bio: Andrew's research interests are in neuropsychiatric disease, at intersection of pharmacology and genomics, with the goal of targeted treatments based on individual susceptibility. Under his mentor Dr. Michael Miles, Andrew has investigated genes associated with alcohol dependence in humans, and the effects of ethanol on the molecular pathways involving these genes in model organisms. Outside of the laboratory, Andrew enjoys making music, making videos, and making music videos. 

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