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Current Students

MS1 Students
Molly Nealon
Molly Nealon

Undergraduate Institution: DePaul University
Research: In my work under Dr. Elizabeth LeClair and Dr. Jacek Topczewski, I helped to create a zebrafish model of pediatric diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) by using the microinjection technique to complete CRISPR-Cas9 gene modification. I also worked on a project using zebrafish to model a missense mutation in the protein L-plastin which was suspected to cause neutropenia in a 5-year old patient.

MS2 Students
Elizabeth Demarco
Elisabeth DeMarco

Undergraduate Institution: Purdue University
Research: While working with Dr. Estuardo Robles, my undergraduate research characterized the normal development of dendritic spines in vivo using a transgenic zebrafish line and explored the use of this tool to model spine development in mutant models.

Regan McGuff
Reagan McGuffee

Undergraduate Institution: Millsaps College
Research: My undergraduate research was conducted in the lab of Dr. Wolfgang Kramer. The goal of the research was to synthesize photoactivatable N-alkoxy-substituted heteroaromatic compounds which could serve as both novel DNA-cleaving reagents and as photodynamic therapy (PDT) drug candidates to combat cancer. I am planning for a rotation in Dr. David Ford's lab this summer in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at SLU.

Lindsay (Lou) Vinarcsik
Lindsay (Lou) Vinarcsik

Undergraduate Institution: Cornell University
Research: My research began in a biomedical engineering lab studying Alzheimer's disease and transformed into an interdisciplinary project of conceptualizing care in and around biomedicine. Using the lenses of feminist and queer theory, science and technology studies, disability studies, and local medical anthropology, I explore the forces that create contradictions which embed themselves in the institution of modern medicine.

G1 Students
Stella Hoft
Stella Hoft

Undergraduate Institution: Pitzer College
Graduate Department: Molecular, Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Dr. Richard DiPaolo, Ph.D.
Research: Before matriculating into SLU’s M.D./Ph.D. program I completed a post-baccalaureate fellowship at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease under Dr. Daniel Barber, where we worked toward understanding the pulmonary CD4 T cell response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis in mouse, non-human primate, and human models. My Ph.D. work at SLU will be with Dr. Richard DiPaolo under the department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. I will be using single cell gene analysis to qualify the immune response against gastric Helicobacter pylori infection to better understand how this instigates metaplastic change in the gastric mucosa.

Robert Kousnetsov
Robert Kousnetsov

Undergraduate Institution: Santa Clara University
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Daniel Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D.
Research: I will be joining the Hawiger lab in the fall, where I plan to conduct research focused on the functions of dendritic cells and T cells in the regulation of immune responses.

Alexandar Piening
Alexander Piening

Undergraduate University: Rockhurst University
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Ryan Teague, Ph.D.
Research: One of the most recent developments in the field of cancer treatment has been the development of immunotherapies, biologic molecules that prime the immune system to specifically combat tumor cells. While checkpoint blockade immunotherapy has revolutionized cancer treatment, some patients still show no clinical response, and the mechanisms dictating therapeutic success remain largely unknown. My research in Dr. Teague’s lab broadly focuses on identifying various factors that influence responses to immune checkpoint blockade therapy. More specifically, we are interested in understanding how obesity and high fructose diet impact responses to anti-PD-1/CTLA-4/LAG-3 combination therapy using a B16 mouse melanoma model.

G2 Students
Monica Goodland
Monica Goodland

Undergraduate Institution: Missouri State University in Springfield
Graduate Department: Pharmacology and Physiology
Research Mentor: Susan Farr, Ph.D.
Research Interests: In our lab, we use the SAMP8 mouse model of Alzheimer's Disease to study the effects of various drugs on behavior and cognition with hopes to identify novel therapies for the debilitating disease. We also study traumatic brain injuries, chemotherapy induced cognitive impairment, and fronto-temporal lobar dementias in collaboration with other labs.
Research: Our lab studies many conditions that cause cognitive impairment including traumatic brain injury, depression, chemotherapy, diabetes, Frontotemporal dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. We use disease models to investigate the underlying causes of cognitive impairment and test potential drug compounds. I am interested in exploring the molecular links between traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer's disease, as many epidemiological studies have revealed TBI as a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's later in life. Understanding these disease processes and their similarities will be critical in developing effective targeted therapies for the millions of people affected.

Di (Andy) Wu
Di (Andy) Wu

Undergraduate Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Rajeev Aurora, Ph.D.
Research: My work in Dr. Rajeev Aurora’s lab focuses on osteoimmunology, which is the interplay between the skeletal and immune system. Ovariectomized (OVX) mice is a well characterized mice model for post-menopausal osteoporosis. Previous work in the lab has shown that osteoclasts (OC) can induced CD8+ regulatory T-cells (Tcreg), which has a bone anabolic effect in OVX mice. I am interested in how inflammation affects osteoblasts (OB) and how this contributes to bone loss in OVX mice. The goal is to identify cellular pathways that can be potential targets for new therapeutics.

G3 Students
Emily Cybulla
Emily Cybulla

Undergraduate Institution: Loyola University Chicago
Research Mentor: Alessandro Vindigni, Ph.D.
Graduate Department: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Research: Mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 confer an increased lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Clinically, BRCA-mutated cancers are susceptible to PolyADP-Ribose Polymerase inhibitors (PARPi) and platinum-based agents, but emerging PARPi resistance has become a critical challenge for treating these tumors. The Vindigni Lab is focused on characterizing DNA replication stress response and repair pathways that are activated by cancer cells upon treatment with DNA-damaging agents, with the ultimate goal of targeting these responses to improve chemotherapeutic efficacy. Our lab is also generally interested in topics encompassed by the fields of DNA replication and repair, genome stability, cancer biology, and precision cancer medicine. My specific work centers on elucidating the replication stress response mechanisms utilized by BRCA1-deficient breast and ovarian cancers. Moreover, I aim to determine whether targeting these pathways can improve chemoresponse in BRCA1-mutated cancers.

Zachary Grese
Zachary Grese

Undergraduate Institution: Marquette University
Graduate Department: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Research Mentor: Yuna Ayala, PhD.
Research Interests: Our research is focused on the RNA-binding protein TDP-43. TDP-43 forms cellular aggregates in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS and FTD. Using both in vitro and cellular models, I am investigating the role that RNA plays in maintaining the solubility of TDP-43. We hope to use insights from what we learn to help develop therapeutics for currently-incurable neurological disorders.


G4 Students
Jessica Bourque
Jessica Bourque

Undergraduate Institution: Stevens Institute of Technology
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Daniel Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D. 
Research: My research in the Hawiger lab focuses on elucidating the molecular mechanisms by which various dendritic cell (DC) subsets influence T cell responses. Previous work in our lab has shown how a particular subset of tolerogenic DCs promotes the differentiation of peripheral regulatory T (pTreg) cells that are protective against autoimmunity. I am interested in identifying and characterizing additional pathways utilized by specific populations of DCs and T cells that may potentially be targeted for the development of novel immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, autoimmunity, and infection.

Valerio Rasi
Valerio Rasi

Undergraduate Institution: University of Florida
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Dan Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.
Research: After taking a graduate level course in Immunology, I developed an interest in this subject. When I joined the M.D./Ph.D. program at Saint Louis University, I decided to look for a mentor in Immunology, who also had clinical expertise in this field. For my summer rotation, I have worked in Dr. Daniel Hoft's laboratory. Dr. Hoft conducts research on gamma delta T cells and their immunity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Dr. Hoft has previously shown that Granzyme A induces this immunity. My rotation's project was to purify this protein first, and then inspect the pathway in which Granzyme A induces macrophage activation and Mycobacterium tuberculosis clearance. 


G5 Students
meghan murray
Meghan Murray

Undergraduate Institution: Saint Louis University
Department: Pharmacology and Physiology
Mentor: Tom Burris, Ph.D.
Research: The Burris lab is focused on using chemical biology approaches to characterize the physiological roles of nuclear receptors.  The lab also develops drugs targeting nuclear receptors for the treatment of diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, liver diseases, muscular dystrophy, autism, Alzheimer's disease, and more. One particular area of concentration is identifying the ligands for a group of these nuclear receptors known as orphans. The “hormones” that bind to these orphan receptors have yet to be discovered.

M3 Students
Michelle Bach, Ph.D.
Michelle Bach, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: Agnes Scott College
Graduate Department: Health Care Ethics
Mentor: Jeffery Bishop, M.D., Ph.D. 
Research: My work focuses on using insights from philosophy of science, feminist bioethics, and theology to explore topics in psychiatric ethics such as personality disorders and violence. 

Kevin Bockerstett, Ph.D.
Kevin Bockerstett, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: Spring Hill College
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology and Immunology
Research Mentor: Rich DiPaolo, Ph.D.
Research: Gastric cancer is the 5 th most common cancer and 3 rd leading cause of cancer-related death in the world. While chronic inflammation is strongly associated with the development of gastric cancer, the mechanism of this relationship is poorly understood. My goal is to define how cytokines produced by the immune system during the inflammatory response, such as interferon gamma and interleukin 17A, influence carcinogenesis. To date, I have found that the gastric epithelium expresses the receptors for certain immune cytokines that these cytokines are critical for cancer development in vivo, suggesting an unexplored direct effect of the immune system on the gastric epithelium that potentiates  cancer development. It is my hope that a better understanding of this interaction between the immune system and the stomach will provide new insight into gastric cancer development and create new areas of investigation for diagnosis and therapies.

Stephen Grote
Stephen Grote, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: Purdue University 
Graduate Department: Pharmacology and Physiology
Research Mentor: Gina Yosten, Ph.D.
Research: I am investigating the role of C-peptide in the health and metabolism of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). The RPE is integral to the retina and its pathology may be important to the development of diabetic retinopathy. C-peptide is cleaved from the proinsulin molecule and released with insulin from the β cell, but its biological function is poorly understood. With the identification of a putative C-peptide receptor  GPR146) in our lab, I am also looking to determine the interactions and function C-peptide has with its responsive tissues, in particular RPE cells.

Daniel Pike
Daniel Pike, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: Saint Louis University
Graduate Department: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Research Mentor: David Ford, Ph.D.
Research: I just finished up my graduate student years in Dr. Ford's lab, and I successfully defended my dissertation research in April 2020. My work was focused on developing a rat model of sepsis to further study the production, metabolism, and bioactivity of neutrophil-derived chlorinated lipids. I had a great and fruitful experience in the lab, but I'm excited to get back to the clinical rotations in MS3!

Nickolas Steinauer
Nickolas Steinauer, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: Saint Louis University
Graduate Department: Pharmacology and Physiology
Research Mentor: Jinsong Zhang, Ph.D.
Research: Our lab is interested in the mechanisms by which leukemia fusion proteins alter the transcriptome of hematopoietic cells to induce a leukemic state. Of particular interest to us is the t(8;21) translocation and the aberrant transcription factor produced by this translocation, AML1-ETO. By studying the transcriptional corepressors, coactivators, and epigenetic modulators that bind to AML1-ETO and allow it to both activate and repress specific genes, we hope to uncover potential interactions for targeted therapy. 

M4 Students
Catherine Cai
 Catherine Cai, Ph.D.

Undergraduate Institution: Emory University (Atlanta, GA)
Graduate Department: Molecular Microbiology & Immunology
Research Mentor: Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.
Research: My research seeks to understand the factors that drive protective immunity versus immunopathology during Trypanosoma cruzi infection. Chronic T. cruzi infection results in Chagas disease, a major infectious cause of heart failure. We recently discovered that CD4+ Th17 cells are highly protective against T. cruzi infection and characterized the mechanisms of protection. Ongoing work involves studying the role of Th17 cells in T. cruzi-related cardiac pathology. Broadly speaking, my research interests lie in immunology, infectious diseases, global public health and vaccine development.

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