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Education / Graduate Education / PREP Program / PREP Research Areas & Mentors

Research areas

Virtual Biomedical Research Day

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


Our mentors are recruited on the basis of their excellence in research and their strong commitment and success in student mentoring. All have well-funded research programs and an international reputation.

Senu Apewokin, Associate Professor, Infectious Disease Div., Dept. Internal Medicine, UC
 Dr. Apewokin's research focuses on host-microbe interactions during immunosuppressive events such as chemotherapy and organ transplantation. His lab uses innovative techniques such as next-generating sequencing, organoid models, and other advanced techniques to interrogate infectious diseases such as C. difficile and hepatitis C.

Katherine Burns, Assistant Professor, Department of Environmental Health, UC
 Dr. Burns studies endometriosis, an incurable gynecological disease that causes extreme pain, systemic symptoms, autoimmune disorders and infertility. The laboratory seeks to help millions of women with endometriosis by using mouse models, cell culture, and human samples to examine how environmental chemicals and the immune system contribute to the disease.

Laura Conforti, Professor, Nephrology, Division, Department of Internal Medicine, UC
 Dr. Conforti's laboratory studies ion channels and the membrane mechanisms that regulate the activation and function of T lymphocytes. Projects include: The role of ion channels in T cell response and adaptation to hypoxia. The role of ion channels in the development and persistence of autoimmune diseases. Membrane mechanisms involved in T cell activation.

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

Christian Hong, Associate Professor, Dept. Pharmacology & Systems Physiology, UC
 Dr. Hong investigates molecular mechanisms of circadian rhythms and their functions in other cellular processes such as cell cycle and metabolism. The lab focuses on identifying molecular components that connect the circadian clock and cell cycle, and the consequences of this coupling in intestinal stem cell regeneration and proliferation using mouse and human organoids.

David Hui, Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UC
Dr. Hui is interested in cholesterol metabolism and what makes individuals susceptible to coronary heart disease. His lab uses mouse models to examine the regulation of dietary fat and cholesterol absorption, the interactions between diet and genetic factors in atherosclerosis risk, and arterial wall response to injury such as that caused by balloon angioplasty.

Leah Kottyan, Associate Professor, Division of Allergy and Immunology, CCHMC
 Dr. Kottyan studies how genetic variants increase the risk for a series of diseases with an immunological component. These include eosinophilic esophagitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, atopic dermatitis, and multiple sclerosis. Since many genetic risk variants leave the protein sequence unchanged, she focuses on genotype-dependent transcriptional regulation.

Scott Langevin,  Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Health, UC
 Dr. Langevin studies the molecular epidemiology of cancer with a focus on malignancies of the upper aerodigestive tract. Research projects include analysis of cancer-associated epigenetic alterations, studies of genetic/epigenetic-environment interactions, identification and evaluation of diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, and the epidemiology of head and neck cancer.

Agnes Luo, Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, UC
 Dr. Luo studies Parkinson's disease and stroke with the goal of developing therapies that slow down or reverse the damage caused by Parkinson's and traumatic brain injury, such as stroke. She uses genetically modified mice and pharmacological manipulation to understand the repair processes and molecular pathways that contribute to brain regeneration.

Bryan Mackenzie, Associate Professor, Department of Physiology, UC
 Dr MacKenzie studies iron transport, an essential process necessary to prevent iron deficiency and hereditary conditions associated with iron overload. His lab focuses on the molecular physiology of iron transporters DMT1 and Fpn, their structure–function and cellular roles. The lab utilizes Xenopus oocytes expressing iron transporters and genetically modified mice.

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

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

Tiina Reponen, Professor, Department of Environmental Health, UC
 Dr. Reponen studies bioaerosols in indoor and industrial environments, including physical and microbiological characterization of airborne actinomycete and fungal spores, the dispersion of bioaerosols, and the control of airborne microorganisms by filtration. She collaborates with epidemiologists in investigating the health effects of particle and bioaerosol exposures.

Teresa Reyes, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology & Systems Physiology, UC
 Dr. Reyes studies how diet influences brain development. She focuses on how maternal diet changes gene expression in the offspring's brain and investigates epigenetic markers that may link early diet to changes in gene expression. She also studies how diet impacts the brain's immune system and how the brain's immune system maintains brain health.  

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

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

Rolf Stottmann, Associate Professor, Division of Human Genetics, CCHMC
Dr. Stottman studies the genetics of structural birth defects affecting the face and brain including syndromic oro-facial clefting, microcephaly, lissencephaly and polymicrogyria.  The lab uses animal models and human genetics to find the genes for normal development, identify genetic variants that affect brain and face development and study the mechanism of the defect.

Tom Thompson, Professor, Dept. Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology, UC
 Dr. Thompson uses X-ray crystallography to resolve the atomic structures of biological molecules that are essential for human life. One area of focus is on how binding of the TGFB-family of ligands to the TGFB receptor regulates the TGFB signaling pathway. Another project focuses on formation of apolipoprotein and HDL particles, two critical mediators of lipid metabolism

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

Joshua Waxman, Associate Professor, Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology, CCHMC
Dr. Waxman's main areas of research are cardiovascular development, regeneration, molecular genetics and signaling pathways. His lab uses zebrafish as their primary research model to uncover conserved mechanisms underlying normal heart development and regeneration, and the causes of congenital cardiovascular defects.

Alison Weiss, Professor, Dept. Molecular Genetics, Biochemistry and Microbiology, UC
 Dr. Weiss studies host-pathogen interactions with regard to infectious diarrhea.  Her lab has developed a new experimental model to study enteric pathogens, pluripotent stem cell “induced human intestinal organoids”.  These “mini-guts” faithfully represent differentiated human intestinal tissue and can be used to model intestinal responses to bacterial infections and toxins.

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

Susanne Wells, Professor, Division of Experimental Hematology and Cancer Biology, CCHMC
 Dr. Wells studies squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) the second most common form of skin cancer. Since SCC is frequently caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), Dr. Wells' lab is investigating how HPV promotes SCC development and metastasis. The lab also seeks to develop new approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of HPV with the goal of preventing SCC.

Katherine Yutzey, Professor, Division of Molecular Cardiovascular Biology, CCHMC
 Dr. Yutzey focuses on the examination and manipulation of the molecular regulatory mechanisms of heart development and disease. The lab uses experimental embryological, genetic and molecular approaches to conduct mechanistic analyses of the development of myocardial and connective tissue cell lineages in the heart

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