Clinical Students

Clinical Students

Department: Clinical Students

Alexander Azzo

Education: Vanderbilt University, B.A. in Molecular & Cellular Biology (2013)
Hometown: Bluefield, WV
PhD Advisor: Gordon Ginder, MD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM 
Bio: Alex’s previous work was in drug design through Vanderbilt’s department of cancer biology, in which he helped build targeted drug delivery platforms.  Currently he is most interested in investigating the role of the methyl-CpG binding domain proteins and their associated factors as epigenetic regulators of the human globin genes, and their importance as potential targets for treating sickle-cell anemia and beta-thalassemia. Alex grew up in Bluefield, West Virginia, graduated with a B.A. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Vanderbilt University in 2013, and apart from research loves the outdoors, playing tennis and golf, and programming computers to do fun things.

Siva Teja Devarakonda

Education: Saint Louis University
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
PhD Advisor: Fadi Salloum, PhD, F.A.H.A.
Graduate Program: Physiology and Biophysics
Bio: Teja's research interests involve studying cardiac pathophysiology in the context of adverse remodeling post myocardial infarction (MI). More specifically, he is investigating the role of relaxin biology in combating inflammation and fibrosis in mice with surgically induced MI. In his free time, Teja enjoys playing guitar, rock climbing, reading and trying to keep up with his favorite podcasts.

Jared Farrar

Education: University of Utah, B.S. in Biology (2010)
Hometown: Idaho Falls, ID
PhD Advisor: Francesco Celi, MD, MHSc
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM
Bio: Jared values multi-disciplinary approaches to solving scientific questions and is driven by the potential of new medical knowledge and advanced technology to improve diagnostics, treatment and patient care. His graduate research has focused on the development of mouse models for the study of adaptive adipocyte thermogenesis, as well as the interface between the immune system and adipocytes in whole organism metabolism. In his spare time, he enjoys tearing things apart, solving puzzles, international travel, watching movies, and spending time with his wife. 

Rahaman (Remu) Navaz Gangji

Education: Trinity University, B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2013); University of Michigan Medical School, M.S. in Biological Chemistry (2014) 
Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario 
PhD Advisors: Umesh Desai, PhDBhaumik Patel, MD
Graduate Program: Biochemistry
Bio: Remu is interested in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery. Here at VCU, his research is focused on studying the inhibitory effects of glycosaminoglycans and glycosaminoglycan-oligo molecules on cancer stem cell growth. Outside of academics, he is most passionate about sports and enjoys playing/watching hockey and floorball here in Richmond.

Tia Turner

Education: Hofstra University, B.S. (2013)
Hometown: Hewlett, New York
PhD Advisor: J. Chuck Harrell, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM
Bio: Tia's research interests lie primarily in the field of translational cancer biology and therapeutics. She is particularly interested in studying the mechanisms underlying tumor progression, metastasis, and therapeutic resistance, with a focus on the development and preclinical testing of novel therapeutic combination strategies for metastatic breast cancer and brain cancer. In addition to her passion for medicine and science, Tia loves singing, playing and listening to music, attending the theater, reading, cooking, and spending time outdoors in the Fall.

Rory Weston

Education: Florida State University, B.S. in Criminology; Western Washington University, B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience 
PhD Advisor: Michael Miles, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: Neuroscience
Bio: Rory's primary areas of research are neuroscience and bioinformatics, with a special interest in transcriptomics. His dissertation work seeks to characterize the role of Clic4 in modulating ethanol-related behaviors in a mouse model of alcohol use disorder. Rory enjoys spending time with his wife and dog, camping, and venturing into new creative hobbies such as aquascaping, VR game development, and home brewing.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Joseph Lownik

Education: Beloit College, B.S. in Biochemistry (2013)
Hometown: Wisconsin Rapids, WI
PhD Advisor: Daniel Conrad, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM 
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. 

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