Alumni Profile Archive
2012 Alumni Profiles
Tibbetts is an Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Florida. Dr. Tibbetts received his Ph.D. in Microbiology from the University of Kansas in 1999 under the outstanding mentorship of Dr. Stephen Benedict. During his time at KU, Dr. Tibbetts also worked closely with Dr. Marci Chan and her laboratory. His dissertation work was directed toward determining the role of adhesion molecules in the regulation of T cell signaling, and in defining new ways to block adhesion molecule binding and thereby prevent autoimmune disease and graft rejection. After completing his degree, Dr. Tibbetts moved to Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, Missouri, for postdoctoral training in the joint laboratories of Drs. Samuel Speck and Skip Virgin. As a postdoctoral fellow, he studied immune regulation of chronic gammaherpesvirus infections. This family of viruses, which includes the prevalent human pathogens Epstein-Barr virus and Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, is associated with the development of numerous types of cancers, including B cell lymphomas, Hodgkin's disease and Kaposi's sarcoma. While at Washington University, Dr. Tibbetts was named both a Fellow and a Special Fellow of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Following his postdoctoral training, Dr. Tibbetts joined the faculty of the School of Medicine at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. There he started his own laboratory in the Center for Molecular & Tumor Virology. In 2011, Dr. Tibbetts moved his laboratory to the University of Florida. At present, his laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms used by gammaherpesviruses to establish life-long infections, evade the immune response, and cause cancer. His work is funded in part by the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Tibbetts strongly believes in providing a strong, well-rounded training environment for the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his laboratory, as he attributes his success in large part to the training environment at KU and the "full service education" provided by Dr. Benedict.
Danielle R. Hamill received her PhD in the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology at KU in 1997. Her graduate work, researching the roles of microtubules and associated proteins and RNAs in sea urchin embryos was done under the mentorship of Dr. Kathy Suprenant. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oregon, working with Dr. Bruce Bowerman, where the focus of her work was on cell division and early development in C. elegans. She continues research along these lines in her current position at Ohio Wesleyan University. Dr. Hamill joined the Ohio Wesleyan University (OWU) faculty in 2001. OWU is a private, small liberal arts college in Delaware, Ohio. At OWU Hamill teaches courses in cell biology, genetics, and developmental biology, and she continues her research program in collaboration with her undergraduate students. In addition to studying cell division in the model organism C. elegans, the Hamill lab has recently begun isolating and identifying other nematodes and comparing their development to C. elegans.
Sandra A. Sciascia-Zirger is a Scientific Advisor at Pabst Patent Group in Atlanta, Georgia. Sandy received her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in Molecular Genetics (Molecular Biosciences) in 2003 in Dr. Dean Stetler's lab. Her dissertation focused on an immunotherapy for the treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) as well as the development of a novel mouse model with SLE-like symptoms. While in graduate school, Sandy also furthered her immunology background by working closely with Dr. Steve Benedict and the members of his lab. Sandy did her postdoctoral work at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California at the Gene Therapeutics Research Institute. As a postdoctoral fellow, Sandy studied the immune response to viral vectors used in the treatment of Parkinson's and brain tumors.
Upon leaving her postdoctoral position, Sandy accepted a position as the Director of Research at a small biotech company in Atlanta, Georgia called GeneCure. GeneCure's focus is on the development of vaccines for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C.
Sandy eventually left the bench for an alternative science career in patent law. In her current position as Scientific Advisor, Sandy writes and prosecutes patents focused in the biotech and pharmaceutical arenas. Sandy has found this area of work very rewarding as she is constantly reading and learning about new and exciting areas of science.
2011 Alumni Profiles
Bradley T. Keller is currently a Product Manager for the Cells & Cell-based Assays initiative in the Research Biotech division of Sigma-Aldrich Co., St. Louis, MO. In this role he leads the development and commercialization of novel genetically-modified human cell lines created with the revolutionary zinc finger nuclease (ZFN) technology.
Brad obtained his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Kansas in 1982 under the superb mentorship of Dr. Paul Kitos. His thesis work examined the mechanism of regulation of protein synthesis in mouse L929 cells by dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid hormone. After completing his graduate degree, Brad moved to the laboratory of Dr. Ronald Borchardt in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at KU to conduct his postdoctoral studies. His research included studies on the mechanism of novel cellular methylation inhibitors as potential antiviral drugs and later, studies to elucidate protein transport across the blood brain barrier using brain capillary endothelial cells. Subsequently, Brad started a long career in the pharmaceutical industry when he moved to Hoffman-La Roche, Nutley, NJ, to become director of a bioassay laboratory and manage stability studies for the development of interferon and interleukin drugs.
In 1988, Brad returned to the midwest and joined Monsanto Company where he spent 20 years in discovery research with the legacy companies of Searle, Monsanto, Pharmacia, and eventually Pfizer. During his tenure in St. Louis, he worked extensively in the Cardiovascular therapeutic area studying regulation of plasma lipids and hypertension. In 2007, Brad transitioned into the Inflammation therapeutic area as a scientific leader for liver fibrosis research and group leader of an in vitro hepatology laboratory in support of discovery projects. During this later phase of his pharmaceutical career his expertise expanded from the discovery and development of small molecules to larger biotherapeutic molecules (e.g., antibodies).
Upon exiting the pharma industry in 2009, Brad entertained a different career course and entered a one year training fellowship in the Innovation Acceleration Partnership program at Washington University in St. Louis. The focus of this program was to train scientists in the area of entrepreneurship and the process of initiating biotech startups. However, the bleak economic outlook at this time did not offer the financial backing to support new company startups and required seeking more stable employment for the near term. In the summer of 2010, Brad began his current position as a Product Manager in the marketing group with Sigma-Aldrich's Research Biotech division in St. Louis. In this role he is able to utilize his scientific expertise to manage the development of novel genetically modified cell lines with ZFN technology in support of both basic research and drug development programs. ZFNs allow precise editing of genomic DNA to create gene knockouts, knock-ins or reporter-tagged modifications at endogenous gene loci as powerful new research tools. More details on Brad's career path can be found at his LinkedIn page.
Richard Rest is Professor of Microbiology and Immunology; Director of the Center for Bacterial Pathogenesis and Biodefense, the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and; Director of Professional Development, Biomedical Graduate and Postgraduate Studies, at Drexel University College of Medicine, in Philadelphia. Rick received his Ph.D. in Bacterial Physiology (KU – Microbiology) in 1974 under the wonderful guidance of Dr. Donald Robertson, aka 'Doc'; Rick was Doc's first graduate student. His dissertation concerned metabolite and electron transport in the intracellular pathogen Brucella abortus. Rick did his postdoctoral studies under the terrific tutelage of Dr. John Sptiznagel in Microbiology and Immunology at UNC Chapel Hill, where he studied human neutrophil granules and antibacterial activity. These two caring mentors shaped Rick's approach to research and influenced his studies on bacteria-host interactions to the present day. Rick strongly believes that graduate student and postdoctoral training is an integral part of the responsible conduct of research.
Rick began his independent career in bacterial pathogenesis in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where he studied the molecular and cellular interactions of Neisseria gonorrhoeae with human neutrophils, serum and epithelial cells. He moved to Hahnemann University - now called Drexel University College of Medicine - where he and his students and postdocs studied Opa proteins in the extra- and intracellular lifestyle of the pathogenic neisseria, and transcriptional regulation of lipooligosaccharide (LOS) sialyltransferase and its role in LOS sialylation, serum resistance and virulence. In 1992, a graduate student in the lab took a research detour and discovered a new pore forming toxin of Bacillus anthracis that we named anthrolysin O, which stimulates human cells through Toll Like Receptor 4 (TLR4), the 'endotoxin' receptor. This 10 year soujourn into select agents was challenging and exciting; a whole new set of virulence factors, and a whole new cast of colleagues (characters). You can see more information about Rick at: http://www.drexelmed.edu/.../RichardRest.aspx
Jason Wickstrum is currently the manager of the Diagnostic Microbiology section at the Kansas Health and Environmental Laboratories, which serves as the public health laboratory for the state of Kansas. Jason received his Ph.D. in Microbiology in 2005 after completing his dissertation titled, “Mechanisms of transcription regulation in the Escherichia coli rhamnose regulon” while working in the laboratory of Dr. Susan Egan.
Jason then worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Parmely where he studied innate immune responses to the Select Agent pathogen Francisella tularensis.
At his current post, Jason and his staff perform testing for use in patient diagnosis and for epidemiological purposes. Some examples include serotype identification of Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli isolates from patient specimens to help track food borne infections. They identify a wide variety of bacteria, including Mycobacterium species, and intestinal parasites using a mixture of traditional microbiology techniques and more modern molecular biology testing techniques. If you want to read more about the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, click here (website: http://www.kdheks.gov/ ).
Jerry W. Shay received his PhD from the KU Physiology and Cell Biology Department in 1972 under the mentorship of Paul Burton. He then went to the University of Colorado in Boulder for a three year postdoctoral fellowship and then moved to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical where he has remained his entire academic career.
Dr. Shay is the Vice Chairman of the Department of Cell Biology, Associate Director of the Harold Simmon's Comprehensive Cancer Center, and holds the Southland Corporation Distinguished Chair in Aging and Cancer Research. Dr. Shay also holds the title of Distinguished Teaching Professor and was elected to the Southwestern Academy of Teachers. Finally, he is also the Director of the Cancer Biology Graduate Program and is the PI on a NCI T32 training grant.
Throughout his career, Dr. Shay has been interested in the relationships between aging and cancer. His seminal work on the relationships of telomeres and telomerase to aging and cancer has received much international recognition. A major contribution from Dr. Shay's laboratory has been the "bench to bedside" development of telomerase inhibitors that are now in advanced human cancer clinical trials. His laboratory is currently using telomerase immortalize human epithelial cells to stepwise experimentally transform normal cells to cancer by introducing gain of function and loss of function genes known to be mutated in cancer. In addition, his lab has been investigating the role of telomeres and telomerase in normal and cancer stem cells.
Dr. Shay received the AlliedSignal Award, the American Association of Aging Hayflick Award, and the Ted Nash Foundation Award. Dr. Shay was also named an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar. Dr. Shay was placed in the Institute for Scientific Investigations as one of the most highly cited scientists in the field of "Molecular Biology and Genetics". Science Watch placed Dr. Shay into the Doctors of the Decade list and he was ranked as one the most cited authors in the area of General Biomedicine.
Read more about Dr. Shay's research here.
Dr. Segaran P. Pillai currently serves as the Chief Medical and Scientific Advisor in the Science and Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In this role, he serves on the White House Biodefense Policy committee and as an advisor for all initiatives to deter, detect or mitigate a biological attack on the nation and also initiatives involving Public Health related issues. Dr. Pillai received his PhD in Molecular Genetics for research studies performed in Dr. Del Shankel's laboratory focusing on the prevention of antimicrobial resistance. He later joined Dr. Lester Mitscher's laboratory at the University of Kansas for post-doctoral training where he focused on a number of areas including antimicrobial resistance, anti-mutagenic and oxidative studies, immune stimulants, and natural products which resulted in numerous publications and two patents.
Prior to his current position, Dr. Pillai served as an Assistant Professor of Research at the University of Kansas, the Director of the Florida Department of Health, State Public Health Laboratory in Miami and as the Clinical Services Director for the Miami-Dade County Health Department. While in Florida, he also served as a Voluntary Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Miami School Medicine and Associate Professor and advisor for School of Public Health, Florida International University. For more information about Dr. Pillai's career accomplishments including receipt of the Under Secretary Award for Science and Technology from the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 and the Iceberg Award in 2001 from the Department of Justice (FBI), click here.
Dr. Yafei Huang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Yafei received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry with honors in 2002. Her thesis work focused on x-ray crystallographic studies on rat liver enzymes involved in the methyl cycle. Her research was performed under the supervision of Dr. Fusao Takusagawa. Yafei is the recipient for the 2000 Newmark Award for Excellence in Biochemistry Research.
After graduation, Yafei continued her x-ray crystallographic studies as a postdoctoral fellow at New York University School of Medicine, focusing on membrane proteins. In 2003, she solved one of the first crystal structures of a secondary transporter (Science, 2003). Yafei moved to Sweden in 2005 and did a second postdoc at Stockholm University, studying the membrane-bound cytochrome oxidases,. This work elucidated the proton transfer mechanisms in the cbb3 type oxidase (PNAS, 2008).
Yafei started her own group at the Uppsala Biomedical Center in 2008. Research in her group focuses on structural and mechanistic studies of membrane transporter proteins. More information on Dr. Huang's research can be found here.
Dr. Ward Tucker is the Research Director for BioSentinel Pharmaceutical Inc, a small start-up biotechnology company located in Madison, WI. Ward received his PhD in Biochemistry from KU in 2001 following the completion of his dissertation entitled "Assembly of hybrid photosynthetic F1F0- and F1-ATPases: defining the inhibitory and stimulatory tentoxin binding sites and Ca2+-dependent rotation." This work was completed under the direction of Dr. Mark Richter in the Department of Molecular Biology and in collaboration with Drs. Zippora Gromet-Elhanan and Gilad Haraan at the Weismann Institute of Science in Israel. The collaboration between these groups allowed Ward to work with scientists from all over the world in two very different environments and to receive an excellent and productive graduate education.
Ward carried out his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Edwin Chapman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During this period, Ward investigated the role of synaptotagmin and SNAREs in Ca+-regulated membrane fusion events. His work ultimately resulted in the first demonstration of Ca2+-triggered membrane fusion using a fully recombinant and reconstituted in vitro system. Ward moved into industry after completing his postdoctoral training, accepting a scientist position at NeoClone Biotechnology (Madison). There, he developed a system for stimulating antigen-specific B cells and increasing the specificity and yield of clones obtained from monoclonal antibody production procedures.
Ward's current work at BioSentinel involves the development, commercialization, and utilization of assays to detect Class A select agents. Currently, his group is focused on in vitro and cell-based assays for the detection of botulinum neurotoxins. One goal of this research is to replace animal methods that are currently used by research, government, and pharmaceutical laboratories to detect and quantify the toxins. For more information about Dr. Tucker's research, click here.
Dr. Kevin Halling is an Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Research and Development for the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He co-directs the Clinical Molecular Genetics and Molecular Anatomic Pathology laboratories. He received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1986 and an M.D. in 1989, both from the University of Kansas. His Ph.D. research was completed in the lab of Dr. Robert Weaver and his thesis was entitled “The cloning and characterization of members of the ricin gene family.” He completed a residency in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology at Mayo Clinic in 1994 and a fellowship in Clinical Molecular Genetics also at Mayo Clinic in 1995. He was the Chair of the College of American Pathologists Molecular Oncology Committee from 2008-2010. In addition to his clinical laboratory responsibilities, he serves as director of the Molecular Genetic Pathology Fellowship at Mayo. One of Dr. Halling's primary clinical and research interest has been the development and clinical implementation of fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) assays for the detection of malignant cells in various types of cytology specimens. He collaborated with a company known as Vysis to develop a FISH assay that is now commonly used to detect bladder cancer in urine specimens. Dr. Halling has published over 75 articles that deal with cancer genetics and the molecular diagnosis of cancer. Read more about Dr. Halling's work here.
2010 Alumni Profiles
Dr. David Busija will become Chairman and Regents Professor of Pharmacology at Tulane University Medical School on January 1, 2011 following 20 years as Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest University Health Sciences. David originally pursued a career in Anthropology at KU (M.A., 1974), but his interest in human adaptation to challenging environments led him to study respiratory physiology (Ph.D., 1978) under the direction of a new Assistant Professor, Dr. James Orr. One of his fondest memories was leading ponies, which were used in the research, up and down the stairs in Haworth Hall to transport them between holding pen and laboratory.
Following a fellowship with Dr. Donald Heistad at the University of Iowa, David developed long-term research interests in: 1) the control of the brain circulation; 2) the mechanisms of brain injury; and 3) mitochondrial biology in health and disease. He has trained many students, fellows, and young investigators from the USA and abroad and his research is supported by 4 NIH grants. In recognition of David's sustained interactions with the University of Szeged, Hungary (founded in 1872) he was awarded the Doctorem Medicinae Honoris Causa [M.D. (HON), 2009] by their Medical School. David says that his career has benefitted from the excellent, broad training he received from the faculty at KU, the scientific freedom allowed by the granting agencies, and the numerous contributions by students, fellows, and faculty collaborators. You can find out more information about Dr. Busija here
Dr. Carol Saunders is the Director of the Clinical Molecular Genetics Laboratory at Children’s Mercy Hospital (CMH) in Kansas City, Missouri. She is an Associate Professor, with faculty appointments at UMKC School of Medicine, Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, and KU Medical School. Carol received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology in 1998, following the completion of her dissertation entitled "The Mechanism of gurken mRNA Localization During Drosophila Oogenesis” while working in the laboratory of Dr. Robert Cohen.
Carol completed a clinical molecular genetics fellowship at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta and was awarded an NRSA grant to work in the laboratory of Doug Wallace in Emory’s Center for Molecular Medicine on a project entitled “Improved Diagnosis and Treatment of Pearson Syndrome.” She sat for the American Board of Medical Genetics certification exam in 2002 and is a board-certified Clinical Molecular Geneticist.
Carol directs a clinical diagnostic lab that tests patients for a variety of diseases, both genetic and cancer. The lab uses a variety of techniques, including DNA sequencing, real-time PCR, genotyping microarrays, and multiple ligation probe assay (MLPA) to find disease-causing mutations. Her other roles involve the education of students and trainees at various levels: she lectures for the medical schools and directs a molecular biology training program for pathology residents from both UMKC and KU. In addition, she participates in KU’s molecular biotechnology training program, serving as a practicum site and mentor for students. You can see more information about Carol here: http://www.childrens-mercy.org/Content/view.aspx?id=2917.
Deborah Ferrington is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN. She is also a member of the graduate programs in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics and the Gerontology Minor.
Deb received her PhD in Biochemistry in 1997 following completion of her dissertation entitled "The effects of oxidation, aging, and exercise on the structure, function, and protein turnover of the sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca-ATPase". This work was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Diana Bigelow in the Department of Biochemistry, one of three departments which later merged to form the Department of Molecular Biosciences. Post-doctoral work was performed at the University of Kansas under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Squier where she studied mechanisms of proteasome degradation of oxidized proteins.
Deb began her current position at the University of Minnesota in 1999. She has two main areas of research. One area is focused on defining the molecular changes in proteins (expression and oxidation state) and mitochondrial DNA that occur at early stages of age-related macular degeneration. A second area of research involves the proteasome, specifically investigating how proteasome structure and function change with aging and disease. In addition to her research responsibilities, Deb is also the director of a training grant funded by the National Institute on Aging. You can see more information about Deb at: http://www.med.umn.edu/ophthalmology/faculty/ferrington/home.html.
Dr. Melissa Daggett is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri. Melissa received her Ph.D. in Physiology and Cell Biology in 1997, following the completion of her dissertation entitled "Studies on the 77 KD Echinoderm Microtubule-Associated Protein (EMAP) using the Baculovirus Expression System" while working in the laboratory of Dr. Kathy Suprenant.
Melissa continued as a postdoctoral fellow within the Center for Reproductive Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center in the laboratories of Dr. Glen Andrews and Dr. Leslie Heckert where she studied transcriptional regulation of genes involved in early gonadal development and sex determination.
Melissa's current position at Missouri Western, a predominately undergraduate institution, includes teaching undergraduate courses in Cell Biology, Animal Physiology and Developmental Biology as well as mentoring undergraduate research students. Her current research interests include investigating the molecular, cellular and physiological aspects of environmental tand pharmaceutical and personal care p(PPCPs) on zebraduring early embryonic development. You can see more information about Melissa at http://staff.missouriwestern.edu/users/daggett/.
Dr. Brady Maher is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology at the University of Connecticut. Brady received his Ph.D. in 2003, completing his dissertation entitled “Glutamate receptor cycling modulates synaptic transmission” in Dr. Paul Kelly’s laboratory. He completed his postdoctoral training in Dr. Gary Westbrook’s laboratory at the Vollum Institute (Portland OR). In 2008, Brady moved to Dr. Joseph LoTurco’s lab at University of Connecticut. He received an Individual Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) from the National Institute of Mental Health to determine how schizophrenia susceptibility genes modulate synaptic physiology in the mammalian brain. Learn more about Brady’s research here.
Dr. Beverly Benson is the Director of Clinical Development and Scientific Affairs at Jazz Pharmaceuticals [www.jazzpharma.com] in Palo Alto, California. Bev received her Ph.D. in 1995, performing her dissertation work in the laboratory of Dr. Steve Benedict where she studied gene transcription and the signaling pathways involved in the activation of T lymphocytes. She went on to complete postdoctoral training in the Department of Biology at the University of Utah. Bev then accepted a fellowship with Cato Research in Durham, NC in which she learned the steps of drug development required for FDA approval.
Dr. Benson has worked at a variety of pharmaceutical companies. In her current position at Jazz Pharmaceuticals she is working to develop anti-epileptic and fibromyalgia drugs. Check out her scientific autobiography here.
Dr. Mohan Gupta is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago in Chicago, IL. Moe received his B.S. in Biochemistry from KU in 1992. He received his Ph.D. with honors in Biochemistry in 2001.
He performed his thesis work in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Himes where he studied “Mutational analysis of cysteine residues in Saccharomyces cerevisiae Beta-tubulin: importance of Cys354 in microtubule dynamics”. He then went on to a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. David Pellman in the Departments of Biology Chemistry and Pharmacology & Pediatric Oncology at Harvard Medical School & Dana-Farber Cancer Institute where he studied “A microtubule depolymerase in spindle movement and chromosome segregation”.
Moe began his current position at the University of Chicago in 2008. His current research interests are aimed at understanding how the functions of the microtubule cytoskeleton are controlled, and especially how microtubule motors play a role in this process. You can see more about his research here.