Grad Phase Students

Grad Phase Students

Department: Grad Phase Students

Jessica Kiernan

Education: Virginia Tech University, B.S. in Biology (2008); Georgetown University, M.Sc. Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases (2011)
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
PhD Advisor: April Kimmel, PhD
Graduate Program: Healthcare Policy and Research
Bio: Building on a pre-medical school career within the field of global health and infectious disease, Jessica's research interests include understanding the landscape of factors that lead to increased disease burden in vulnerable populations.  She is interested in evaluating key drivers of disease transmission, opportunities for intervention and translatable, evidence-based models of treatment delivery, specifically within the HIV positive population in the United States.  In her free time, Jessica enjoys exploring Richmond with her 16-month-old, SJ, and continuing global travel with her husband, Scott, with over 80 countries visited between them. 

Caellaigh Kimpston

Education: University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, B.S. in Biology (2017)
Hometown: Russell, KY
PhD Advisor: Richard Marconi, PhD
Graduate Program: Microbiology and Immunology
Bio: At the University of North Carolina, Caellaigh's research focused on understanding the roles of the protein periostin and Schwann cells in a murine model of autoimmune peripheral neuropathy. Currently, she is interested in vaccine development for pathogenic spirochetes including those associated with Lyme disease, relapsing fever and periodontal disease. In her free time, she enjoys travelling, hiking, baking, and exploring new restaurants.

Pratyush Narayan

Education: Stony Brook University, B.S. in Biology and Sociology, with a minor in South Asian Studies (2014); Virginia Commonwealth University, M.S. in Physiology and Biophysics (2017)
Hometown: New York, NY
PhD Advisor: Stefano Toldo, PhD
Graduate Program: Physiology and Biophysics
Bio: Pratyush's research interest is in the field of cardiology and the role of inflammation in cardiovascular disease processes. He is particularly interested in the role of Interleukin-18 in high-fat diet induced cardiomyopathy, cardiac ischemia-reperfusion injury, and heart preservation and transplant. His personal interests include photography, intramural sports and exploring Richmond.

Anuj Tharakan

Education: Drexel University, B.S. in Biological Sciences (2014)
Hometown: Vienna, VA
PhD Advisor: Rebecca Martin, PhD
Graduate Program: Microbiology and Immunology
Bio: Anuj's research interests lie in basic and translational immunology. His dissertation research focuses on dendritic cell intrinsic mechanisms that influence T-helper 2 cell polarization in the context of allergy and asthma. In his free time, Anuj enjoys playing basketball, cooking, and spending time outdoors.

Kyle Woisard

Education: Virginia Tech, B.S. in Psychology and B.A. in Philosophy (2016)
Hometown: Fairfax, VA
PhD Advisor: Frederick Moeller, MD
Graduate Program: CCTR CaMM
Bio: Kyle's research aims to highlight differences in brain activity among users of different classes of drugs and non-drug users. The primary method toward this aim will be resting state fMRI to assess functional and effective (directional) connectivity among different brain regions and networks. Kyle's personal interests include hunting for good vegan food, sports and exercise, and urban dance.

Kent Fairchild

Education: Florida Atlantic University, B.S. in Neuroscience and Behavior (2013), M.S. in Biological Sciences (2016)
Hometown: Jupiter, FL
PhD Advisor: Anthony Faber, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR CaMM
Bio: Kent's research focuses on the identification and pre-clinical testing of targeted therapies for genetically-defined cancers. In particular, Kent studies new approaches to treat fusion gene-driven sarcomas. In his free time, Kent enjoys whitewater kayaking on the James River, and taking advantage of the many great restaurants and breweries Richmond has to offer.

Christian Fontan

Education: College of William & Mary, B.S. in Chemistry (2016)
Hometown: Leesburg, VA
PhD Advisor: Iain Morgan, PhD
Graduate Program: Oral Health Research
Bio: Christian's research endeavors include how high-risk human papillomaviruses modify the host cell's response to chemoradiotherapy in the context of oropharyngeal cancer. Such an understanding may allow for treatment stratification for HPV-positive versus HPV-negative cancer patients as well as de-escalation therapy. In his personal time, Christian enjoys outdoor sports such as rock climbing and running, as well as exploring food and music festivals. 

Alan Harris

Education: College of William and Mary, B.S. in Biology (2014); Virginia Commonwealth University, M.S. in Physiology & Biophysics (2016)
Hometown: Richmond, VA
PhD Advisor: Kimberle Jacobs, PhD
Graduate Program: Neuroscience
Bio: Alan’s main interest is neuroscience, particularly the mechanisms whereby neurocomputation emerges in dependence on membrane conductance properties. His research focuses on how traumatic disruption of cortical fast-spiking interneurons may translate to cognitive dysfunction after traumatic brain injury. Alan is from Richmond and has relished watching the city evolve; outside the lab he enjoys running, philosophy, entomology, and numismatics.

Saahil Sanon

Education: University of Pennsylvania, B.S.E. in Materials Science and Engineering (2014), M.S.E. in Bioengineering (2014); University of Alberta, M.S. in Experimental Surgery (2016)
Hometown: Lecanto, FL
PhD Advisor: Dong Sun, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR CaMM
Bio: Saahil is interested in translating basic science and engineering research findings into the clinic. His dissertation project investigates the intersection of Alzheimer disease and traumatic brain injury, particularly immune and inflammatory changes. In his free time, Saahil enjoys playing board games, cooking, and exploring the craft beer scene in Richmond.

Jefferson Abaricia

Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, B.S. in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Chemistry (2015)
Hometown: Silverton, OR
PhD Advisor: Rene Olivares-Navarrete, DDS, PhD
Graduate Program: Biomedical Engineering
Bio: Jefferson's work examines the role of macrophage-derived Wingless homolog (Wnt) ligands on osseous healing by regulating the inflammatory response and mesenchymal stem cell behavior. The goal of this research is to understand the mechanisms by which the immune system regulates the healing of bone after fractures and placement of implants. In his free time, Jefferson enjoys music, cooking, and scuba diving, and autocross.

Gene Clark

Education: Virginia Tech, B.S. in Biochemistry (2012); Virginia Commonwealth University, MS in Biochemistry (2015)
Hometown: Richmond, VA
PhD Advisors: Ross Mikkelsen, PhDXiang-Yang (Shawn) Wang, PhD
Graduate Program: Biochemistry
Bio: Gene is interested in exploring the immune effects of radiotherapy, immunotherapeutic strategies for solid tumors, and radiotherapy-immunotherapy combination procedures. Currently he is focused on the ability of exosomes produced by irradiated cancer cells to inhibit tumor infiltrating dendritic cell function. His personal interests include traveling, paddle boarding, running, music, teaching, and of course science.

Kara Dods

Education: Rutgers University, B.Sc. with honors in Biochemistry, Exercise Physiology, Nutrition
Hometown: Linwood, NJ
PhD Advisor: Matthew Hartman, PhD
Graduate Program: Chemical Biology
Bio: Kara's research focus is using peptide library selection strategies to develop peptide inhibitors of the intrinsically disordered protein MYCN, which plays an important role in high-risk neuroblastoma. She is interested in developing novel therapeutic strategies to reduce the mortality for patients with MYCN-amplified disease. Outside of the lab, Kara enjoys playing music and watching football: she is the librarian/third horn for the VCU Health System Orchestra and is almost always in Liverpool red on match days.

Graeme Murray

Education: University of Chicago, B.A. in Physics with Honors and B.A. in Chemistry (2014)
Hometown: Seattle, WA
PhD Advisor: Jason Reed, PhD
Graduate Program: Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
Bio: Graeme's undergraduate research used kinked silicon nanowires as cantilevers to measure inter- and intracellular forces including muscle contraction. As part of the Nanocience program at VCU, Graeme uses an interferometry based platform as a drug screening tool to monitor changes in biomass of single cells in various cancers. In his spare time, Graeme races road and mountain bikes for VCU.  

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.

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.

Justin Saunders

Education: Villanova University, B.S. in Biology (2012)
Hometown: White Plains, MD
PhD Advisor: Javier Gonzalez-Maeso, PhD
Graduate Program: Physiology and Biophysics 
Bio: Justin’s research interests are focused on the molecular and behavioral aspects of neuropsychiatric disorder models. His project is focused on the contribution of serotonin 5-HT2AR receptor dysregulation to phenotypes observed within a maternal immune activation rodent model of schizophrenia. When not in the lab, Justin enjoys music, spending time with family and friends, and playing the guitar.

Tia Turner

Education: Hofstra University, B.S. (2013)
Hometown: Hewlett, New York
PhD Advisor: J. Chuck Harrell, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM (Pathology)
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: NeurosciencePharmacology and Toxicology Department
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.

Alicia Woock

Education: Appalachian State University, B.S. with honors in Chemistry
Hometown: New Bern, NC
PhD advisor: Charles Clevenger, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM (Pathology) 
Bio: Alicia works in Dr. Charles Clevenger's laboratory studying the transcription factor, Stat5a, and its regulation by serine phosphorylation in response to prolactin in breast cancer with the goal to understand how this signaling cascade regulates cancer progression. As a physician-scientist, Alicia plans to design clinical trials to develop better diagnostic and therapeutic options for cancer patients. If you generated a pie chart of her interests, the biggest slice of the pie would be filled by podcasts, followed by a slightly smaller slice for biking around and exploring RVA!  

Alexander Azzo

Education: Vanderbilt University, B.A. in Molecular & Cellular Biology (2013)
Hometown: Bluefield, WV
PhD Advisor: Gordon Ginder, MD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM (Hematology/Oncology; Massey Cancer Center
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.

Justin Craig

Education: Harvard University, A.B. in Psychology (2007)
Hometown: Northville, MI
PhD Advisor: Charles Clevenger, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: CCTR/CMM (Pathology)
Bio: Justin’s prospective professional focus is in translational oncology research, with particular interest in cancer genomics. In his graduate work, Justin has studied the regulation of the STAT5 signaling pathway in the context of breast cancer using a combination of molecular biology and bioinformatic approaches. When not pursuing his academic interests, Justin enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, camping, hiking, and woodworking.

Guy Harris

Education: Georgia Institute of Technology, B.S. in Physics (2009); Louisiana State University, M.S in Medical and Health Physics (2012)
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
PhD Advisor: Michael Miles, MD, PhD
Graduate Program: Pharmacology and Toxicology
Bio: Guy’s research interests are concerned with the use of ionizing radiation in medicine and cancer biology in particular. He would like to investigate topics such as radiation induced protein expression, biologically based treatment planning models for radiation therapy, and molecular targeting of cancer via radioisotope incorporated nanoparticles. Guy enjoys playing and creating music during his free time and he likes to stay in shape by swimming, running, and road cycling.

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 (Internal Medicine/Endocrinology)
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. 

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