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Education / Doctoral & Masters Education / PREP Program / PREP Research Areas & Mentors

Research areas

Virtual Biomedical Research Day

Scholars match with their faculty mentor based on individual research interests. As the mentors come from 12 different departments/divisions at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine (UC) and the adjacent Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), individual PREP Scholars can choose from a wide array of research projects. Areas of research include, but are not limited to, cancer biology, cardiovascular biology, environmental health, immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, neurobiology, signal transduction and stem cell and developmental biology.


*These mentors have labs on our Reading Campus so you will need your own transportation to travel between the Medical Center Campus and the Reading campus.

Tom Cunningham, Assistant Professor, Department of Cancer Biology, UC

Dr. Cunningham's laboratory aims to decipher the molecular mechanisms that underlie the re-wiring of cellular metabolism during cancer development and progression. The lab uses cell biology, mouse genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology to uncover novel exploitable targets to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

*Sean Davidson, Professor, Department of Pathology, UC

Dr Davidson studies the mechanism by which the body protects itself from heart disease. The lab uses mutagenesis and spectroscopic techniques to study the structure/function of particles that move fat around in the circulation.

Steve Davidson, Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, UC

Dr Davidson investigates the neurobiology of somatosensation with and emphasis on pain and itch. Projects aim to dissect central neural circuits involved in the sensory, emotional, and motivational aspects of pain, as well as the peripheral neural plasticity that occurs after injury. We use neurophysiology, gene and protein assays, imaging, and behavioral approaches to understand nervous system function and to identify new therapeutic avenues.

Kevin Haworth, Associate Professor, Division of Cardiovascular Health and Diseases, UC

Dr Haworth seeks to develop new uses of ultrasound for both medical imaging and biotherapies. The interaction between ultrasound and nanodroplets or microbubbles is a key theme behind a wide variety of applications that are under study, including drug delivery, blood-brain-barrier opening, and cardioprotection. His laboratory uses techniques ranging from programming to ex vivo and in vivo disease models.

Ying Xia, Professor, Department of Environmental Health, UC

Dr. Xia investigates how gene mutations increase the susceptibility of environmental chemical exposure in developmental diseases. The lab uses mouse genetics and molecular biological tools and focuses on the embryonic development of the eye and reproductive tract. The long-term goal is to identify genetic risks of chemical exposure in birth defects and understand the molecular pathways underlying the gene-environment interactions.

Karthickeyan Chella Krishnan, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC

Dr. Chella Krishnan's lab focus is to understand how host genetic background and sex differences influence the mitochondrial (dys)function and increases the susceptibility to several cardiometabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart hypertrophy and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Tesfaye Mersha, Associate Professor, Division of Allergy, CCHMC

Dr. Mersha’s research combines quantitative, ancestry and statistical genomics to unravel genetic and non-genetic contributions to complex diseases and racial disparities in human populations, particularly asthma and asthma-related allergic disorders. His research is at the interface of genetic ancestry, statistics, bioinformatics, and functional genomics.

William Miller, Professor, Dept. Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology, UC

Dr. Miller studies how microbial pathogens manipulate host cell signal transduction. He uses cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Bordetella pertussis to examine how pathogens alter signaling directed by G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). The CMV project explores how membrane proximal events regulate CMV encoded GPCRs and the impact the viral GPCRs have on pathogenesis.

*Teresa Reyes, Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC

Dr. Reyes's lab is interested in how early life environment can shape the brain and cognition. A broad range of environmental factors are studied, including maternal diet, stress, and exposure to chemotherapy or drugs of abuse. Experimental approaches include advanced behavioral tasks to evaluate executive function coupled with gene expression analyses (targeted and genome-wide). Neuroimmune interactions are an area of particular focus.

Sakthivel SadayappanProfessor, Division of Cariology, Dept. Internal Medicine, UC

Dr. Sadayappan studies the causes of muscle-specific diseases and seeks to identify therapeutic targets that will lead to the development of cures. He focuses on the regulators of sarcomere structure and specific goals include identifying cardiac-specific biomarkers, restoring sarcomere structure and function, and identifying compounds to improve sarcomere function after injury.

Debora Sinner, Assistant Professor, Division Neonatology and Pulmonary Biology, CCHMC

Dr. Sinner studies the patterning of respiratory tract development and it relevance to congenital disease. She seeks to understand how cartilage and muscle of the trachea are specified by the Wnt signaling pathway and how abnormal signaling leads to tracheal malformations. Her studies make use of transgenic mice, ex vivo culture systems, and live imaging of embryonic tracheal tissue.

Susan Waltz, Professor, Department of Cancer Biology, UC

Dr. Waltz studies the molecular mechanisms by which cell-surface receptor tyrosine kinases and growth factors regulate cancer growth and metastasis, and inflammation. Her lab is particularly interested in how the Ron receptor tyrosine kinase induces aggressive and highly metastatic breast cancers and in how RON contributes to the growth of prostate cancers.

Nurit Azouz, Assistant Professor, Division of Allergy and Immunology, CCHMC

Dr. Azouz specializes in basic and translational research aiming to identify the role of proteases and protease inhibitors during health and disease. Dr. Azouz's lab demonstrated that the balance between proteases and protease inhibitors is important in preserving the homeostasis in the esophagus and skin and alteration of this balance may lead to the development of allergic diseases including food allergy and atopic dermatitis and infectious diseases including COVID-19.

James Wells, Professor, Division of Developmental Biology Endocrinology, Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine, CCHMC

Dr. Wells studies embryonic development of endocrine cells from the pancreas and the gastrointestinal tract. Projects include: identification and use of embryonic pathways to generate organ tissues from pluripotent stem cells. Use of these tissues to develop new in vitro models for diabetes and digestive disease research. Developing strategies for tissue-replacement therapies.

*Eric Wohleb, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC

Dr Wohleb studies how the immune system and the nervous system interact and how these interactions regulate behavior and cognition. He seeks to understand how brain-resident immune cells (microglia) shape synaptic function and behavior in physiological and pathological contexts. Techniques used include flow cytometry and cell sorting, cell type-specific molecular analyses (RNA-Seq), viral mediated genetic and pharmacological manipulations, and confocal microscopy.

Aaron Zorn, Professor, Division of Developmental Biology, CCHMC Dr. Zorn's studies the embryonic development of the lung, liver, pancreas, and gastrointestinal tract using animal models, human pluripotent stem cells, and human organoids (organ tissue grown in a dish). By investigating the genetic pathways underlying organ formation, the lab seeks to understand congenital diseases and to generate tissue for regenerative medicine.

Senad Divanovic, Associate Professor, Division of Immunology, CCHMC

Dr. Divanovic focuses on the role of immune response in inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic diseases. The overall goal of his research program is to define the fundamental processes, mechanisms and immune pathways underlying disease pathogenesis, with an ultimate goal of translational exploitation of such insights for eliminating/reducing burdens of inflammation-associated diseases.

Katherine Vest, Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, UC

Dr. Vest studies the fundamental regulatory mechanisms that govern fluctuating cell metabolism. One major area of interest is understanding how cells control and distribute trace metal nutrients that function as essential cofactors in mitochondrial metabolism, cell signaling, and tissue development and regeneration. Other areas of focus include understanding how gene regulation and mitochondrial metabolism are impaired in a late onset muscular dystrophy that is caused by small expansions in an RNA binding protein, PABPN1.

Chen Gao, Professor, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC

Dr. Gao focuses on uncovering novel molecular mechanisms for pathogenesis of cardiac diseases, including cardiac hypertrophy, remodeling and dysfunction. The lab utilizes state-of-the-art molecular, genomic and genetic tools to discover and interrogate key molecules involved in the understudied post-transcriptional processes in RNA metabolism in cardiac tissues under physiological and pathological states. Ultimately, the lab aims to develop novel therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for heart failure and cardiometabolic diseases.

Konstantinos Drosatos, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC

Dr. Drosatos' research focuses on signaling mechanisms that link cardiac stress in diabetes, sepsis and ischemia with altered myocardial and systemic fatty acid metabolism. His lab is pursuing studies in sepsis patients aiming to identify echocardiography markers for early assessment of high probability of mortality. Furthermore, they do screening of chemical libraries for identifying new drugs for sepsis.

Jayme McReynolds, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC

The McReynolds lab is interested in identifying the neurobiological mechanisms by which chronic stress promotes or influences pathological brain states and behavior, with a particular focus on addiction. The lab uses rodent drug self-administration models to identify the neurobiological mechanisms by which repeated stress contributes to cocaine-taking and cocaine-seeking behavior. The lab uses a combination of behavioral, pharmacological, molecular, and physiological approaches to address these questions.

Anne SlavotinekProfessor, Department of Pediatrics, UC

The Slavotinek lab interested in studying the genetic etiology of rare diseases and developmental eye defects. The lab uses whole genome sequencing to obtain genomic data on patients with neurocognitive disorders, anomalies, and eye defects. They use zebrafish as an animal model and CRISPR/Cas9 to model their genetic findings and study the phenotype and gene expression in the fish to gain insights into the human conditions. They have characterized rare disorders and made animal models of lens defects.

Jessica WooProfessor with Tenure,UC Department of Pediatrics, CCHMC Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology

The Woo’s lab goal is to understand the causes and short- and long-term consequences of childhood obesity and metabolic dysregulation. Childhood obesity is multifactorial, so the Woo Lab leverages both large-scale epidemiologic cohort data and detailed assessments of biochemical, social, and genetic factors related to growth and development. Areas of particular interest in childhood include longitudinal growth trajectories, early nutrition, and infant-caregiver interactions. Long-term/adult cardiovascular risk from childhood measurements is a major focus on this lab, as well, as a key component of the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort (i3C) Consortium.

Judith DexheimerAssociate Professor, Co-Director Biomedical Informatics PhD Program, CCHMC

As a trained informaticist, Dr. Dexheimer’s research focuses on machine learning, natural language processing, and integrating informatics into clinical care. The ultimate goal of her research is to harness technology to improve healthcare delivery and the quality of care for children. Research interests include machine learning (ML), decision support, personal health records and multi-center informatics implementations. The lab goals are to improve disease detection, especially earlier disease detection, for patients with a long history of illness. I want to provide technology and healthcare information to underserved populations, improve care delivery and help providers use the computer as a tool that incorporates ML directly into clinical care.

Kohta IkegamiAssistant Professor, Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology, CCHMC

The Ikegami lab is interested in everything about the cell nucleus, including how genes are regulated in the nucleus and how nuclear envelope damages cause human disease. Their research focuses on a type of heart disease called “dilated cardiomyopathy” caused by gene mutations affecting nucleus structures. The Ikegami Lab uses various research techniques, including mouse disease models, genomics, microscopy, heart physiological analyses, and bioinformatics. Their goal is to discover new ways to correct abnormal nucleus structures and functions to treat human diseases affected by nucleus abnormalities.

Mark Baccei, Professor, Division of Anesthesiology, UC

The major goals of the Baccei Lab are to: (1) elucidate the neurobiological basis of pediatric pain; and (2) identify the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which early life adversity can persistently alter pain sensitivity throughout development. A main focus of the lab is the superficial dorsal horn (SDH) of the spinal cord, which is the first site in the central nervous system where nociceptive signals are integrated and amplified before being transmitted to the brain where pain perception ultimately emerges. To better understand the postnatal maturation of the SDH synaptic network under normal and pathological conditions, they employ a multidisciplinary experimental approach including ex vivo electrophysiology, optogenetics, in situ hybridization, RNA-sequencing, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, and behavioral assays of pain sensitivity in developing mice.

Nina GrossAssociate Professor, Division of Neurology, CCHMC

The Gross Lab is interested in the molecular mechanisms contributing to neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and epilepsy. One research focus is to understand how microRNAs are altered in genetic and acquired epilepsy disorders and if they can be used as therapeutic targets for these disorders. The second focus is cellular signaling pathways, which are altered in many different forms of autism and epilepsy. For this project, the lab works closely with clinicians and other scientists at CCHMC to test how human mutations in genes within these signaling pathways affect phenotypes seen in the associated diseases. They use mouse models and primary mouse neurons, molecular and cellular assays as well as EEG recordings and behavioral assays in living mice to investigate these topics.

Nives ZimmermannAssociate Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UC

The lab focuses on researching eosinophilic diseases, which include allergic diseases such as asthma, as well as parasitic infestation, eosinophilic gastrointestinal diseases and rare eosinophilic leukemias. The lab's goal is to learn the mechanisms that cause this damage. Currently, they focused on understanding the molecular mechanism of eosinophil survival and death that lead to this damage. One thing in common of all situations with hypereosinophilia is that they cause heart damage, which tends to be the main cause of morbidity and mortality in patients. Thus, they have a model of eosinophilic heart disease in which they are studying the mechanisms of eosinophil-induced damage. The Zimmermann Lab use a spectrum of approaches, from in vitro cell biology and immunology, mouse modeling to patient-centered studies.

Michael JankowskiAssociate Professor, Department Anesthesiology, UC

The lab is interested in better understanding distinct aspects of somatosensory processing across the lifespan. We have a particular interest in nociceptive processing and how early life injuries influence pain perception later in life. The lab also studies how non-neuronal cells including peripheral glia and immune cells modulate nociception under different injury or disease related conditions.  Research is designed to develop better ways to treat pain in children.

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