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Education / Doctoral & Masters 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.

Please note, we have created this faculty list based on specific criteria, however it is not exhaustive. Some of our PREP Scholars have identified their PREP mentor beyond this list, based on their specific research interest, and had a great experience.

*These mentors have labs on our Reading Campus so you will need your own transportation to travel between the Medical Center Campus and the Reading campus.

David AskewProfessor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UC 
Dr Askew collaborates with the lab of Dr. Kaniscak to understand how fibroblast cells in the lung protect against pulmonary infections caused by the predominant mold pathogen of humans, Aspergillus fumigatus. This exciting new project will provide students with expertise in microbiology, infectious disease, and tissue fibrosis.

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.

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.

*Sean Davidson, Professor, Department of Pathology, UC
Dr Davidson studies the mechanism by which the body protects itself from heart disease. The lab uses mutagenesis and spectroscopic techniques to study the structure/function of particles that move fat around in the circulation. 

Steve Davidson, Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, UC
Dr Davidson investigates the neurobiology of somatosensation with and emphasis on pain and itch. Projects aim to dissect central neural circuits involved in the sensory, emotional, and motivational aspects of pain, as well as the peripheral neural plasticity that occurs after injury. We use neurophysiology, gene and protein assays, imaging, and behavioral approaches to understand nervous system function and to identify new therapeutic avenues.

Kevin Haworth, Associate Professor, Division of Cardiovascular Health and Diseases, UC
Dr Haworth seeks to develop new uses of ultrasound for both medical imaging and biotherapies. The interaction between ultrasound and nanodroplets or microbubbles is a key theme behind a wide variety of applications that are under study, including drug delivery, blood-brain-barrier opening, and cardioprotection. His laboratory uses techniques ranging from programming to ex vivo and in vivo disease models.

Christian Hong, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and 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 a model filamentous fungus, Neurospora crassa, and human organoids.

Onur Kanisicak, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, UC
Dr Kanisicak works in the area of regenerative medicine as it relates to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. His goal is to identify therapeutic targets to prevent organ fibrosis and to promote regeneration through pharmaceuticals, stem cells and cell therapies. Projects use transgenic mice to determine the lineage plasticity and role of tissue-resident interstitial cells involved in fibrogenesis, regeneration, and angiogenesis.

Ying Xia, Professor, Department of Environmental Health, UC
Dr. Xia investigates how gene mutations increase the susceptibility of environmental chemical exposure in developmental diseases.  The lab uses mouse genetics and molecular biological tools and focuses on the embryonic development of the eye and reproductive tract. The long-term goal is to identify genetic risks of chemical exposure in birth defects and understand the molecular pathways underlying the gene-environment interactions.

Jason Tchieu, Assistant Professor, Division of Developmental Biology and Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine,  CCHMC
Dr. Tchieu works on developing therapies and treatments for neurological disorders is hampered by the lack of appropriate human models. The lab utilizes human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to generate cells and organ-like tissues to study the cell type specific and developmental origins of diseases like autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Dr. Tchieu's research program aims to identify convergent mechanisms or pathways and group those genes into constellations to provide direction for optimal treatments and/or therapies for patients with ASD.

Karthickeyan Chella Krishnan, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC
Dr. Chella Krishnan's lab focus is to understand how host genetic background and sex differences influence the mitochondrial (dys)function and increases the susceptibility to several cardiometabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart hypertrophy and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

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.

Phillip Owens, Associate Professor, Division of Cardiovascular Health and Diseases, UC
The Owens lab is primarily focused on the molecular mechanisms of human vascular diseases. Specifically, we examine the roles of coagulation proteases and the gut microbiome on atherosclerosis and abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), respectively. The fundamental goals of our laboratory are to understand the pathophysiology behind these diseases and to develop new and exciting therapeutic possibilities for treatment.

David Plas, Professor, Department of Cancer Biology, UC
The Plas lab is focused on developing and testing experimental therapeutics in preparation for clinical trials to treat Glioblastoma, a deadly brain cancer. We use patient-donated glioblastoma cells, mouse xenografts, and established cell systems to investigate cancer-associated metabolic pathways and signaling pathways. Our aim is to identify glioblastoma vulnerabilities that when targeted successfully will enable improved therapy for patients.

*Teresa Reyes, Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC
Dr. Reyes's lab is interested in how early life environment can shape the brain and cognition. A broad range of environmental factors are studied, including maternal diet, stress, and exposure to chemotherapy or drugs of abuse. Experimental approaches include advanced behavioral tasks to evaluate executive function coupled with gene expression analyses (targeted and genome-wide). Neuroimmune interactions are an area of particular focus. 

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 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.

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.

Nurit Azouz, Assistant Professor, Division of Allergy and Immunology, CCHMC
Dr. Azouz specializes in basic and translational research aiming to identify the role of proteases and protease inhibitors during health and disease. Dr. Azouz's lab demonstrated that the balance between proteases and protease inhibitors is important in preserving the homeostasis in the esophagus and skin and alteration of this balance may lead to the development of allergic diseases including food allergy and atopic dermatitis and infectious diseases including COVID-19.

James Wells, Professor, Division of Developmental Biology Endocrinology, Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine, 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.

*Eric Wohleb, Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology UC
Dr Wohleb studies how the immune system and the nervous system interact and how these interactions regulate behavior and cognition. He seeks to understand how brain-resident immune cells (microglia) shape synaptic function and behavior in physiological and pathological contexts. Techniques used include flow cytometry and cell sorting, cell type-specific molecular analyses (RNA-Seq), viral mediated genetic and pharmacological manipulations, and confocal microscopy.

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.

Yaping Liu, Assistant Professor, Division of Human Genetics and Biomedical Informatics, CCHMC
Dr. Liu's focuses on developing and applying computational and experimental multi-omic methods to understand the gene regulation of non-coding genetic variants. The lab would like to utilize multi-dimensional epigenomics signals within the same single cells and that from circulating cell-free DNA to dissect the functional roles of non-coding regulatory elements.

Mattia Quattrocelli, Assistant Professor, Molecular Cardiovascular Biology Heart Institute, CCHMC
Dr. Quattrocelli's lab investigates molecular mechanisms and translatable biomarkers in dysfunction and rescue of striated muscles. The lab aims at combining genetics, epigenetics, and metabolism to garner a deeper understanding of muscle physiology and pharmacology. An important focus of the lab centers on “precision dosing” for glucocorticoid steroids in heart and muscle regulation.

Katherine Bowers, Associate Professor, Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, CCHMC
Dr. Bowers' research aims to understand the impact of poverty and associated psychosocial risk factors (stress, discrimination, mental health, etc) during pregnancy on offspring developmental health.

Senad Divanovic, Associate Professor, Division of Immunology, CCHMC
Dr. Divanovic focuses on the role of immune response in inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic diseases. The overall goal of his research program is to define the fundamental processes, mechanisms and immune pathways underlying disease pathogenesis, with an ultimate goal of translational exploitation of such insights for eliminating/reducing burdens of inflammation-associated diseases.

Katherine Vest, Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, UC 
Dr. Vest studies the fundamental regulatory mechanisms that govern fluctuating cell metabolism. One major area of interest is understanding how cells control and distribute trace metal nutrients that function as essential cofactors in mitochondrial metabolism, cell signaling, and tissue development and regeneration. Other areas of focus include understanding how gene regulation and mitochondrial metabolism are impaired in a late onset muscular dystrophy that is caused by small expansions in an RNA binding protein, PABPN1. 

Chen Gao, Professor, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC
Dr. Gao focuses on uncovering novel molecular mechanisms for pathogenesis of cardiac diseases, including cardiac hypertrophy, remodeling and dysfunction. The lab utilizes state-of-the-art molecular, genomic and genetic tools to discover and interrogate key molecules involved in the understudied post-transcriptional processes in RNA metabolism in cardiac tissues under physiological and pathological states. Ultimately, the lab aims to develop novel therapeutic and diagnostic strategies for heart failure and cardiometabolic diseases. 

Konstantinos Drosatos, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC
Dr. Drosatos' research focuses on signaling mechanisms that link cardiac stress in diabetes, sepsis and ischemia with altered myocardial and systemic fatty acid metabolism. His lab is pursuing studies in sepsis patients aiming to identify echocardiography markers for early assessment of high probability of mortality. Furthermore, they do screening of chemical libraries for identifying new drugs for sepsis.   

Jayme McReynolds, Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Physiology, UC
The McReynolds lab is interested in identifying the neurobiological mechanisms by which chronic stress promotes or influences pathological brain states and behavior, with a particular focus on addiction. The lab uses rodent drug self-administration models to identify the neurobiological mechanisms by which repeated stress contributes to cocaine-taking and cocaine-seeking behavior. The lab uses a combination of behavioral, pharmacological, molecular, and physiological approaches to address these questions.

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