MSP Available Mentors
Alpesh Amin MD, MBA, MACP, SFHM, FACC
Chair of Medicine and Professor & Executive Director, Hospitalist Program, Department of Medicine
Dr. Amin is an internationally recognized leader in the field of hospital medicine. He pioneered one of the nation’s first hospitalist programs in 1998 at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) Medical Center. Dr. Amin does research in the field of Hospital Medicine identifying the gap and need for hospitalist, the opportunities and advantages that hospitalist contribute to the health care system and the competencies needed by training and practicing hospitalists that is used worldwide. Dr. Amin is also an expert in implementation science and does projects that facilitates care redesign to improve quality/safety of patient care and operational efficiencies to improve healthcare outcomes. He designs and implements projects that facilitate care redesign, and studies the outcomes of improvement. Dr. Amin also has developed apps and technology to improve care deliver and studies the value and outcomes of these technologies. Dr. Amin also does research in in the field of venous thromboembolism (VTE) identifying the quality gaps that exist with appropriate VTE prevention, supporting the Joint Commissions core measures for VTE prevention nationally and preventing hospital acquired VTE. He works on strategies and outcomes to improve VTE prevention that are used in healthcare settings. the field of anticoagulation specifically looking appropriate utilization of anticoagulation, novel oral anticoagulants and pharmacoeconomics of anticoagulation therapy in venous thromboembolism and atrial fibrillation. He also is an investigator on clinical trials in anticoagulation and other areas.
Aileen Anderson, PhD
Professor, Departments of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, Anatomy & Neurobiology, and Neurological Surgery
Research in my laboratory is a combination of discovery biology and identifying translational neuroscience strategies for spinal cord injury and central nervous system disease. Pre-clinical and translational work from my laboratory has directly supported an IND filing for an FDA approved phase I trial of human neural stem cells in the myelination disorder, Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease (PMD), and a phase I/II clinical trial for human neural stem cells in thoracic spinal cord injury (SCI), for which enrollment has recently been completed. These translational milestones reflect over fifteen years of work from my laboratory on human-derived stem cell populations and spinal cord injury mechanisms. In these studies, we have sought to investigate the intrinsic and extrinsic factors defining the migration and differentiation potential of these cells both in vitro and after transplantation into the spinal cord. In parallel, we have sought to investigate non-traditional roles for the innate inflammatory system in both the pathophysiology of spinal cord injury, mechanisms controlling stem cell fate and migration, and potential for implanted biomaterial scaffolds to provide an environment supporting robust axonal regeneration. Our recent work has demonstrated the first evidence in the field for regeneration of the corticospinal tract (CST) not only into a biomaterial bridge, but through that bridge to exit and reenter the caudal spared parenchyma; re-entry of regenerating axons in this model was associated with recovery of locomotor function.
Amal Alachkar, PhD
Associate Adjunct Professor, Pharmacology
Project 1: Postpartum depression is a prevalent mood disorder, and subjects to critical regulation of neural systems. Current treatment strategies for pathological postpartum depression are unsatisfactory, in part because the neural mechanisms are not addressed. Melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH)-producing neurons are known to regulate a wide variety of physiological functions such as feeding, reward, anxiety and depression. More recently they have gained importance in regulating maternal behaviors. Thus we use newly developed approaches of genetic cell targeting and manipulation to examine the direct implication of MCH neurons in regulating maternal care and postpartum depression-related behaviors in the mouse. Specifically, my work focuses on testing the hypothesis that functional activation of the MCH system is required for both the initiation of maternal behaviors during early postpartum period, and for maintenance of late postpartum maternal behaviors. The findings of our work will provide critical new insight on distinct functions of different MCH systems related to maternal behavior and postpartum depression, and will provide a strong basis for further mechanistic studies of the MCH systems in relation to material care and postpartum depression-like behaviors. Project 2: Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are mental disorders that are difficult to manage and that show a high degree of sexual dimorphism, affecting four times more males than females. Oxytocin (OT) can, to a certain extent, reduce the ritualistic/repetitive behaviors and improve social interaction behavioral deficits found in ASD but its effect in humans is still debated. Better drugs are needed. We have found that to regulate deficits in animal models of ASD, OT may act through another neuropeptide system, the melanin concentrating hormone (MCH) system. We study the interaction between the oxytocin and MCH system in regulating behaviors related to autism. We study whether the MCH system could serve as a target for anti-ASD drugs. What makes this study even more interesting is that we also found that the MCH system acts in a sex dependent manner.
Andrew Browne, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology
Dr. Browne conducts cross disciplinary basic and translational research drawing on his background in Electrical Engineering and Ophthalmology. His work focuses on a few core areas which have a significant amount of overlap. While his research is largely targeted to vision science, he remains open to conducting research pertinent to any living system.
- Retinal Transplantation in Rats with hereditary retinal dystrophy – Dr. Browne is collaborating with the Laboratory of Dr. Magdalene Seiler in a preclinical study investigating transplantation of stem cell derived retinal organoids into blind rats, and measuring visual recovery.
- Non-invasive monitoring of tissue metabolism using Multiphoton Microscopy – Laser microscopy now offers the ability to measure tissue function (not just structure) in a manner that is similar to the tricorder in Star Trek. We are using two-photon microscopy to evaluate metabolic changes that occur in retinal tissues in the context of hypoxia, hypothermia, and under light exposure. Several techniques we are using include Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy (FLIM), Hyperspectral Imaging, and dual wavelength two-photon excitation microscopy.
- Retina-on-a-chip - Micro-manufacturing processes that were originally developed for semiconductor (computer) manufacturing are adapted to creating chips with capillary-sized channels that handle and manipulate fluids. This can be used to conduct any known clinical laboratory test, on a fraction of the volume of fluid and much more rapidly. Dr. Browne uses rapid prototyping tools (3D printers and polymer lithography) to create custom microfluidic tools. His group is actively developing a microfluidic tool to autonomously “manufacture” retinal tissues which may be used for retinal-transplantation and basic science investigation.
- Advanced Imaging Modalities for the developing world – Dr. Browne’s retina practice utilizes a variety of ophthalmic imaging technologies based on confocal laser scanning microscopes and photography. We are developing a new generation of portable tools with the goal to enable advanced imaging in the developing world. This past summer he worked with a team of medical students who went to Panama to capture standard photography of the eye to screen for eye disease. In future years he hopes to implement increasingly more sophisticated tools (not more expensive) in this mission.
- Radiation Toxicity – Ionizing radiation affects all tissues in the body, and very prominently it affects microvasculature as well as neurological tissue. The retina is a unique tissue because it provides an opportunity to directly investigate Dr. Browne has an interest in investigating mechanisms and prevention of radiation toxicity.
Heike Thiel de Bocanegra, MD, PhD
Director, Family Planning Research Program, Obstetrics and Gynecology
The Family Planning Division at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, Irvine conducts several research and quality improvement studies to assess quality of care and effectiveness of interventions. Medical students could participate or develop complementary programs around the following activities:
1. Developing a pilot project on linking domestic violence programs with family planning services and evaluating its impact
This initiative is a follow up to the June 2, 2017 symposium on "Intimate Partner Violence, Reproductive Coercion, and Family Planning", sponsored by the UCI Initiative to End Family Violence.
2. Assessment of childbearing intention and contraceptive preferences in refugee women in Southern California
This initiative involves several UC campuses (UC San Diego, UC San Francisco and UC Irvine) and involves currently the implementation of pregnancy intention questions and need for contraception at refugee resettlement agencies
3. Adapting the IMPLICIT model to UCI: Training family medicine physicians to screen women for contraceptive needs and depression during well-baby visits
See the Implicit model (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940465/)
Karina Cramer, PhD
Professor, Neurobiology & Behavior
Our research addresses the formation of neural circuits during normal development and in neurodevelopmental disorders. We are also investigating plasticity in neural circuits after injury. Our focus in on central auditory pathways, where highly precise connectivity contributes to sound localization pathways. We are currently studying the roles of glial cells in auditory circuit assembly. We found that astrocytes contribute to synaptogenesis in an important inhibitory pathway, and that they help shape dendritic morphology, which is important for the function of auditory neurons. We found that astrocytes and microglia surround specialized axon terminations, both during normal development and during lesion-induced plasticity. We are currently expanding our study of the roles of microglia in the development of auditory brainstem circuits. A recent discovery in our laboratory has led to a new area of study. We found that caspase-3, normally thought to be associated with cell death, displays an intriguing expression pattern during development. It is seen in axons and its expression ascends the auditory brainstem pathways coincident with synaptogenesis in this system. Inhibition of caspase-3 led to errors in nucleogenesis and axon targeting. We are exploring the mechanisms of caspase-3 function in this system.
Angela Fleischman, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology/Oncology
The Fleischman lab studies the pathogenesis of myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN), a chronic hematologic malignancy characterized by excessive production of myeloid cells, high inflammatory cytokines, bone marrow fibrosis, and in some cases progression to acute leukemia. Specifically, we focus on chronic inflammation as a driver of MPN disease initiation and progression. We use mouse MPN models and primary MPN patient samples as our primary research tools. We are currently utilizing patient samples to identify the mechanism that drives excessive inflammatory cytokine production in MPN. We utilize mouse MPN models to identify how MPN mutant hematopoietic stem cells respond differently to inflammatory stimuli as compared to normal hematopoietic stem cells. We are also developing interventional trials in MPN patients utilizing diet to reduce inflammation.
Michelle Fortier, PhD
Associate Professor, School of Nursing
he UCI Center on Stress & Health (UCI CSH) is a multi-disciplinary research team dedicated to changing current practice in health care to better assist children and families manage pain, anxiety and stress surrounding the medical environment and disease burden. UCI CSH has several on-going applied behavioral research studies being conducted in perioperative and oncology medical settings. Current studies include: An Innovative Tailored Intervention for Improving Children's Postoperative Recovery
The aims of this study are to develop and evaluate the efficacy of an interactive mHealth preparation program, WebTIPS, to reduce parent/child anxiety during the perioperative process. This program will provide detailed information for parents about surgical procedures and postoperative pain management. It will also develop a personalized plan for alleviating anxiety and pain, taking into account other medical and psychological factors, such as the parents' coping and caring skills.
Innovative pain and symptom management program for children with cancer
Pain Buddy is a mobile symptom management program for children undergoing outpatient cancer treatment. This program asks children questions about their pain and symptoms through a 3D avatar and allows children to communicate that information directly to their healthcare providers. Additionally, this program includes a cognitive and behavioral skills training for pain management. The current trial will examine the efficacy of Pain Buddy on decreasing symptom severity and improving quality of life in children with cancer. Health Care Disparities
The impact of ethnicity and culture on the experience of pain in children represents a vital topic of multi-disciplinary and community based research at CSH. Cultural influences on pain expression and pain management have been neglected in the pediatric literature and are a main focus of CSH.
1. Children impacted by Cancer in the Latino Community
Our center has initiated a community based participatory research program focusing on the development of an intervention to reduce disparities in pain, symptoms and quality of life in low income Latino children and their families during cancer treatment.
2. The Triple Aim Approach for Low Income Minority Children Undergoing Surgery
Through community based participatory research the center in collaboration with key stakeholders identified multiple individual, health system, and community barriers for the management of anxiety and pain in low income Mexican American children undergoing surgery. Using this information, we aim to culturally tailor a previously developed mHealth intervention, WebTIPS.
Don Forthal, MD
Division Chief, Infectious Disease
Research in the Forthal laboratory focuses on interactions between antibodies and receptors for antibodies, known as Fc receptors, that are found on a variety of cells. In particular we study antibodies directed against HIV and dengue virus and determine the consequences of those antibodies on virus infection after engagement of the Fc receptors. The overall objective of our research is to develop safe and effective vaccines.
Jay Gargus, PhD
Professor and Director of Center for Autism Research and Translation (UCI CART), Pediatric
There are two major research thrusts on-going in the Gargus lab. The first is broadly a functional genomics approach to ion pumps and channels as candidate genes in common complex polygenic disease, a field he recently covered in invited reviews. The other field is broadly the molecular pathophysiology of inborn errors in signal transduction via receptors, transporters and channels, a field also covered in a recent invited review. The approach to both areas places a heavy reliance upon functional biophysical studies and molecular pathophysiology in addition to more traditional human molecular genetics.
Virginia Kimonis, MD, MRC
Professor, Pediatrics and Division of Genetics and Genomics Medicine
The Kimonis Laboratory is a molecular genetics research program within the Division of Genetics & Genomic Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics at UC Irvine School of Medicine.
Kimonis lab researchers are dedicated to finding genetic clues and mutations behind rare and debilitating childhood diseases, including Prader-Willi syndrome, Pompe disease, Gaucher disease, Fabry disease and other rare genetic syndromes.
With leading-edge genomic sequencing and old-fashioned scientific sleuthing, physician-researchers such as Virginia Kimonis, MD, and other faculty members of the Department of Pediatrics' Division of Genetic and Genomic Medicine are paving the way to a greater understanding of diseases that affect millions.
Ken Lin MD, PhD
Assistant Clinical Professor, Ophthalmology
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness in the world. It represents a group of conditions characterized by progressive optic nerve thinning and visual field loss most commonly due to elevated eye pressure. The most commonly performed procedure to halt the progression of glaucoma is a glaucoma tube shunt implant. However, the implant has a failure rate of 20-30% at 1 year. There is currently very little work done on what factors contribute to the implant's failure. My interest is deploying a multidisciplinary approach to this problem. On the one hand, we use machine learning algorithms on our clinical data to identify risk factors for implant failure. On the other hand, we modify our surgical techniques, based on a mechanistic understanding of how the implant works, to optimize the implant's efficiency over time.
Hamid Moradi MD
Assistant Professor, Nephrology
End stage renal disease is associated with a significant increase in risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. In spite of many recent improvements in dialysis treatment and the adherence of patients and physicians to the quality measures set forth by guidelines, ESRD patients on maintenance hemodialysis (MHD) continue to experience an annual mortality rate of approximately 20%, a rate worse than many cancers. The risk factors responsible for this disproportionately elevated risk of death in MHD patients have not been fully identified. In fact, traditional risk factors such as obesity and hypertriglyceridemia cannot explain the magnitude of the risk observed in these patients given that they are paradoxically associated with better survival in observational studies of hemodialysis patients. In addition, there is accumulating evidence that nontraditional risk factors, such as cachexia and impaired energy metabolism, may play a more prominent role in the higher risk of mortality in patients with ESRD. We recently discovered that serum concentrations of a major activator of the endocannabinoid system, 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), is significantly increased patients with ESRD on hemodialysis. In addition, highest serum concentrations of this lipid were associated with significantly improved outcomes (reduced risk of death). This important discovery has raised the possibility of using 2-AG (which can be synthesized and infused) as not only a marker of risk but also target for therapy. We hypothesize that the salutary impact of 2-AG in ESRD is most likely due to its impact on protein energy wasting and prevention of cachexia given the role of this molecule and the endocannabinoid (EC) system on metabolism. We have already filed a patent to begin work on assessing this hypothesis and we have prioritized several aims to fully develop this significant discovery. First, we plan to study the regulation of the EC system in an animal model of chronic kidney disease (CKD) to determine the mechanisms by which the EC system can be affected in renal disease. Second, we will be working on different formulations of 2-AG to treat animals with CKD to determine its safety and efficacy in treatment of cachexia/wasting associated this condition. Finally, we hope to analyze further serums samples from patients with ESRD in order to determine the potential utility of 2-AG as a biomarker of risk in patients on hemodialysis.
Tahseen Mozaffar, MD
Interim Chair and Professor, Neurology
Pathophysiology of neuromuscular disordersa. a. Molecular and cellular characterization of muscle atrophy in various neuromuscular disorders
b. Influence of serological markers on phenotypic and muscle histologic features in autoimmune myositis
i. Inclusion Body Myositis
ii. Antibody associated Myositis
Clinical Experimental Trials in Rare and Orphan Neuromuscular Genetic Disorders
a. GNE myopathy
b. Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy
c. Pompe Disease
d. VCP associated Multisystem Proteinopathy
Adey Nyamathi, ANP, PhD, FAAN
Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor, School of Nursing
Dr. Nyamathi was recruited in 2017 to be the Founding Dean and Distinguished Professor of the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing at the University of California, Irvine. She has an outstanding record in nursing as an educator, researcher and administrator. Dr. Nyamathi is an extremely successful researcher with a strong commitment to advancing clinical care and international health. Before becoming the Founding Dean at UCI, she was a Distinguished Professor and Associate Dean for Research and International Scholarship Affairs in the UCLA School of Nursing. She has led multidisciplinary teams of investigators in more than a dozen NIH-funded research grants and other research mechanisms related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis for over 30 years. Her domestic research has centered in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles among homeless and incarcerated populations and her international research has focused on working with women living with AIDS in rural India.
Ritesh Parajuli, MD
Assistan Clinical Professor, Division of Hematology/Oncology
1. The first component of my research is the initiation of either Investigator Initiated or Pharmaceutical Company sponsored Clinical trials (Phase I to Phase III) in Breast Cancer.
2. The second component of my research is to involve medical students/ residents and fellows in various projects including case reports, review articles, retrospective chart reviews and Meta Analyses in various topics in Breast Cancer. This approach allows them to complete a defined project in a set period of time, which can result into an abstract and finally a manuscript.
3. The third component of my translational research is on Tumor Microenvironment and biomarkers in Breast Cancer. Early stage breast cancer has high survival rates but we still cannot predict which patients will respond to neoadjuvant therapy and which patients will progress despite appropriate treatment. Furthermore, we do not have a good way to monitor patient’s response to neoadjuvant treatment. Cell-free circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) consists of small fragments of nucleic acids not associated with cells that can be found in circulation. CtDNA can be used to find specific tumor mutations (liquid biopsy) that can guide treatment and has also been used to monitor tumor growth. We plan to evaluate if monitoring ctDNA during neoadjuvant treatment can help us predict response to therapy and risk for recurrence. We have collaborated with a Company called Cynvenio that will perform next generation sequencing and genomic analysis of ctDNA. Several studies have demonstrated the presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in patients with early stage breast cancer. Cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFs) are activated fibroblasts that are part of the tumor microenvironment. In contrast to normal fibroblasts, CAFs are perpetually activated and are not able to revert into a normal phenotype or undergo apoptosis. CAFs secrete factors that promote tumor growth and metastasis. We have demonstrated that circulating cancer-associated fibroblasts (cCAFs) can be enumerated simultaneously with CTCs from the peripheral blood of patients with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) and in patients with early breast cancer. The role of cCAFs as markers for tumor response to therapy and their prognostic implications have not been studied. We plan to study if absolute values and changes in cell free tumor DNA (ctDNA) can predict response to neoadjuvant therapy in patients with locally advanced breast cancer. Our study will also investigate if Circulating Cancer Associated Fibroblasts can be found in locally advanced breast cancer and their number [either alone or in combination with ctDNA and enumeration of circulating tumor cells] can predict response to neoadjuvant therapy and survival. We are collaborating with Hitachi Lab at the main campus in Irvine for the CTC-cCAF project and have recently been awarded the American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant. Mechanisms of understanding factors that increase survival of CTCs in the blood is my area of research too. One mechanism we tend to explore is the expression of tissue factor by CTCs and cCAF clusters and if these tissue factor laden CTC-cCAF clusters have a protective fibrin ring leading on to the formation of Circulating Tumor Micro emboli (CTM).
Kelli Sharp, PhD
Clair Trevor School of Arts, Department of Dance
Dr. Sharp’s research embodies two pillars. The first pillar focuses on injury prevention and wellness for dancers using motion capture system and applying methods of analysis to determine the relationship of motion in space we can further reduce injuries. The second pillar focuses on the development of novel technologies to advance rehabilitation strategies for individuals with neurological disorders by incorporating tools, such as motion capture systems and functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) with dance/movement therapy.
Brian Wong, MD
Dr. Wong works with energy based diagnostic and therapeutic devices with specific applications in reconstructive and aesthetic surgery. The focal point of my current research is in the application of in situ generation of electrochemical reactions in living tissues. The broad focus is on the development of methods to alter tissue shape, structure or biophysical behavior.
Kyoko Yokomori, PhD
Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry
Our research focus is to understand how chromatin structure and dynamics influence gene transcription and DNA repair, and how their dysregulation leads to human diseases. We identified previously the FSHD muscular dystrophy is a “heterochromatin abnormality disorder”. We are currently developing FSHD modeling cells by introducing the FSHD mutations into immortalized normal human myoblasts. We are also carrying out high-throughput single cell analysis of patient muscle cell samples to understand disease heterogeneity and to identify a small population of disease-driving cells. We are also taking proteomic approaches to identify components of heterochromatin whose misregulation may contribute to the disease phenotype.
The outcome of these projects should have direct impact on our understanding of FSHD biology and the potential development of novel diagnostic/therapeutic strategies.