Skip to main content

Research Mentors

Name Lab Description
Anandh Velayutham PhD The research in Velayutham laboratory is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which blueberry/strawberry-derived microbial metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction during metabolic syndrome (MetS). Human studies support the vascular beneficial effects of berry anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are extensively metabolized by the gut microbiota in humans, suggesting their vascular benefits might be mediated by their microbial metabolites. Velayutham lab showed that: blueberry/strawberry supplementation improves vascular inflammation and dysfunction and increases the beneficial gut bacteria in diabetic mice; key blueberry metabolites attenuate palmitate-induced endothelial inflammation and vascular dysfunction (Mol Nutr Food Res 2018, Int J Cardiol 2018 & 2019, J Nutr Biochem 2019). 
Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham, PhD - Research - Faculty Profile - The University of Utah
Nels Elde, PhD

My research program investigates host-pathogen interfaces and the evolutionary impact of these interactions on genomic and cellular complexity. Protein surfaces at these interfaces often evolve in a manner resembling molecular arms races, providing a conspicuous means to investigate mechanisms underlying the process of evolution. A major focus of our efforts is using integrated phylogenetic and experimental approaches to identify new sources of genetic resistance to infectious diseases. We also use model organisms as platforms for virus discovery and to understand the rules by which hosts adapt to respond to infections. Our approaches can provide fundamental advances for understanding how infectious microbes shape host evolution and reveal genetic mechanisms underlying virus adaptation to hosts.

Co-Mentor: Katie Deets, postdoc,

Barbara Jones, MD, MSCI

Dr. Jones is a pulmonary and critical care physician with a research focus on understanding and improving decision-making in pneumonia. Her work combines three informatics methods – population analytics, qualitative inquiry of cognitive behavior, and clinical decision support – to examine mechanisms of variation in diagnosis and treatment and develop paths to improvement across the VA and University of Utah health systems.

Paul Sigala, PhD

We study the basic cellular biochemistry of blood-stage malaria parasites, with an overall goal to understand the molecular and metabolic adaptations and functions that equip these parasites for growth in human red blood cells.

Co- Mentor: Shai-Anne Nalder, graduate PhD student

Scott Summers, PhD

Our group seeks to determine the molecular mechanisms linking aberrant fat metabolism to the development of diabetes and heart disease.

Co-Mentor: Marie Norris

Joanne Grudziak, MD

Older (>65) critically ill trauma and emergency general surgery (TEGS) patients represent a growing number of admissions, but their post-admission outcomes remain poorly defined. Older adults prize independence and quality of life over its prolongation at all costs. Understanding outcomes of critical TEGS illness from the patients€™ perspective will improve prognostication, goals of care discussions, and provision of patient-centered critical care, while potentially reducing readmission rates and unnecessary suffering. It may also identify novel modifiable risk factors for adverse outcomes not visible using traditional morbidity and mortality metrics. The long-term goal is to improve earlier identification of risk factors for adverse in-hospital and post-acute admission in older, critically ill TEGS patients, and to improve our understanding of what recovery from these admissions looks like in this patient population to facilitate patient-centered care, provide better communication of prognosis and realistic goals of care.

Co-Mentor: Emily Adams, PGY-3 resident in general surgery

Joe Yost, PhD

Dr. Yost works at the intersection between model organism genetics and the discovery of novel disease-causing mutations in human genomes. His long-term research goal is to understand the gene regulatory networks and developmental mechanisms that assign different cell identities in functionally appropriate positions in the vertebrate embryo, and to utilize this knowledge for the advancement of human medicine.

Karen Wilcox, PhD

The Wilcox laboratory is interested in understanding basic mechanisms underlying epilepsy development, seizure generation, and therapy-resistance to antiseizure drugs. To achieve these goals, we use a variety of microscopy, pharmacology, genetic, and electrophysiology techniques. A potential summer student would likely work on an exciting project in studying neurological implications of viral infection, such as how neuroinflammation contributes to seizures and long-term brain rewiring that can place patients at high risk of developing epilepsy even after surviving infection. A variety of viral infections are major risk factors for seizures and epilepsy development, including COVID-19, Influenzas, Chickenpox, HIV, Zika, Chikungunya, West Nile, Measles, Mumps, and many others. Our working hypothesis is that insight into disease-induced changes in neuronal and glial function will provide new avenues for therapeutic interventions in patients at risk for developing epilepsy or those patients who are refractory to current treatment options.

Co-Mentor: Laura Bell, PhD candidate,

Michelle Debbink, MD, PhD

This is a "dry lab" consisting largely of myself and several students interested in perinatal health inequities. I conduct both large geographic data analyses of inequities as well as qualitative focus group studies; my interest is in the community and social levers that are available to mitigate inequities in perinatal health outcomes.
Michelle Debbink, MD, PhD - Maternal-Fetal Medicine , , Obstetrics/Gynecology | University of Utah Health

Co-Mentor: Heather Tanana, JD/MPH 
                     Siale Vaitohi Teaupa
Lina Ghabayen

Martin Tristani-Firouzi, MD

Martin Tristani-Firouzi, MD is a Professor of Pediatrics and the H.A. and Edna Benning Presidential Chair. His research is dedicated to the study of Precision Cardiovascular Medicine. With extramural funding, he has built an infrastructure supporting personalized medicine by connecting disciplines that excel in genomic analysis, functional analyses, and health care information technology, while leveraging the unique local resources such as the University of Utah Electronic Data Warehouse (EDW) and its linkage to the Utah Population Database (UPDB), the largest genealogical database in the world linked to medical records. He serves as Principal Investigator for several prestigious consortia and leads multiple projects broadly related to genomic medicine. His lab utilizes zebrafish and human induced pluripotent stem cells as transgenic model systems for the study of inherited arrhythmia disorders. He is highly committed to mentoring and overseeing the training of the next generation of cardiovascular clinician scientists.

Co-Mentor: Natalia Torres, Research Associate,

Adam Hughes, PhD

Research in the Hughes lab is focused on understanding how changes in the spatial organization of cellular proteins and metabolites drives aging and metabolic diseases, and identifying mechanisms cells use to combat this problem. We utilize a variety of approaches including genetic screens, microscopy, biochemistry, and metabolite analysis in both yeast and mammalian cells to address these questions.


Julia Brasch, PhD

Neurons in the brain form complex neural circuits by connecting to each other through highly specialized junctions called synapses. A molecular logic underlies the formation, establishment and properties of each of these synapses and is likely driven by synaptic cell adhesion molecules. In the lab we aim to understand the protein complexes formed at these junctions and how they assemble and arrange in respect to each other in the synaptic cleft with the overall aim to understand the extracellular architecture of the synapse.

KC Brennan, MD Dr. Brennan's laboratory studies derangements of brain excitability. A particular interest is cortical spreading depression (CSD), a wave of runaway excitation that is thought to be the basis of the migraine aura. CSD is also involved in traumatic brain injury, stroke, and epilepsy.
The lab uses a combination of techniques including optical intrinsic signal imaging and spectroscopy, voltage sensitive dye imaging, two-photon microscopy, and electrophysiology to study CSD and the disorders it affects.
K.C. Brennan - Neuroscience Program - The University of Utah
Kalani Raphael, MD Dr. Raphael is a specialist in disorders of the kidney, electrolytes, and high blood pressure. He oversees Nephrology Fellows in training in the outpatient and inpatient settings.
Sihem Boudina, PhD

Our research is focused on the study of mitochondria in Cardiometabolic disease including obesity and cardiovascular disease


Co-Mentor: Ben Werbner

Ellen Leffler, PhD

Our research focuses on evolutionary and population genetics in humans and other primates. We apply computational approaches to diverse genomics datasets to study the origin, evolution, and functional consequences of genetic variation. We are especially interested in structural variation and variation that influences infectious disease susceptibility within and between species. Our main study system is malaria, where we look at genetic variation both in the malaria parasite (Plasmodium spp) and primate hosts (primarily humans, great apes, and macaques). Current projects include: (1) inferring selective constraint, gene function, and gene essentiality in Plasmodium falciparum using genomic data; (2) inferring selection on blood group variants and malaria-protective variants in the admixed population of Oman; and (3) studying genetic interactions between the human-protective sickle-cell allele and parasite genetic variation.

Co-Mentor: Paige Eberle, PhD Student

Kristina Surosa-Johnson, PhD

My primary are of interest is understanding the impact of stigma on decision making for pediatric patients with a difference/disorder of sex development (DSD).

Kristina I. Suorsa-Johnson, PhD - Pediatric Behavioral Health , , Pediatrics | University of Utah Health

Katsu Funai, PhD

Our laboratory is interested in the intracellular fate of lipids into cellular membranes and how they affect energetics. Upon metabolic insults, mitochondrial membrane lipid composition becomes robustly altered in multiple tissues including liver, skeletal muscle, adipose tissues, and heart. Our studies suggest that some of these changes in mitochondrial lipids are sufficient to alter efficiency for oxidative phosphorylation and induce oxidative stress. Taken together, we hypothesize that mitochondrial membrane lipids represent a common, fundamental mechanism by which respiratory efficiency becomes altered and triggers metabolic diseases. We utilize mouse models and cell culture to study these mechanisms.


Corrine Welt, MD My laboratory is focused on the genetics of female reproductive disorders with a goal to understand the etiology, discover genetic markers for early identification and intervention and identify new treatment targets for infertility. We have assembled an extensive database of genetic and phenotype data in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and primary ovarian insufficiency (POI or premature ovarian failure) and their family members. These cohorts have been critical for the identification and replication of several variants associated with PCOS both in European and Han Chinese ethnic groups and the identification of gene mutations in familial POI. My training in clinical and translational research will facilitate additional studies probing the mechanism for the association between genetic variants and PCOS and POI. My laboratory has also developed technology and collaborations with expert groups to examine the functional effect of these variants.
Corrine K. Welt, MD - Endocrinology & Metabolism , , Internal Medicine | University of Utah Health
Guillaume Hoareau, PhD, DVM Dr. Hoareau is a veterinarian specializing in emergency and critical care. He holds a Ph.D. in Integrative Pathobiology. He runs a translational resuscitation laboratory focusing on hemorrhagic shock and cardiac arrest, two conditions with a heavy burden in acute care. His basic science interest revolves around the mechanisms of ischemia-reperfusion injury after hemorrhagic shock and aortic occlusion as well as mitochondrial pathobiology. He has built a laboratory capable of analyzing mitochondrial morphology and function that has full capability to test novel therapies. Current work focuses on the use of novel peptides to protect mitochondrial structure and function after severe ischemic injuries.
Owen Chan, PhD

 Iatrogenic hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is the most serious acute complication in insulin-treated diabetes and it remains the limiting factor in maintaining proper glycemic control. The brain, and especially the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH), plays a crucial role in sensing hypoglycemia and initiating the physiological ""counterregulatory"" hormone responses to correct it. However, both recurrent exposure to hypoglycemia and longstanding diabetes can impair the mechanisms that normally correct the fall in blood glucose levels. Our laboratory utilizes a combination of neuroscience (microdialysis, microinjection, optogenetics), metabolic (glucose clamps), genetic (targeted knockdown or overexpression) and molecular biology (qRT-PCR, westerns, immunohistochemistry) techniques to identify the neural mechanisms that are involved in the detection of hypoglycemia and how these central sensing mechanisms are impaired following recurring exposure to hypoglycemia and in diabetes.

Co-Mentor: Daniel Appadurai, Post-Doctoral Associate

Lisa Joss-Moore, PhD

The Joss-Moore Lab studies how perinatal insults affect essential fatty acid driven molecular mechanisms predisposing to lung disease. We seek to understand contributions from the placenta, epigenetic signaling pathways, and fatty acid sub-types, as well as the mechanisms behind sex-divergent responses. Our studies involve molecular, morphometric, physiologic and genomic approaches. Our research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, and Primary Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Marcus Pezzolesi, PhD

The primary focus of my research is to understand the etiology of diabetes, diabetic complications, and chronic kidney disease using high-throughput next-generation sequencing technology and integrated ‘omics’-based approaches.  We know that genetic factors contribute to the susceptibility of diabetic kidney disease, the major complication facing patients with diabetes and the leading cause of end-stage renal disease in the United States.

Michael S. Werner, PhD

The major focus of our lab is to understand the molecular mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity - the ability of a single genotype to produce multiple phenotypes.

Randall Peterson, PhD

a chemical biologist whose research utilizes high-throughput screening technologies to discover new drug candidates for cardiovascular and nervous system disorders.  Unlike conventional drug discovery programs that utilize simplified, in vitro assays, the Peterson lab screens using living zebrafish, ensuring that the drug candidates discovered are active in vivo.

Shawn Owen, PhD

The Owen Lab utilizes chemical biology approaches to develop therapies and diagnostics. We are interested in hybrid biotherapeutics, including antibody drug conjugates and fusion proteins, and in diagnostic assays using split-enzymes and protein switches.

Stacey Clardy, MD, PhD

Dr. Clardy is both clinical and research faculty in the Division of Neuroimmunology within the Department of Neurology. Her clinical specialization and research focus is in the field of autoimmune neurology, which encompasses the evaluation and management of both autoimmune and paraneoplastic disorders of the nervous system. The spectrum of autoimmune and paraneoplastic neurological disorders intersects all traditional neurology subspecialties, including movement disorders, epilepsy, behavioral/cognitive, neuromuscular, autonomic, demyelinating, and neuro-oncologic.

Elizabeth Keating, MD

The aims of the project are to identify the epidemiology and outcomes of injured children, identify systems barriers and challenges in pediatric trauma care from the family member and medical provider standpoint, and develop an innovative health systems intervention to improve the care of injured children in Moshi, Tanzania.