ICTS

MSP Available Mentors

Section 1

Billimek, John -  PhD

The HELIOS lab is seeking motivated medical students to work on an NIH-funded study of disparities in hypertension management, the Mi Propio Camino study.

Latinx adults with hypertension in the U.S. are much more likely than others to have uncontrolled blood pressure, but are much less likely to be taking guideline medications.  Although cost and access remain important barriers, much of this underuse is driven by pervasive concerns about the safety and benefit of medications.

Our NIH/NHLBI funded study (R01 HL142964, Billimek PI) examines an intervention combining group visits, home monitoring and physician oversight to empower patients to explore different combinations of medication and lifestyle regimens to find “my own way” (Mi Propio Camino) to control blood pressure.  We hypothesize that patients empowered to reflect on their own concerns and preferences about blood pressure management, and to communicate about these concerns with the doctor, will be more willing and more committed to adhere to a clinically appropriate regimen.

Medical Students will have the opportunity to:

  • Work alongside experienced health educators and physicians facilitating group medical visits and group education classes for Spanish-speaking patient participants at FHC-Santa Ana
  • Support patients in their use of mobile devices to monitor their own experiences with blood pressure management strategies
  • Learn about how providers and patients can effectively communicate about concerns related to medications
  • Mentor URM undergraduate and postbaccalaureate student researchers on their path to careers in medicine and other health professions
  • Develop your own research question and use clinical, questionnaire, and home monitoring/mobile device data to publish or present findings in a peer reviewed journal or professional conference

Conversational or higher Spanish language proficiency is highly preferred.  Learn more about our lab at theHELIOSlab.org.


Bradley, Caryn - PT, PhD

Co-Investigators: Dr. Aslam, Neonatologist, Robin Koeppel, DNP Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist , William Tang PhD, School of Engineering

Project Title: Nonlinear Methods of Analyzing Respiratory Waveform Variability during Oral Feeding in Preterm Infants

Purpose of this research: The purpose of this research is to examine the clinical utility of individualized therapeutic interventions on oral feeding outcomes in preterm infants.  Individualized therapeutic interventions may include modification of: 1) nipple flow rate, 2) oral feeding schedule, 3) duration of feeding, 4) volume of oral intake, 5) feeding position or 6) pacing. This topic is of importance to caregivers working with high risk infants in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The research study will also analyze respiratory waveform variability as a measure of physiologic status and neuromaturation during bottle feeding in preterm infants. This research could enable clinicians to link oral feeding skills with non-invasive biomarkers that could potentially reduce complications, shorten hospitalizations, and improve growth in preterm infants. This information could result in novel treatment regimens that are beneficial to clinical practice as well as benefit the health and nutrition of infants.

Medical Student: Interested in collaboration with a multidisciplinary team on translational clinical research in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

Role of medical student: Assistance with data collection and data analysis of clinically relevant outcome measures in preterm infants.   Medical Student will engage in a self-determined related project of interest.


Busciglio, Jorge - PhD

We are interested in exploring the impact of DS on mitochondrial function as a mechanistic framework to understand the tremendous vulnerability of DS subjects to develop selective neuronal degeneration and AD as they become adults. Using a combination of novel molecular and imaging techniques and genomics to assess gene function and mitochondrial activity in DS fetal and adult cells we have found that chronic mitochondrial dysfunction, energy deficits and oxidative stress in DS cells contribute to several clinical phenotypes associated with DS including mental retardation, hypotonia, type 2 diabetes, and AD.


Calof, Anne - PhD

The overall goal of my laboratory’s research is to understand how changes in cell lineage progression parameters and in the expression of diverse genes act in concert to direct normal development and, when development goes awry, to cause syndromic and non-syndromic birth defects. We are particularly interested in the nervous system, but we also study other systems such as heart, limb, visceral organs, and craniofacial structures. In many of our studies, we use mouse and zebrafish models of Nipbl-deficiency (the major cause of Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS)) as systems with which to understand this question – a question that is common to many ”transcriptomopathies” that are characterized by global dysregulation of gene expression arising as a consequence of an initial genetic lesion (e.g. Nipbl haploinsufficiency in CdLS, trisomy in Down Syndrome, MECP2 mutation in Rett Syndrome, etc.).

Our goals are (1) to gain insight into general principles of developmental regulation by studying animal models of Nipbl-deficiency, and (2) to use these model systems to test therapeutic interventions for CdLS. Our studies on CdLS involve, in addition to me and the members of my laboratory, other investigators at UCI and around the world. Our colleagues at UCI include Arthur Lander, Thomas Schilling (who oversees the work on zebrafish that we pursue as part of our studies of CdLS), and Kyoko Yokomori (whose primary interest in CdLS is in chromatin structure and regulation of gene expression). The papers resulting from such studies are published collaboratively, with between two and four PIs and different members of the various laboratories taking authorships, as appropriate for a given study. My lab’s studies of Nipbl-deficient mice have led to novel insights into the determinants of risk for the development of congenital heart disease (see Santos et al., 2016, PLoS Biology; and review by Gelb BD (The Hole and the Whole: Lessons from Manipulation of Nipbl Deficiency. PLoS Biol. 2016 Sep 8;14(9):e2000494. doi:0.1371/journal.pbio.2000494). Our current work in this area is focusing on using single-cell transcriptomics to understand how early embryonic cell lineages are altered by Nipbl haploinsufficiency; our recent studies suggest that early lineage misallocation may be the source of structural birth defects, not only of the heart, but of other tissues and organs as well. (e.g. Chea et al., Am. J. of Med. Gen. Part A. 2019 (DOI:  10.1002/ajmg.a61108) PMID:30874362).

In addition to molecular approaches to studying development and congenital disease, I have increasingly employed a systems biology approach in my laboratory’s studies. I serve as a Theme Leader in Control of Growth and Morphogenesis at UCI’s Center for Complex Biological Systems, a NIGMS-sponsored National Center for Systems Biology.  In this capacity, I work with many investigators on interdisciplinary research projects that integrate computational modeling, genomics, and high-throughput data gathering integrated with experimental developmental biology and genetics.  My lab’s research in this area has mainly been focused on understanding how signaling systems participate in feedback regulation of stem and progenitor cells and the effects of such feedback on morphogenesis, patterning, and regulated growth of different tissues. The systems for which our contributions have been most significant are the olfactory epithelium, neural retina, and gustatory epithelium of the tongue, although we currently have a project to study neocortex as well. During the review period, we have published a number of studies that combine wet-bench experimentation with extensive mathematical analysis and computational modeling, as well as some papers that are purely theoretical. These studies are published collaboratively, with multiple PIs and members of the participating research groups taking authorships as appropriate for a given study. Our most recent work, published in 2016 in PLoS Computational Biology, is a theoretical exploration of the ways in which feedback effects on stem cell self-renewal can serve as a driving force in morphogenesis (Kunche et al., 2016, PLoS Computational Biology).


Chang, Peter - MD

The Center for Artificial Intelligence in Diagnostic Medicine (CAIDM) is a multi-specialty initiative, under the UCI School of Medicine, to develop and integrate artificial intelligence (AI) technology across the UC Irvine healthcare system. The Center accomplishes its goal by integrating the clinical expertise of our providers at UCI with multiple disciplines, including data scientists and software engineers. The Center recognizes that leveraging the knowledge of our clinical colleagues is critical for designing impactful applications that will have long-term value that will ultimately improve patient care. The Center focuses more specifically on developing deep learning, a subset of machine learning AI, approaches for the (1) detection, (2) characterization, and (3) prediction of a variety of conditions and disease states in an effort to improve healthcare. Our research projects encompass a wide variety of medical specialties, some of which include the automatic detection of intracerebral hemorrhage on head CT, automated identification of melanocytes and melanoma on dermopathologic slides, detection of prostate lesions on prostate MRI, and the segmentation of breast tissue with automated lesion detection on Breast MRI and mammography. In addition, Dr. Peter Chang, Technical Lead and Co-Director of the CAIDM, leads the healthcare AI curriculum which trains the next generation of physician-scientists in understanding and developing cutting-edge AI tools.


Choi, Bernard - MSE, PhD

The Microvascular Therapeutics and Imaging (MTI) Laboratory, located in Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic, is interested in developing optical technologies and methodologies designed to study the microcirculation. MTI lab researchers routinely partner with biologists and clinicians to develop and deploy novel biophotonics approaches. Preclinical work focuses on the study of flow-metabolism coupling and pathological uncoupling in the brain for a diverse set of neurological problems, including cardiac arrest and resuscitation and Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. We also work on developing strategies to achieve three-dimensional thick-tissue microscopy of intact organs, using principles of molecular labeling and optical clearing. Clinical work focuses on the development of clinic-specific technologies, with recent work in exercise physiology and neonatal intensive care.


Demetriou, Michael - MD, PhD

My laboratory focuses on the roles of complex Asn(N)-linked glycans in cell function and diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cancer. Our work has revealed how genetic and metabolic regulation of N-glycosylation controls the function and activity of cell surface glycoproteins to affect cell growth/differentiation and diseases such as cancer and autoimmunity. Virtually all cell surface and secreted proteins in metazoans are modified by the addition of complex carbohydrates in the ER/Golgi secretory pathway, imparting substantial molecular information not encoded by the genome. We find that genetic, metabolic and environmental regulation of Golgi N-glycosylation controls macromolecular complexes on the cell surface to influence cell growth, differentiation and disease states. We have shown how this impacts T cell function in autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis and are now exploring how N-glycan branching also impacts oligodendrocyte differentiation and re-myelination in Multiple Sclerosis. We have translated this work into humans and an ongoing NIH funded Phase 1 trial of a small molecule to raise N-glycosylation in MS.  We were also recently funded by the Biden Cancer Moonshot program at NCI to develop a novel immunotherapy that triggers T cell dependent killing of cancer cells by targeting glycan antigens common to multiple solid and hematopoietic cancers.


Do, An - MD

My research is centered around developing and testing brain-computer interface (BCI) technology for future application in clinical neurorehabilitation. For example, we are currently developing a fully implantable BCI system for restoration of motor and sensory functions after spinal cord injury (SCI). We are also conducting a clinical trial to determine if BCI-controlled electrical stimulation can be used as a novel form of post-stroke therapy by comparing its potential effectiveness against conventional physiotherapy. Finally, a new area of work for our lab will involve exploring the use of cultured neural networks as a novel type of computing resource for the next generation of BCI systems.


Fisher, Mark - MD

We do clinical and basic investigations of stroke mechanisms. We have major ongoing investigations of mouse models of cerebral microvascular disease, especially cerebral microbleeds and blood-brain barrier. We are also actively investigating cardiac causes of stroke. Prior medical students have made significant contributions (see attached publications by Jon Wong and Artak Labadzhyan).


Fleischman, Angela - MD, PhD

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 currently doing interventional trials in MPN patients utilizing diet to reduce inflammation.


Gehricke, Jean - PhD

Jean Gehricke, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Associate Research Director at The Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders, which is a state of the art diagnostic and treatment facility. Dr. Gehricke’s neurodevelopmental lab is central to the Center’s research infrastructure by connecting to the the Autism Treatment Network, the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health, the UC Irvine Chao Comprehensive Cancer Center, the UC Irvine Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center, and Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The neurodevelopmental lab has 3 project coordinators and over 20 graduate and undergraduate students. Dr. Gehricke's research primarily focuses on the causes and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders including Autism Spectrum Disorders, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and associated comordities. Medical student scholars will be able to study how the brain, genes and environment interact and contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders. The lab provides a hands-on learning experience on how to conduct brain imaging studies and behavioral interventions research (e.g., physical exercise programs for ASD; LEGO and Minecraft Therapy research). Scholars will have the opportunity to develop and implement their own study protocols, collect data, analyze research findings, as well as write grant proposal and manuscripts for publications.


Grill, Joshua - PhD

For any new Alzheimer’s disease drug to achieve FDA approval and widespread clinical use, it must be tested in human beings and demonstrated as both safe and efficacious. Studies to test the safety and efficacy of new treatments are called clinical trials. Clinical testing now represents the most costly and difficult phase of developing improved therapies. A major challenge of completing human clinical trials is the timely enrollment of participants who will enable adequate examination of therapeutic hypotheses. Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials now enroll people with Alzheimer’s dementia, people with mild cognitive impairment, and people with healthy memories but who are at increased risk to someday develop dementia. We are engaged in a variety of studies that aim to:

• Identify means to improve Alzheimer’s disease clinical trial designs to enable adequate testing in fewer participants,

• Elucidate barriers to clinical trial enrollment in each Alzheimer’s disease population, so that trials and recruitment campaigns can be designed in a manner that maximizes the speed of accrual,

• Understand better which participants are at risk to be lost to follow-up, to guide clinician scientists when enrolling participants in Alzheimer’s disease trials, and

• Investigate the ethical challenges in clinical trials, especially those related to Alzheimer’s disease disclosure, including the disclosure of diagnosis, biomarker results, and genetic testing.


Guo, Zhiling - MD, PhD

I have been conducting biomedical research in fields of Neuroscience and Cardiovascular system for more than 20 years in the United States, after practicing Internal Medicine and performing medical research in China for ten years. My research has been directly funded by grants from the National Institute of Health and the American Heart Association. Using anatomical, biochemical, physiological, electrophysiological, pharmacological, and molecular approaches, I have published many peer-reviewed papers in well-known biomedical journals. Currently, I serve as a principal investigator to study neural mechanisms underlying effects of peripheral nerve stimulation (including acupuncture) on cardiovascular responses. The study includes four projects: 1) electrical and mechanical neural mechanisms by which electroacupuncture and manual acupuncture inhibit cardiovascular responses; 2) the role of adenosine in the brainstem in opioid mediation of acupuncture inhibition of excitatory cardiovascular responses; 3) acupuncture’s action in lowering blood pressure in sustained hypertension through medullary opioids and adenosine; and 4) medullary mechanisms of auricular acupuncture in modulating elevated blood pressure through actions of opioids and GABA. The results from the study will provide novel insights into neural mechanisms underlying the effects of various forms of acupuncture to lower elevated blood pressure and ultimately guide clinical practice.


Jaeggi, Susanne - PhD

In the Working Memory and Plasticity Lab (PI Jaeggi) we work on various projects that focus on cognitive development, evidence-based interventions and other related projects that have translational impact. The human subject populations we work with range from older adults to young adults, and in addition, we work with both, typically developing children, and children with ADHD. We use various measures to assess and train cognitive functions, e.g. behavioral (e.g. standardized neuropsychological, scholastic achievement), brain stimulation (e.g. transcranial direct current stimulation), and neuroimaging (e.g. magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography). Our analytical approaches are equally broad, but focus mostly on quantitative methods ranging from frequentist approaches, Bayesian analyses to machine learning. A description of some projects can be found on my lab website: https://wmp.education.uci.edu or https://wmp.education.uci.edu/prospective-students/


Kenney, Maria - MD, PhD

Professor, Director of Mitochondrial Research

I have worked as a clinician-scientist for over 20 years and have published over 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts. Most recently, I stopped seeing patients and have devoted 90% of my time to the laboratory with ~10% for departmental/university commitments. My overall research interests are to (a) identify the molecular and genetics changes in mitochondria associated with the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD); (b) identify drugs that target and protect the AMD mitochondria so cellular longevity is prolonged; and (c) examine the influence of mtDNA variants from different racial/ethnic populations upon the behavior and gene expression of retinal cells. We have developed a transmitochondrial cybrid (cytoplasmic hybrid) model that has cells with identical nuclei but mtDNA from different individuals. Therefore, molecular, biochemical or functional differences of each cell line (representing an individual person) can be attributed to the influence of the mitochondria because all nuclei in the cell lines are the same genome.  We are using this cybrid model to study mitochondria from patients with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cancers.                 

My publications show that the cybrid model can be used successfully to characterize mitochondrial-nuclear interactions important for regulation of complement, inflammation, and angiogenesis, all of which are major pathways associated with human diseases. Most recently, we have demonstrated that when mitochondria isolated from AMD subjects are placed into the RPE cell cybrids, the AMD cybrids have higher levels of cell death, apoptosis, autophagy and ER-stress compared to age-matched normal cybrids. Our overall goal is to use this model to identify drugs/agents that can reverse and protect the damaged mitochondria in the AMD cybrids.                                                                                                                                                           

We are also be working with Dr. Magdalene Seiler, an expert in models of retinal degeneration, to determine how mitochondria-targeting drugs can (a) prevent damage or dysfunction in AMD RPE cybrids and primary RPE cells, and (b) protect and improve vision in a rat model of retinal degeneration.  Successful completion of our studies will improve our understanding of the mitochondrial-nuclear interactions and may potentially lead to new drugs/agents that can benefit the patients with age-related diseases such as AMD, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.


Khine, Michelle - PhD

Our goal is to create wireless (potentially disposable) continuous blood pressure patches that allow for monitoring for up to 24 hours before replacement or recharging. To date, we have invented soft capacitive based pressure sensors that allows us to measure beat to beat BP continuously on ambulatory patients with a simple Band-Aid© like adhesive sensor. Importantly, we can record the entire hemodynamic pattern and track nominal changes in systolic, diastolic, and mean arterial blood pressures as the sensor deflects, registering changes in pressure, as the pulse wave traverses. The quick response times and wide dynamic range of the soft capacitive sensors allow detection of rapid and large changes in blood pressure that are essential for monitoring acute cardiovascular events.

The sensor has an extremely small form factor and can be adhered onto the skin like a disposable Band-Aid wherever a pulse can be palpated (we have recorded from both the radial and temporal arteries). Our proprietary nanostructured electrodes that comprise our sensors contribute to this wide dynamic sensing range critical for accurately tracking BP. We have a paper and several patents on this invention (with several more being drafted). The fabrication process is low-cost and scalable (compatible with roll to roll manufacturing).

There are many applications for this technology, including monitoring CHF patients, healthy populations under stress, looking at the output of blood pressure variability as a digital biomarker for dementia/Alzheimer's, amongst others. MSP students will explore/pilot different clinical applications as well as help improve the technology.


Kwon, Young - PhD, MS

We investigate the use of viruses, biomacromolecules (e.g., proteins and nucleic acids), natural polymers, and cell-derived materials for the development of efficient and safe therapies for cancers and other diseases. The currently active projects include multi-modal gene and chemotherapy for cancer, stimuli-responsive polymers as nanoantibiotics against drug-resistant infections, and extracellular vesicles for acellular cell therapies. Commonly used laboratory skills are gel electrophoresis (nucleic acids and western blot), PCR, cell culture, flow cytometry, ELISA, nanomaterials characterizations, TEM, and validation of therapeutic efficacy using animal models.


Lau, Wei Ling - MD

My research projects that would be suitable for medical students are: 1) Artificial Intelligence for assessment of Renal Scarring (AIRS project): in collaboration with CAIDM (Center for Artificial Intelligence in Diagnostic Medicine) we are exploring computer algorithms to quantify degree of kidney fibrosis from CT and MRI scans. The AI scores will be correlated with gold standard fibrosis scores from kidney biopsy reports. A background in computer science / programming is preferred. Heavy on computer work.  2) Brain microbleeds and cognitive decline in dialysis patients: in collaboration with Dr. Mark Fisher in neurology, we are examining brain microvascular disease in patients with advanced chronic kidney disease and its association with cognitive dysfunction. Will involve becoming familiar with cognitive testing tools, reviewing brain MRI scans, and visiting dialysis units.


LeBron, Alana - PhD, MS

Evidence linking early life lead exposure with adverse health outcomes has yielded policies to prevent the sale of lead-based paint and leaded gasoline to the general public in the US. Despite strong scientific evidence that no level of lead is safe, individuals continue to be exposed through several pathways, including lead paint in older homes and lead in the soil, which may have deposited through mechanisms such as historical gasoline, paint, and/or industrial emissions. Our community-academic partnership is assessing soil lead levels throughout a predominantly Latina/o/x community in Orange County. We will be developing a public health action plan to: (1) deepen understanding of the health impacts of lead exposure in the community; (2) understand how public health institutions address lead exposures from multiple pathways (e.g., paint, soil, industrial emissions, historical gasoline), (3) translate scientific evidence to institutions that make & enforce public health policy; and (4) develop systems change recommendations to promote health equity. The student will support the development of health impact assessments and the public health action plan. We will disseminate findings to governmental & community actors as we work to reduce exposures to lead in the first place, and mitigate the health impacts of lead exposures.


Lin, Ken - MD

Fabrication and ex vivo testing of nanobubbles for drug delivery and imaging purpose in the treatment and diagnosis of glaucoma. This is a collaboration between my lab and Dr. Abraham Lee's bioengineering lab utilizing microfluidic device to generate nanobubbles and to test their potential role for drug delivery and imaging in treating a variety of eye conditions.


Moradi, Hamid - MD

Chronic kidney disease and acute kidney injury are associated with perturbations of the endocannabinoid system which have been shown to impact renal and survival outcomes. My research is focused on evaluating alterations of the endocannabinoid system in the setting of kidney disease and the potential utilization of the endocannabinoid system as a target for therapy in renal disease.  


Noymer, Andrew - PhD, MSc

Associate Professor, Population Health & Disease Prevention (Public Health)

I am a medical demographer, with strong interests in infectious diseases and historical epidemiology. No work I do (excepting collaborations) is wet lab-based, and likewise for clinical trials. Many projects I work on are based on mortality microdata for the United States — public-record electronic data files on every death from 1959 to present. These data contain most information from the death certificate, for approximately 125 million deaths. I also work on pre-1959 data, using vital statistics data from before the computer era. Students interested in working with me should further familiarize themselves with the type of work I do by looking at my publications; my current CV is at: https://webfiles.uci.edu/noymer/web/noymer_cv.pdf


Odegaard, Andrew - PhD, MPH

Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology

My research relates to the patterns, causes and consequences of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Within this context of cardiometabolic disease he largely focuses on the role that body composition, diet and lifestyle related factors play in the prevention and control of disease. Dr. Odegaard's research considers the life course, employs observational and randomized study designs, emphasizes discovery and translation, and his aim is to partner with experts across disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of answers to important questions. He is also involved with research on the relationship between diet, lifestyle and body composition/anthropometric factors with different cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline.


Ostlund, Sean - PhD, MA

The Ostlund lab conducts research on the neural systems underlying emotion, motivation and decision-making and how these systems become dysregulated to produce behavioral pathology. Such adaptations can be provoked by a variety of salient environmental stimuli, including opiates and other abused drugs, as well as by repeated exposure to chronic pain or stress. Dr. Ostlund and his team conduct basic science and translational research on these topics using a multi-disciplinary approach that includes the application of sophisticated behavioral tests capable of parsing fundamental aspects of behavior in rodents, which are combined with neuroscience techniques used to measure or manipulate the activity of specific neural systems. Research strategies include the use of in vivo neurochemical analysis (fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and microdialysis) to measure dopamine and other neurochemical species in awake behaving animals, and optogenetic tools to activate or silence specific cell populations, as well as more traditional approaches including neuropharmacology (systemic and intracranial drug administration), focal brain lesions and immunohistochemistry.


Palczewski, Krzysztof - PhD

Vision is one of the fundamental senses that enables the perception of the surrounding environment. In humans, this process is initiated in the retina, which is lined with millions of photoreceptors expressing opsins bound to the visual chromophore, 11-cis-retinal (11-cis-RAL). Absorption of a photon by the opsin-bound visual chromophore causes its isomerization to an all-trans configuration. This initial photochemical reaction triggers the activation of a signal transduction cascade that eventually leads to the transmission of visual information to the brain, while the activated opsin is rendered insensitive to further light stimulation. Sustained vision thus requires continuous renewal of the visual chromophore following light exposure, a process thought to be accomplished through the canonical retinoid (visual) cycle and a non-canonical complementary pathway for the photic generation of 11-cis-RAL. Our long-term goal is to obtain a better understanding of the retinoid cycle and other pathways capable of regenerating the visual chromophore and to develop interventions that stop the progression of human retinal diseases related to these metabolic events.

Photoreceptor cells of the retina are specialized neurons that play a fundamental role in the conversion of light into the biochemical cascade of events leading to electrical signaling from the retina to the brain. Mutations in key proteins mediating these signaling processes affect the function and/or the structure of photoreceptor cells. We are developing a combination of approaches in cell biology, structural biology, and genetics to improve our understanding of the organization of photoreceptors as a prelude to the development of novel therapeutic strategies aimed at preserving visual function.


Parajuli, Ritesh - MD

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death among females worldwide. My research is focused on liquid biopsy biomarkers in Breast Cancer. The liquid biopsy biomarkers that I am currently investigating are circulating tumor cells (CTCs), circulating Cancer associated fibroblasts (cCAFs) and circulating exosomes. I am currently evaluating the role of these circulating cells as biomarkers that can have prognostic and predictive importance in patients with metastatic or non-metastatic breast cancer. I am collaborating with Hitachi Lab at the main campus to investigate a Platform called Exocomplete to isolate and understand the biology of circulating exosomes in breast cancer. I am also collaborating with Dr. Abraham Lee at UCI to study another platform called the lateral cavity acoustic transducer (LCAT) system to isolate CTCs and cCAFs from the blood of patients with breast cancer. We will then be working towards understanding how these circulating tumor cells interact with the host immune system that could possible lead onto evasion of the Immune system and contribute towards the metastatic process. 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. Our study will also investigate if Circulating Cancer Associated Fibroblasts can be found in locally advanced breast cancer and their number. I have recently been awarded the American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant for the above research. Understanding the immunologic factors that increase survival of CTCs in the blood is my area of research too. Furthermore, I will soon be studying the effects on how sentences of Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes lead on the resistance to Neo-Adjuvant chemotherapy. In summary, biomarker based translational research in my area of focus.

Current Projects (PI):                                                                                                                                                                                            

• Abdominal adipose tissue depots and cardiometabolic disease risk in postmenopausal women, NIA/NIH (Principal Investigator: Odegaard)

• Effect of Artificially Sweetened Beverages on Diabetes Control in Adults with Type 2 Diabetes, NIDDK/NIH (Principal Investigator: Odegaard)

• Diet Beverage Intake and Micro and Macrovascular Outcomes in Persons with Diabetes, American Heart Association (Principal Investigator: Odegaard)

• Dietary Approaches for Improving Cardiometabolic Health and Losing Weight (Pilot Trial, Lead Researcher: Odegaard)


Parsons, Michael - PhD

The Parsons lab is interested in learning how to make to new insulin-producing β cells from pre-existing progenitors within the pancreas. To do this we take advantage of the zebrafish as this organism is very adept at producing β cells throughout its lifecycle in response to β-cell ablation. The cellular origins of regenerating β cells in the fish are a cell type that is found in the pancreas of all organisms and called the centroacinar cell (CAC). Besides acting as facultative progenitor, this cell type is highly specified for secretion of water and solutes necessary for exocrine function. We have found several important molecular pathways that are necessary for regulating CAC differentiation. Of note, many of these pathways are also involved in the progression of pancreatic cancer, adding to a pre-existing theory that CACs are the origin of this disease. Now we are interested in further elucidating a number of molecular pathways that are important to both β-cell regeneration in the fish and pancreatic cancer in humans.


Reich, Stephanie - PhD

I am an Associate Professor of Education at the University of California, Irvine, with appointments in Informatics and Psychological Science. My research  focuses on direct and indirect influences on children’s development especially through the family, schools, and digital environments. Currently, I have projects in a variety of settings and with different ages. Here are a few to give students a sense: I have a bilingual (Spanish-English) parenting intervention that targets 2-parents families (mothers and fathers) with babies from 9-30 months. We have self-report questionnaires, direct infant assessments, and medical charts. I am involved in another study using sensors and mobile phones to support prenatal health. This will have interview, focus group data, self-report, and logged data. I am working with middle school students on the design of parenting guidelines on how to parent around media. This involves teaching youth about research and supporting them in the research design and dissemination. I have a bunch of other small projects on children and media and parent-child interactions.


Schueller, Stephen - PhD

My research focuses on improving the accessibility and availability of mental health services through technology. This includes the development, evaluation, and deployment of digital mental health interventions (ie., Internet websites and mobile applications) for the treatment and prevention of mental health issues especially common mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. My training and background is as a clinical psychologist and I have specific expertise in cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as positive psychology.


Su, Lydia Min-Ying - PhD, MS

My research interests are in the development of imaging technologies and quantitative computer-based analysis tools to extract imaging biomarkers for clinical applications, including risk assessment, diagnosis, treatment response evaluation and prognosis prediction. Recently, I have extended my previous research using computer-aided and radiomics analysis to deep learning, a more powerful tool for developing artificial intelligence (AI)-based quantitative imaging models for various applications in radiology and precision medicine. My recent publications include differential diagnosis of various cancers and molecular subtypes, prediction of neoadjuvant chemo/radiation therapy response in advanced breast and rectal cancer, prediction of prognosis in brain tumors, automatic segmentation of lesions and organs for radiotherapy planning, etc.


Tenner, Andrea - PhD

My  laboratory studies the roles of the complement system in health and disease with a current emphasis on disorders of the nervous system. One goal is to complete the preclinical studies necessary to establish rationale for a clinical trial testing an antagonist of the C5a receptor1 as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and/or other acquired cognitive disorders caused by aging, cancer, infection or other injury.  In AD, the complement pathway (which is normally protective during infection) is activated and can cause detrimental inflammation and neurotoxicity.  Administering a specific inhibitor of this inflammatory event improved cognitive performance in AD mouse models suggesting that this strategy may be a beneficial treatment to slow the progression of AD.  We propose to define the molecular pathways involved using RNA-Seq, immunohistochemistry, and behavior, and aligning this to human.  Since a small molecule C5aR1 antagonist is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials for a peripheral vascular inflammatory disease, we would like to identify biomarkers that could be used to test central nervous system target engagement in humans treated with such antagonists.


Thomas, Elizabeth - PhD and colleague Nisha Warikoo, MD

Under the Mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, Ph.D. and Dr. Nisha Warikoo, MD - Medical students would be part of a collaborative team, whose overall goal is to identify disease biomarkers that can be measured in saliva from patients with psychiatric conditions. The specific research project will investigate the utility of saliva as a biofluid to monitor lithium levels in individuals currently taking lithium medications to treat psychiatric disorders.  Lithium levels will be measured in both blood and saliva from individuals with bipolar disorder and additional studies would identify factors that may affect lithium distribution throughout body. This project will involve recruiting patients with bipolar disorder, from both inpatient and outpatients units at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center, collecting saliva samples from patients and carrying out various immunoassays on saliva samples in the laboratory located on the UCI campus. 


Tseng, Peter - PhD

Our research group develops next-generation, electromagnetic tools to remotely monitor and manipulate living systems. At the bodily scale we are creating integrated, wearable analytical devices that can monitor unique parameters from the body, such as our nutritional intake. At the tissue and cellular scale we are developing high-throughput screening tools to better understand excitation-contraction coupling in living networks. Finally, we are investigating novel techniques to remotely actuate living systems via magnetism (i.e. with magnetogenetics).


Vawter, Marquis - PhD, MS, MA 

Dr. Vawter is a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior performing preclinical and translational research. He has published over 165 peer-reviewed articles principally in neuroscience and psychiatry. The goals of the laboratory are to understand the pathogenesis of psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia and mood disorders) and to enable better prevention and treatments of these psychiatric disorders. Dr. Vawter was trained in both clinical and physiological psychology tracks and obtained additional neuroscience and neuropsychological assessment training at NIMH and NIDA. Dr. Vawter started the Functional Genomics Laboratory in 2001 and has been involved in different projects through collaborations with Dr. William E. Bunney and the Pritzker Neuropsychiatric Disorders Research Consortium. He is the Senior Associate Director of the UCI Brain Bank and has been in involved in large genetic studies of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  He is a member of the Schizophrenia Working Mitochondria SubGroup of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and was part of a multi-center collaborative grant awarded through NIMH Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia. Dr. Vawter performed the best estimate diagnostician work at UCI for hundreds of subjects, and those samples became part of the NIMH Schizophrenia Genetics Initiative and Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia Part 1 and Part 2 and the National Institute of Mental HealthGenetics Initiative Bipolar Disorder Consortium.

In addition to those genetic projects, Dr. Vawter’s research team members are involved with postmortem brain gene expression in healthy controls, and subjects with mood and psychotic disorders, and  suicide. A large effort spanning current NIMH funding involves mitochondria gene expression and resequencing of the mitochondria genome in psychiatric disorders. Somatic variation in mitochondria DNA has been discovered to play a role in psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Functional studies of mitochondria involving cellular and animal models are currently underway.


Weiss, John Weiss - PhD, MD

Dr. Weiss received his BS, MS, MD, and Ph.D. (in Neuroscience) degrees as well as residency training in Neurology at Stanford University, and came to UC Irvine in 1991. The research in Dr. Weiss' laboratory seeks to examine cellular mechanisms of neurodegeneration in models of diseases including stroke, seizures, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Fluorescence imaging, electrophysiological and neurotoxicity techniques are used to examine neurons in dissociated culture, brain slice and rodent models of disease. Areas of ongoing investigation include examination of roles of glutamate receptors, mitochondria, oxidative stress and divalent cations (calcium and zinc) in the triggering of neurodegeneration, and the elucidation of factors that underlie selective vulnerability of distinct populations of neurons in these diseases. The studies seek to highlight new approaches for beneficial therapeutic interventions in these conditions.


Yokomori, Kyoko - PhD

Our major interest is to understand the role of chromatin organization in various genome functions, including gene regulation and DNA damage response (DDR) and repair. One NIH-funded area of research is to understand the pathological mechanism of a common muscular dystrophy, facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD). We found that the disease is associated with specific loss of heterochromatin at the D4Z4 repeat loci on chromosome 4q. We have been performing high-throughput chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)- and pooled and single cell/nucleus RNA-sequencing analyses of control and FSHD myoblasts aiming to define the genome-wide disease-specific epigenetic alterations critical for FSHD pathogenesis, and to identify a small number of disease-driving cells critical for determining the severity of the disorder. Our second area of interest partially funded by NSF is to understand how DNA damage alters chromatin dynamics both at damage sites and in the whole nucleus in vivo. We are currently examining how DDR factors signal to affect nucleus-wide epigenetic changes and chromatin reorganization using ChIP-seq and PLAC-seq (Hi-ChIP) analyses.


Zeng, Fan-Gang - PhD

My research interest lies in using neuromodulation or electric stimulation to treat sensory and neurological disorders from hearing loss and tinnitus to potentially Alzheimer's Disease.