2020-21 NU PREP Postbacs

Alex Bendetto
Alex Bendetto: Alex graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a specialization in genetics and development.
PI: Matt Tresch (Professor, Biomedical Engineering)

“My current research interests are in studying spinal cord injuries. Specifically, I am interested in learning more about motor control and neural plasticity following the injury. I was attracted to Dr. Matt Tresch’s lab because his work in nervous system regulation of joint stresses and the brain-machine interface collaboration with Dr. Miller allows me to further explore these interests while introducing me to new biomedical engineering methods.”

Todd Blakely, Jr: Todd graduated from University of Puget Sound with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry.
PI: Raj Awatramani (Associate Professor, Neurology)

“IAs an undergraduate I completed a senior thesis focused on the chemoenzymatic synthesis of glycan fragments for use in antibiotic screenings. In hopes of expanding my biochemistry background to molecular and cellular neurobiology I joined the Awatramani lab through NUIN-PREP. At Northwestern I am currently researching the epigenetic reprogramming necessary for Schwann cell redifferentiation in response to nerve injury. In the future, I hope to research the epigenetic markers formed by generational trauma.”

Radhika Dalal: Radhika graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle, where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree with majors in Biochemistry and Biology.
PI: Gabriel Rocklin (Assistant Professor, Pharmacology)

“As an undergraduate student, I helped computationally design and test protein-based nanomaterials. This undergraduate research experience shaped my scientific interests and led me to the Rosetta Commons postbac program and the Rocklin lab, where I am currently modelling conformational fluctuations of proteins using Rosetta software. I am interested in computational biology and protein engineering, and I hope to pursue these areas further in graduate school.”

Donnisa Edmonds: Donnisa graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in Biological Basis of Behavior.
PI: Thorsten Kahnt (Assistant Professor, Neurology)

“I am currently interested in the neural processes that underly decision making and how neuroimaging can be used to enhance our understanding of these neural systems. My current project explores how connections between the midbrain and other downstream brain regions shape learning in the context of identity prediction errors. I As an undergraduate, I completed a senior undergraduate thesis that investigated the physiology deficits that underly a lack of empathy in children with callous-unemotional traits.”

Kathy Garcia: Kathy graduated from Stanford University, where she majored in Science, Technology, and Society.
PI: Robin Nusslock (Professor, Psychology)

“I am interested in using computational, mathematical, and empirical methods to understand and model the functional architecture of human cognitive networks, the disruptions in the altered patterns of connectivity between brain regions, and the effects of these disruptions . I am fascinated by human cognition, specifically learning. I’ve become increasingly interested in how these mechanisms might influence neurobiological/neuropsychiatric diseases. As a former Data Scientist and avid researcher, I am fascinated in approaching these topics with a range of both experimental methods and formal tools, specifically machine learning. Extensive research in clinical settings has highlighted the potential utility of machine learning automation for disease diagnosis and can be used to understand, interpret, and predict the data and extract the sought-after ideal biomarkers from relevant data. Currently, I am investigating the relationship between different models of psychopathology to understand neurobiological/neuropsychiatric diseases using multivariate pattern analysis. More specifically, my current work focuses on how clinical disorders may manifest in altered patterns of functional connectivity between various brains.”

Reem Ibrahim: Reem graduated from Smith College, where she majored in Engineering with a minor in Chemistry.
PI: Mitra Hartmann (Professor, Biomedical Engineering)

“During my time at Smith, I studied dance alongside my Engineering degree. These two interests ended up merging together, and lead me to pursue my studies on motor control. As an undergraduate, I was involved in a biophysics lab where we studied motor protein movements and their responses to different types/shapes of cargo that were attached to them. Through this work, I became interested the larger scale models on motor control, which lead me to the field of neuroscience. I’m currently interested in studying motor control and how memory is stored in the body through both sensory information input and kinesthetic movement.”

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Matias Murillo: Matias graduated from Western New Mexico University in 2020, with a Bachelor of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology and minor in Chemistry.
PI: Ana Maria Acosta (Assistant Professor, PTHMS)

“My research interests revolve around how movement arises in the brain and the neural pathways behind movement disorders. I am fascinated by the possibility of learning to decode the neural signals and creating brain-machine-interfaces that can aid patients to regain movement. During the NUIN PREP I will be using neuroimaging and neurophysiological techniques to achieve a better understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying movement impairments following stroke, with the scope of developing new therapeutic approaches that can assist in rehabilitation. I am also interested in stem cell technology for neuropsychiatric disease modeling and tissue regeneration. During my undergraduate studies, I tested the transfection efficiency of the neurotrophic factor GDNF, which is involved in Parkinson’s Disease, in CHO and HeLa cells. Also, I had the opportunity of interning at TGen where I was working with iPSC models to test Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, and radioprotection possible drugs.”


NU PREP Alumni

Faith Adams Headshot
Faith Adams, 2019-20: Faith graduated from Farleigh Dickinson University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Biochemistry.
PI: Talia Lerner (Assistant Professor, Physiology)

“My current research focuses on investigating the effect of early life stress (ELS) on dopamine learning signals in adulthood. ELS disrupts the development of neuronal circuits, imposing an increased risk for the development of neuropsychiatric diseases such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and substance abuse disorders. Considering the role of midbrain dopamine neurons in motivated behaviors, I will be investigating the effect of ELS on midbrain dopamine neuron anatomical circuitry in adulthood using rabies-mediated viral tracing and tissue clearing (SHIELD).”

sarah etuk
Sarah Etuk, 2019-20: Sarah graduated from Pomona College, where she majored in Neuroscience.
PI: Robin Nusslock (Associate Professor, Psychology)

“I am interested in using structural and functional neuroimaging techniques to understand the neural mechanisms involved in the development of mood and anxiety disorders. I’ve newly begun working on a project that explores how threat and reward neural circuitry might account for associations found between stress and the gut microbiome. As an undergraduate, I completed a senior undergraduate thesis that investigated the relation between perceived discrimination and the cortisol awakening response in black women.”

Molishka Flores-Narvaez_headshot
Molishka Flores-Narvaez, 2019-20: Molishka graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences.
PI: Marco Gallio (Associate Professor, Neurobiology)

“As an undergraduate student I had the opportunity to work in a Neuroscience lab that focused in studying therapeutic alternatives for neurodegenerative diseases. This experience made me realize my interest in studying the neural mechanisms that determine animal behavior. Now being part of NUIN-PREP and as a member of the Gallio Lab my research centers on using the dynamic genetic model Drosophila to understand the molecular and cellular underpinnings of thermosensation and how it evolves across species. My goal is to uncover what factors contribute to the evolution of thermosensation in order to understand how sensory processing evolves.”

Jarildy L. Javier, 2018-20: Jari graduated from Colby College in 2018, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Biology.
PI: Tiffany Schmidt (Assistant Professor, Neurobiology)

“As a senior at Colby, I was offered the opportunity to work in a behavioral neuropsychology lab as a research assistant. The lab focused mainly on choline and its effects throughout life, as well as its neuroprotective properties against psychological disorders, but I was also exposed to models of addiction, mild traumatic brain injury and postpartum depression. Though late in my college career, this exposure propelled me toward further exploration of neuroscience and its connection to behavior. Through the NU IN-PREP Postbac program, I am currently in the Schmidt Lab in Evanston learning about and working with a group of key players in visual processing: intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs). My goal is to reveal more about how ipRGCs contribute to visual processing so that we can better understand the increasingly complex system that is vision.”

Nkatha Mwenda, 2019-20: Nkatha graduated from Kalamazoo College, where she majored in Biology.
PI: Raj Awatramani (Professor, Neurology)

“My previous research experience focused on identification and development of new therapeutic targets for treatment of age-related diseases using bioanalytical chemistry. Through this work I became interested in the molecular pathology of age-related diseases and specifically neurodegenerative diseases. In the future, I hope to further explore my interests in molecular neurobiology through research centered around the molecular mechanisms of various diseases.”


Madaline Mocchi 2018-19: Maddie graduated from Grinnell College in 2018, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Psychology with a concentration in Neuroscience.
PI: Eva Redei (Professor, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences)

“My current research interests center on understanding how genetics and the environment interact to produce anxious and depressive behaviors in adulthood. Specifically, I am investigating how two Wistar-Kyoto (WKY) rat sub strains behave in adulthood after exposure to an acute stressor in adolescence, and the expression of genes corresponding to those behaviors. In the future, I also hope to study the interaction between thyroid hormone levels and environmental stressors in the development of various psychopathologies.”

Toneisha Stubbs, 2018-19: Toneisha graduated from Kenyon College in 2018, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Neuroscience.
PI: Murali Prakriya (Professor, Pharmacology)

“My research experience in undergrad involved studying the effect of a GABA A antagonist on object recognition memory in a mouse model for autism. My behavioral work led to my interest in molecular neuroscience particularly the function of ion channels.”

Taylor Zuleger, 2018-19: Taylor graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay in 2018, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Human Biology and Psychology.
PI: Arun Jayaraman (Associate Professor, Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences)

“My research training and experience has predominantly involved the use of brain imaging (EEG) to understand the neural underpinnings of moral and prosocial development in preschool-aged children. I have since come to appreciate the neural substrates of mental processes and the study of cognitive differences associated with motor systems and motor learning. My hope is to expand my knowledge and explore the techniques associated with motor performance across an array of neurological insults.”

Saul Bello Rojas, 2017-18: Saul graduated from Lake Forest College in 2017, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Neuroscience.
PI: David McLean (Associate Professor in Neurobiology)

“The primary focus of my research is identifying the morphological differences and function in motor neuron spinal axon collaterals in zebrafish. Previously, I worked on understanding protein mutations in diseases like Parkinson’s and Age-related Macular degeneration in yeast and mice, respectively. I have an interest in understanding motor circuitry and the complex motor network in the spinal cord initiates movement.”

Andrew Fleming, 2017-18: Andrew graduated from The Ohio State University in 2017, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Neuroscience.
PI: John Kessler (Professor, Neurology)

“My current research interests center on glia cells. More specifically, astrocytes. Astrocytes are commonly thought of as simply a support structure for their surrounding neurons, but recent investigations suggest they have an even more profound effect on the central nervous system. Furthermore, I am interested in the interactions of the endothelium, basement membrane proteins, and glial cells and how they are all involved in the formation of the blood brain barrier. Glial cells are vital to the formation of the tight junctions in the endothelium, but the mechanisms by which this occurs is still unclear. I hope to uncover more about this process as it relates to a number of CNS vascular pathologies.”

Chad Morton, 2017-18: Chad graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 2016, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Chemistry.
PI: Anis Contractor (Professor, Physiology)

“Recently, I’ve been focused on clarifying the precise molecular mechanisms of synaptic communication in fragile X syndrome (FXS). More specifically, my research involves identifying which receptors and ion channels contribute to metaplasticity and how they are altered in FXS. Previously, my research experiences comprised of the use of stem cell therapy in parkinsonian disease models, neurodegeneration in spinal injury, hydroboration facilitated chemical synthesis of novel compounds and nuclear imaging research involving the diagnoses, understanding, and discovery of new therapies for CNS disorders. I have an interest in the molecular mechanisms governing learning and memory and neurodegenerative diseases and endeavor to continue doing research in those fields. “

Sierra Smith, 2017-18: Sierra graduated from Lake Forest College in 2017, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Neuroscience.
PI: Raj Awatramani (Associate Professor, Neurology)

“My last research experience focused on Alzheimers Disease and the involvement of calcium release in the affected neurons. I used specific inhibitors of a Ryanodine receptor and measured differing levels of calcium release. Currently, I am focused on Parkinson’s Disease and am investigating potential compensatory mechanisms in several mouse models of Dopamine depletion. In the future I am interested in pursuing the molecular mechanisms of other diseases both neurodegenerative and non-neurodegenerative.”

Leah Vinson, 2016-18: Leah graduated from a Northwestern University in 2016, where she earned a Bachelor in Science as a Neuroscience major.
PI: John Disterhoft (Professor in Physiology)

“Currently, I am investigating learning and memory mechanisms involving the somatosensory cortex in mice. Extensive research conducted on the primary somatosensory cortex has revealed that it is necessary for the acquisition but not retention of whisker-signaled trace eyeblink conditioning, a declarative memory task. Preliminary experiments conducted in the Disterhoft laboratory suggest that the secondary somatosensory cortex mediates the storage of whisker-evoked memories. Hence, the objective of my project is to determine if the secondary somatosensory cortex is a necessary part of the engram for whisker-evoked memories. Using trace eyeblink conditioning, mice are trained to associate whisker vibration with an airpuff directed at the eye to elicit a blink response. The mice eventually exhibit blinks in response to whisker vibration prior to the onset of the airpuff. This conditioned response is our assay for learning. Using Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs or DREADDs and our well-controlled behavioral task, I will investigate the necessity of the somatosensory cortex and its different subareas in mediating the acquisition and storage of long-term memories. .”


Kayla Miguel, 2016-17: Kayla earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Miami in 2016, where she majored in Neuroscience.
PI: Tom Bozza (Associate Professor in Neurobiology)

“I am researching a small family of odorant receptors called the trace amine-associated receptors or TAARs. I am trying to understand how the TAARs play a role in the perception of odors and the detection of social cues in mice.”

Luzivette Robles, 2016-17: Luzivette graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras in 2016, majoring in Cellular and Molecular Biology.
PI: Liming Li (Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics)

“My project uses yeast models, which express either neurodegeneration proteins or prion proteins, to screen various compounds for inhibiting aggregation and toxicity. I measure yeast cell growth and protein aggregation to determine the effectiveness of the different compounds. Identifying compounds that both inhibit or eliminate prions and neurodegenerative proteins could help explain the molecular mechanisms through which they propagate.”