Faculty & Postdoctoral Mentors 2019-2020

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Dr. Jonathan Conway, PhD, Chemical Engineering

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Biology

Research Field: Plant-Microbe Interactions, Plant Microbiome, Bacterial Genetics and Engineering

My current research focuses on the ways that the microorganisms in, on, and around plants (the plant microbiome) affect the growth and health of their plant hosts.  Interactions between microbes and the plants they colonize can lead to positive effects (increased root network size, improved yield, etc.) or negative effects (stunted growth, plant death, etc.). I am specifically focused on defining the genes in bacteria that are responsible for causing plant-microbe interactions of interest. By using molecular biology tools we can manipulate bacterial genomes to show which genes are involved in these interactions and demonstrate how these genes work together to form biochemical pathways. By understanding which bacterial genes and biochemical pathways cause beneficial plant-microbe interactions we can begin to engineer bacteria that provide beneficial outcomes to plants. The long term goal of this research is to apply our understanding of plant-microbe interactions to improve crop health and yield in the agriculture industry

Dr. Carolina Garrido, PhD, Molecular Biology

Position: Research Instructor

Dept/Inst/Center: Medicine

Research Field: HIV eradication, Immunotherapies, Virus-Host interaction, Immunology of infections

I work as part of the UNC HIV Cure Center, and as the name says, our effort goes to achieve a cure for HIV infection. Nowadays, HIV infection can be chronic thanks to the use of antiretroviral drugs, which reduce viral replication to undetectable levels, and infected people can live a normal life. However, the moment the medication is interrupted, the virus restart replicating and opportunistic infections will likely happen. Thus, achieving a cure for HIV infection is still a much desired goal. In particular, my research is directed towards the enhancement of the immune system so we are better prepared to recognize and clear HIV infected cells when they show up. There are different ways to attain this immune boosting: through the use of antibodies, stimulation protocols with molecules like cytokines, genetic engineering to promote the expression of specific proteins in the immune cells, etc. We evaluate all of this different approaches and try to combine them to develop a “super immune system” ready to end with HIV.

Dr. Jessica Hoffman, PhD, Psychology

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies

Research Field: Neuroscience of addiction, with a focus on alcohol addiction

My research centers around understanding how alcohol and drugs of abuse change the brain and behavior. I work with my colleagues to find specific proteins in the brain and conduct experiments to understand how each contributes to the development and maintenance of addiction. In our lab, we use mouse models of alcohol addiction that allow us to control all aspects of the experiment, and eventually this information is used by clinical researchers and therapists.  Understanding how the brain changes as a person becomes addicted to a substance like alcohol allows us to find new ways to treat addiction.

Dr. Tamera Hughes, PhD, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Doctorate, Pharmacy

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: School of Pharmacy Practice Advancement and clinical education

Research Field: Community pharmacy practice advancement, Opioid and benzodiazepine deprescribing, Implementation sciences

With my research I am interested in finding ways that community pharmacies can be better.  Pharmacists are experts in medicine and also interact with patients more than their doctor.  Therefore, we are interested in becoming more involved in our patient’s health.  In order to do so, we must create services that are practical and useful.  I study how difficult or easy it might be for community pharmacies to perform clinical services.  I also assist with creating tools that help community pharmacists better service their patients.

Dr. Prateek Jain, PhD, Biotechnology

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Biology

Research Field: Plant Science – Seed development and stress biology

I am a plant biologist and trying to explore the novel ways that will help to increase the yield and productivity. In the future, there might be a chance that a layer of the pollutant will form over the atmosphere and restricts the availability of sunlight to plants. To counter this, the application of the light regulated proteins (optogenetis) have an edge that will help plants to sustain under the stress condition and eventually increases the yield. Further, development of the seedless (parthenocarpic) fruits will support higher yield even in the absence of the cross-pollinators and presence of other developmental defects. My research aims is to understand the seed developmental for the development of parthenocarpic fruits and to explore the synthetic biology approach using the optogenetic tools to regulate the closing and opening of stomata.

Dr. Stefan Metz, PhD, Virology

Position: Research Assistant Professor

Dept/Inst/Center: Microbiology and Immunology

Research Field: Vaccine development against dengue virus and zika virus infections

My research focuses on the development of a new vaccine platform against dengue virus and Zika virus infections. Approximately 400 million people get infected yearly by these mosquito-borne viruses, with potentially severe and fatal outcome. Our vaccine platform is different from other strategies of vaccination, since we only focus on the proteins that are the natural target of the immune response. Instead of using whole live virus formulations, we attach the envelope protein of these viruses to nanoparticle surfaces in such a way that we can recreate the complex protein organization that if found on the virus particle. Additionally, we are developing new tools to get a better understanding of the immune responses that are induced after virus infections, and we use this information to optimize our nanoparticle vaccine platform.

Dr. Kara Moser, PhD, Molecular Epidemiology

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases

Research Field: Infectious Disease Genomic & Genetic Epidemiology

My current research focuses on how we can use next-generation sequencing technologies to enhance infectious disease research. The breakneck pace of sequencing technology development has left in its wake a vast resource of genetic and genomic data, and the enormous scale of available sequences (and required resources for analysis) present daunting challenges on how to efficiently incorporate these data into sound epidemiologic studies. With a little bit of work, epidemiology and sequencing data make a powerful pair in our fight against infectious diseases. I primarily study members of the genus Plasmodium that infect humans; these parasites are important public health pathogens that causes several hundred million cases of malaria every year. I use genomic and genetic data generated from sequencing to conduct population genetic analyses of parasites collected from different studies and regions of malaria endemicity. Interventions can leave distinct marks on the parasite genome, and this information can be invaluable to malaria control programs looking to plan interventions, or assess the effectiveness of public health programs designed for malaria control or elimination.

Dr. Thuy Nguyen, PhD, Clinical Virology

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, and the Center for AIDS Research

Research Field: Medical Biology, Molecular biology and Animal models

The HIV/AIDS has become the greatest concern in global healthcare with more than 70 million people infected with the HIV and about 35 million deaths due to AIDS-related illnesses. The HIV-reservoir is early established within the first few weeks of infection and remains stable during the course of infection. Current antiretroviral therapy reduces the HIV viremia to an undetectable level but still fails to clear the HIV-reservoir, demonstrated by a rapid viral rebound after treatment cessation. My research is focused on 1) Understanding how the HIV-reservoir is established and maintained in different anatomical sites and tissues throughout the body and 2) Finding a cure for HIV by using animal models to evaluate new HIV cure strategies.

Dr. Laura Ornelas, PhD, Psychology

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies (Depts. Psychiatry and Neuroscience)

Research Field: Neuroscience of Stress and Addiction

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. I am working on developing an animal model to understand how experiencing traumatic stress can increase alcohol drinking and the brain regions that may underlie this increased susceptibility. My second area of research examines the long-lasting consequences of prenatal alcohol and cannabinoid exposure. Understanding these enduring changes in brain and behavior can further educate individuals on the risk factors of prenatal drug use.

Dr. Jenny Perry, PhD, Pathobiology

Position: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dept/Inst/Center: Biology

Research Field: Cell and Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Many cancers form tumors that are comprised of cells that are irregularly shaped. These cells also acquire behaviors like invasiveness or cell motility that can cause the cancer to spread from its primary location. One reason why cancerous cells have irregular shape is due to mutations in the cell’s cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton of the cell is a dynamic network of protein filaments that gives the cell its shape and internal organization, in addition to helping the cell move and divide.  I use the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to study how cytoskeletal mutations change cell shape and tissue organization during the course of cancer initiation and progression.

Dr. Grace Shearer, PhD, Nutritional Science

Position: Assistant Professor, Nutrition

Dept/Inst/Center: Nutritional Science

Research Field: Cognitive nutritional science

My research using magnetic resonance imaging to explore why we eat what we eat and how what we eat makes us think and feel. I mostly work with children to see how sugary foods effects the brain and the body. My research goal is to understand why people overeat and how to change eating behaviors for healthy lifestyles.

Dr. Margeaux Wetendorf, PhD, Molecular Biology

Position: Post-Doctoral Trainee

Dept/Inst/Center: Cell Biology and Physiology

Research Field: Female Reproductive Biology

My research focuses on the factors that coordinate a successful pregnancy and delivery of a healthy baby. Early pregnancy begins by the appropriate attachment of the embryo to the uterine surface. After growth of the embryo, the placenta develops, supplying necessary nutrients and gas-exchange to the fetus. I investigate the required molecular targets needed for these processes and I also aim to understand how environmental factors and tobacco products including e-cigarettes affect embryo attachment and the progression of pregnancy. Results from my work can help women struggling to become pregnant or having difficulty maintaining a pregnancy.

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