2019-2023 Program Fellows

Ramiah Jacks
Ph.D., Immunology, Loyola University Chicago

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular and Integrative Physiology 
Mentor: Carey Lumeng, M.D., Ph.D

Research Interest: Ramiah is interested in the factors that shape our immune response. While obesity has been widely appreciated to be associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, it also is associated with a greater risk of infectious diseases. Recent data have revealed that there is chronic inflammation and sustained activation of leukocytes in adipose tissue in obesity. Further, adipose tissue promotes T cell senescence and an impairment of the adaptive immune response to infection in the obese state. Ramiah is studying the relationship between adipose tissue T cells (ATTs) and the adipose tissue microenvironment to understand how obesity influences ATT activation and functions. Completion of these studies will aid in understanding how T cell mediated immunity is altered obesity..  

 Vanessa Puñal

Ph,D., Neurobiology, Duke University

Postdoctoral Fellow,  Molecular,
Cellular and Developmental Biology (MCDB)
Mentor: Eleanor J. “Josie” Clowney, Ph.D., 

Research Interest: Vanessa is interested in how neural networks are built and modified by experience. Specifically, she is working to understand how olfactory associative learning circuitry within the developing Drosophila melanogaster mushroom body is wired. Unlike the circuitry involved in innate olfactory behaviors, whose wiring appears genetically pre-programmed, associative learning circuits have unpredictable connectivity that differs among individuals. Thus, the anatomy of this circuit imparts no a priori behavioral meaning for the animal but instead serves as a foundation for the encoding of adaptive behaviors. Her work will determine what cellular, molecular, and/or genetic mechanisms drive the stochastic patterning of these olfactory associative learning circuits.


Sonya Wolf-Fortune

Ph.D., Immunology, University of Michigan
Mentor:  Katherine Gallagher, M.D., Vascular Surgery

Research Interest:  Sonya is interested in the immune factors influencing diabetic wound healing. In type 2 diabetic patients, impaired wound healing is a leading cause of amputation.  In normal wound healing, macrophages transition from an inflammatory to a reparative phenotype. However, in diabetic wounds macrophages demonstrate a sustained inflammatory profile.  Sonya will focus on examining the role of keratinocytes in shaping the macrophage inflammatory profile in diabetic wounds in order to develop novel targets for treatment. 


2018 -2022 Program Fellows

Lauren Jepsen
Ph.D., Bioinformatics, University of Michigan

Postdoctoral Fellow, Biomedical Engineering
Mentor: David Sept, Ph.D. 

Research Interest: Lauren is studying how the sequence of actin effects its structure and dynamics through the use of both accelerated and conventional molecular dynamics. She has been exploring how the nucleotide hydrolysis and interaction with actin binding partners (ABP) – as either a monomer (G-actin) or polymer (F-actin), and how the nucleotide state, a key determinant for the affinity of ABP and polymerization, effects monomer dynamics. This is being done through the use of tools such as principal component and network analysis. Similar tools are being used to analyze the effects of polymerization on ADP muscle actin. She is also interested in the consequences of point mutations within actin’s pathogenic helix (residues 1135-125).  

Holly Turula
Ph.D.,  Immunology, University of Michigan

Postdoctoral Fellow, Microbiology & Immunology Mentor:   Joel Swanson, Ph.D.

Research Interest: 

Research Interest: Macropinocytosis is an endocytic process in which extracellular fluids are
internalized into the cell. The large vesicles, termed macropinosomes, then deliver their
contents to the lysosome to aid in cell metabolism and growth. Using wide-field fluorescence
microscopy based techniques, Holly is currently investigating the mechanisms by which Src-
Family Kinases (SFKs) regulate macropinosome formation in both macrophages and
fibroblasts. In collaboration with Dr. Karginov at the University of Illinois she will manipulate
SFKs activation and assess the macropinocytosis signaling cascade to localize SFKs activity in
relation to essential known components.

During the Winter 2019 term Holly is partnered with Dr. Jolie Stepaniak in teaching Cell and
Molecular biology at Henry Ford College.


Elizabeth Duran
Ph.D., Chemistry, University of Alabama

Postdoctoral Fellow, Chemistry
Mentor: Nils G. Walter, Ph.D.

Research Interest: 

Research Interest: In all eukaryotes, the introns of newly transcribed precursor messenger RNAs (pre-mRNAs) are removed and the exons ligated to form mature messenger RNAs (mRNAs) in a process known as splicing. Pre-mRNA splicing is orchestrated by the spliceosome, a macromolecular machine consisting of >100 proteins and five small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs). Instead of existing as a pre-assembled complex, the spliceosome is gradually built onto each pre-mRNA substrate and transitions through a number of complex rearrangements to precisely identify and juxtapose splice sites with each round of splicing. The kinetics of each such rearrangement and the proteins that control them govern splicing fidelity and specificity. Despite major advances in our understanding of splicing mechanisms, the molecular level events that govern splice site selection are currently poorly understood. In her postdoctoral research in the Walter lab, Elizabeth is using single molecule fluorescence microscopy techniques to characterize the molecular level events that govern splice site selection.

During the Winter 2019 term, Elizabeth is partnered with Samer Hanna in teaching the Introduction to Chemistry course at the WCCCD Ted Scott campus



2017 -2021 Program Fellows

Zoe Thompson
Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of California, Riverside

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Mentor: Malcolm J. Low, M.D., Ph.D. 

Research Interest:  Zoe is studying neurons in the hypothalamus that express the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) gene. These neurons are important in the control of food intake, energy expenditure and body weight. She plans to use genetic techniques to trace the inputs to these neurons in order to understand more about the neural circuits involved in energy balance. These circuits are likely changed in obesity, Type II diabetes, and other disorders where feeding behavior is altered.


Neda Nourabadi
Ph.D., Biology with Minor in Applied Statistics, New Mexico State University

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Mentors: Dan Beard Ph.D. and Lonnie Shea Ph.D. 

Research Interest:  The goals of Neda’s research project are to determine computational models for gene transcription regulation in cancer cells during development of resistance to chemotherapy, and using developed models to design strategies to delay or reverse drug resistance. This is an exciting collaborative research work involving experiments conducted in Dr. Shea lab and computational modeling of conducted experiments in Dr. Beard lab.


Delawrence J. Sykes
Ph.D., Ecology Evolution and Behavior, Indiana University Bloomington

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Mentor: Yatrik Shah, Ph.D. 

Delawrence is a second-year IRACDA fellow. His work converges at the intersections of gastrointestinal homeostasis, inflammation, and cancer. Our bodies must respond to the metabolic challenges of a low oxygen (hypoxic) condition; however, chronic hypoxia and inflammation are attributed to the development colon cancer.Delawrence’s current project investigates the role of Itaconate (a metabolite of the TCA cycle) in regulating cellular metabolism and its dual role as an anti-inflammatory signaling molecule. A separate project explores the impact of enrichment on anxiety-like behavior in mice and the impact of enrichment on gut microbiota. Understanding how enrichment impacts the brain, behavior, and gut microbiome directs continued interest in connecting the gut-brain-microbiome axis with gastrointestinal homeostasis.
During the winter semester of 2019, Delawrence will be teaching at Wayne County Community College District Downtown with Dr. Christian Nwamba.
2016 -2020 Program Fellows

Victor A Cazares
Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of Michigan 

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Mentor: Geoffrey Murphy, Ph.D.

Research Interest:  Victor is interested in how genetic variation leads to differences in processing and learning of environmental stimuli. His current work explores how differences in genetic strain among mice can result in different capacities for learning. By studying the relationship between genetic strain and behavior we hope to uncover specific molecules that confer different learning phenotypes and to determine how they are affecting network level function in brain regions like the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. More broadly, he is also passionate about increasing the diversity pool of students and professionals in science.


Wylie Stroberg
Ph.D., Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Northwestern University

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular & Integrative Physiology

Mentor: Santiago Schnell, Ph.D. 

Research Interest:  Using the tools of theoretical and computational biology, Wylie seeks to develop a mechanistic understanding of homeostasis and stress response in the endoplasmic reticulum. Of particular interest is determining the precise series of steps by which transmembrane proteins sense the concentration of unfolded protein within the ER lumen. The mathematical models allow for formulation of specific, experimentally-verifiable predictions, and facilitate perturbations the stress-sensing machinery that may not be feasible in a wet lab. 

Former Fellows

Jennifer Judge
Ph.D., Toxicology, University of Rochester
Current Position:  Regulatory Affairs Scientist at Cook Myosite