Biological and Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program

Fall into Science 2015  


Meet our BBS Graduate Student Council

The members of the BBS Graduate Student Council are a dedicated group of current students serving as liaisons between the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) graduate program and prospective students all over the world. They are here to share their personal perspectives and experiences as a BBS graduate student with you via email. Please feel free to contact them by clicking on their name. Please note that questions related to administrative matters can be directed to the Office of Graduate Education.

Wisler Charles, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Brian RuddWisler Charles
Immunology and Infectious Disease
I am originally from Palm Beach, FL and ended up in San Diego, CA via the military (USMC). Once I had completed my contract with the military, I attended the University of California, San Diego for my undergraduate degree. I majored in Biochemistry and Cell biology. It was there I had my first experience in research in UCSD’s department of surgery. This experience helped guide my interests in heat shock proteins and their roles in Immunology in relation to various stresses and infections. My experiences at UCSD afforded me the opportunity to work as a research assistant at BD Biosciences Pharmingen. My involvement at BD motivated me to further pursue a PhD. On my down time I enjoy travelling, tinkering around with and repairing electronics, and hanging out with my fellow grad students.
I decided to come to Cornell because I have access to great faculty and advisors that I can periodically reach out to. Everyone is very approachable and collaborations are super easy to setup. With many great facilities here, I have access to many tools that I can use to continue my research. At this time, in collaboration of two labs, I am pursuing my interest in mCMV and its mechanism of infection in the brain and its possible ties to neurological disorders. In parallel, I am learning how to use new and innovative imaging tools to add to my arsenal.

Ezen Choo, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Robin DandoE Choo
I am originally from California and completed a B.S. in Environmental Toxicology at the University of California, Davis.As an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to conduct independent research in the UCD Department of Environmental Toxicology. After graduating, I pursued my interests in research and worked as a research assistant for ArKal Medical, a bio tech start up in Silicon Valley. Before coming to Cornell, I also worked in science education for WestEd, a nonprofit in education research and development. I decided to come to Cornell University because of the many resources available to get me through graduate studies as smoothly as possible such as the faculty,administration, peers, on and off-campus research facilities, teaching workshops, professional development, and more.

Erin Chu, Combined Degree Student, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Paul SolowayChu
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York but spent my formative years bouncing around Singapore, Beijing, and China. I came back to upstate New York for my undergraduate schooling at Cornell...and never left! As a member of Cornell's Combined DVM/PhD program, I received my DVM in May 2014--one day I hope to combine basic science research and my veterinary training into a career in translational research. When I'm not in the lab, I'm riding my horse, Honor, reading fun books, and enjoying all the exercise opportunities Ithaca has to offer--trail running and kayaking in nice weather and barre and CrossFit in less nice weather.
Epigenetic states are established early in embryogenesis and maintained throughout the lifetime of an individual. Misregulation of epigenetic states in the germline usually results in sterility; in somatic tissues, fundamental processes such as cell fate and function are disrupted. While many trans-acting factors that catalyze epigenetic modifications have been characterized, less is understood about the cis-acting elements that guide these factors to specific genomic sequences. The Soloway lab uses the Rasgrf1 locus as a model to investigate these cis-acting factors and the mechanisms through which they act. We have identified a non-coding RNA that directs DNA methylation at Rasgrf1. Interestingly, this RNA also has homology to piRNAs unlinked to Rasgrf1, and we have shown that components of the piRNA pathway are necessary for Rasgrf1 methylation; thus we have termed this RNA the "pitRNA". My project focuses on characterizing the temporal aspects of pitRNA activity. I am in the process of generating a mouse system where we can control the expression of the pitRNA. Using this system I will determine the developmental windows in which the pitRNA can control DNA methylation in the male germline and in other tissues, and explore conditions under which the pitRNA can have transallelic and transgenerational effects.

Erika Gruber, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Cynthia Leifer Gruber
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
I am originally from a small town in southern New Jersey and came to Cornell for the first time to attend the College of Veterinary Medicine. After graduation, I practiced small animal medicine for several years before returning to Cornell for a residency in clinical pathology. During my training, I became increasingly interested in the pathologic mechanisms underlying the diseases that I was diagnosing and decided to continue my training in graduate school. I'm interested in the role of inflammation in chronic diseases, cancer biology, and obesity. In my free time, I enjoy cooking (and eating!) and exploring Ithaca's natural areas and parks with my two young children and husband. 
Because I'm in the first year of the program, I haven't chosen my thesis laboratory yet, but have had some really great rotations so far. I worked in a biomedical engineering lab where I studied cancer cell migration and how interactions between non-cancerous cells and cancerous cells may affect the migration of cancerous cells. I also rotated in an immunology lab where I looked at how the phenotype and function of macrophages, a critical cell type in innate immunity and wound healing, may change in response to the mechanical properties of the environment they are grown in.

Sachi Horibata, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Scott Coonrodsachi
I am a Japanese-Filipina who spent most of my childhood in Asia. I obtained my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it was here I decided to do ovarian cancer research when my grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer; I hope to help her in any way I could but she later passed away. I also have research experience working at an Ebola and avian influenza virus lab, a nanotechnology lab (where I used antibody coated colloidal gold nanoparticle to target cancer with hyperthermia), and was a medical laboratory technologist. I love to balance my life, so aside from science, I enjoy watching baseball, baking, having picnics, watching movies, and going shopping with my friends!
Under the guidance of Dr. Scott Coonrod, I have started a project focusing on elucidating the mechanisms regulating the differential expression of the PAD2 isoforms during mammary tumor progression and its potential role in regulating HER2 mediated transcription. PAD2 is the ancestral homologue and one of the peptidylarginine deiminases (PADs) family, which are calcium-dependent enzymes that post-translationally convert positively charged arginine to neutrally charged citrulline in a process called citrullination. The modification results in wide-ranging effects on target protein structure, function, and protein-protein interactions, and dysregulation is often associated with multiple diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, we found that PAD2 expression and activity is sharply elevated in several aggressive forms of breast cancer and interestingly, my preliminary studies suggest differential expression of two PAD2 isoforms, PAD2 long (PAD2L) and PAD2 short (PAD2S). I hypothesize that the differential expression pattern appears to correlate with tumorigenicity of the cells and specifically, the induction of PAD2L is involve in cellular transformation in mammary tissues.

Alice Lee, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Dwight BowmanLee
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from veterinary school, I briefly entered general practice before deciding to delve into research, which naturally led me into the PhD program here at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. My ultimate goal is to remain in academia where I can help train future veterinarians and find better ways to diagnose and prevent parasitic diseases in animals. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, music, world travel, and playing intramural sports with my fellow students and colleagues!
I currently have two research focuses. One project explores the effect on mice of a co-infection with the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, which produces a Th1 immune response in its host, and the helminth Toxocara canis, which induces a Th2 response. Studies have demonstrated the immunomodulatory effects that various parasitic infections can have on pre-existing conditions (e.g., patients with the Th1-mediated Crohn’s disease experience clinical improvement after infection with Th2-promoting whipworms). T. gondii and T. canis are common veterinary parasites that are of particular interest because they can also cause disease in people. I am investigating how the host immune response to one parasite is affected by pre-infection with the other, how parasite kinetics change under those circumstances, and whether co-infection results in greater morbidity/mortality compared to either parasitism alone. My second project is the development and validation of a non-invasive means of determining the efficacy of canine deworming medications. Current FDA standards for dewormer licensure require that dogs be euthanized to recover adult worms from treated and untreated groups in order to prove efficacy. I am evaluating alternative quantification methods – such as using conventional and capsule endoscopy to image the small bowel of live dogs – in the hopes of one day replacing the accepted standard.

Jordan Mohr, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Barbara Baird Jordan Mohr
I grew up in southern tier New York and stayed there as I pursued my undergraduate studies at Elmira College. I chose to test the waters of multiple research fields – abstract mathematics, organic synthesis, analytical chemistry, and epidemiology – before realizing that the questions of the biological sciences were what truly interested me. I ultimately came to Cornell because of the perfect mix of location, resources, and academics. The faculty, students, and research here are among the best in the world and the community is naturally welcoming and collaborative. This place feels like home and I look forward to pursuing my thesis in such a nurturing environment.

I am currently in the thick of first year rotations and am still in the process of choosing a permanent lab in which to pursue my thesis. My research interests lie in cancer; specifically how something as complex and heterogeneous as a tumor can develop. Beyond the lab, I like to spend my time helping with various scientific educational outreach programs, reading, playing tennis, and video games.

Sabine Mann, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Daryl Van NydamS Mann
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
As a vet, I enjoyed working with many different animal species. After graduating from Hanover School of Veterinary Medicine in my home country of Germany, I did my internship and started my residency at the Ambulatory department of Cornell working with large animals. to experience a different setting, I continued my residency in bovine heard health management in the ruminant clinic of the LMU Munich, Germany. I completed my residency in 2011 and became a Diplomate of the European College of Bovine Health Management in 2012.  But, I could not stay away from Ithaca and the many things Cornell has to offer, so when I had decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD to reach my goal of obtaining a position in academia, I knew this was the place to go. I am currently enrolled in the first year of the Comparative Biomedical Sciences program here at Cornell.
To enhance the knowledge in veterinary medicine and helping to find strategies for the prevention of cattle diseases are the primary objectives of my graduate work.  Right now I am focusing on the epidemiology and mechanisms of the metabolic disease around the time of calving.  Through Cornell's possibilities of collaboration both within the BBS program and across the whole university I have an ideal environment to achieve my goal.

Melissa McDowell, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle McDowell
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and graduated from LSU with a Bachelors of Science in Animal Science. I was fortunate to begin working in a reproductive biology lab at LSU when I was in high school and continued during my undergraduate years. I worked on several projects, most notably using adipose-derived stem cells to grow bone tissue.  Having a passion for both animals and medicine, I had always planned to go to vet school. However, I couldn’t shake my love of research; thus when I found out about the BBS program through the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine it seemed like a perfect fit. Even though it was hard to leave such warm weather behind, I’ve been enjoying all that Ithaca has to offer and even getting used to the snow. In my free time I like to go hiking, try new recipes, hang out with friends, and of course, spend time with my animals.
I’m very happy to have found a home in the Van de Walle lab where I can continue working on stem cells while studying breast cancer, a disease that has greatly affected my family. I am currently studying the oncogenic differences in mammary stem cells between horses, a species resistant to breast cancer, and dogs, a species susceptible to breast cancer. Differences in how these species regulate their stem cell properties could provide insight into oncogenic transformation of normal stem cells to cancer stem cells. I hope to use this knowledge to develop new methods of targeting and eliminating cancer stem cells in breast cancer. 

Lara Mouttham, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Joanne FortuneLara
Zoology and Wildlife Conservation
My passion in life is studying exotic animals, and in particular reproduction and conservation of endangered species. As part of my Master's degree, I worked in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Zoo to study the reproductive physiology of African elephants. Since then, I have dedicated myself to researching assisted reproductive techniques that will benefit wildlife conservation. I am thrilled to be a part of the Cornell-Smithsonian joint program in the field of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, where I am studying gamete rescue in carnivores and will be able to have an impact on numerous animal species. 
My research project centers around gamete rescue. It consists of retrieving the ovaries from recently deceased or spayed females, and growing the eggs in vitro until they are mature enough for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer into a surrogate mother. It allows us to pass on that female's genes despite her not being alive anymore, and as such can have huge impacts on wildlife conservation of endangered species. In addition, we are developing cryopreservation protocols which would allow us to indefinitely preserve ovarian tissue containing the eggs until a suitable match can be found for that female, or as genetic banking for safekeeping.

Jennifer Nagashima, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Alex Travis Nagashima
Zoology and Wildlife Conservation
I am from sunny warm Southern California (Palm Spring region, to be specific). I am currently a second-year in the field of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, and one of the students in the new Joint Graduate Training Program with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. I was an Animal Science major at Cornell for undergrad as well, so I am happy to answer any questions about my second home (Go Big Red! :)
Nine of the 36 species of canids are listed as either threatened or endangered; any many more will likely be in danger soon due to habitat loss, persecution and domestic dog diseases. I am looking at mechanisms controlling oocyte/egg development in the domestic dog, information which could then be applied to species survival programs in animals like the Maned Wolf or African Wild Dog.  My project is a combination of in vivo work in hormone monitoring, artificial insemination, etc., and in vitro work in follicle and oocyte culture, as well as in vitro fertilization (IVF). My goal is to better understand female dog reproduction in order to develop assisted reproduction techniques for use in endangered animal conservation.

John O'Donnell, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Holger SondermannOdonnell
I grew up in middle of nowhere Pennsylvania and continued this geographic theme during my college years at Juniata College where I studied Molecular Biology and Art History.  This is when I fell in love with the complexities of life and the physical laws that govern it.   I decided on Cornell University for multiple reasons, but the most important are the caliber of research being conducted and the magnitude of interdisciplinary and collaborative projects.  Having access to leaders in dissimilar fields of study and being able to use their expertise in order to answer unique questions in the life sciences is invaluable.  Outside of science, most of my time is spent outdoors, aspiring to be a chef, and reading everything I can get my hands on.
My first taste for research was at Juniata College where I was interested in the regulation of an endogenous yeast retrotransposon. My work delineated a regulation pathway between proteins that suppress dNTP concentrations and retrotransposon mobility. For my second undergraduate research experience, I held an internship with the Department of Homeland Security. My project was to optimize assays that could be used for the detection of pathogens and biological toxins. At Cornell University, I have rotated with Dr. Rick Cerione, Dr. Carolyn Sevier, and Dr. Holger Sondermann. With Dr. Cerione, I worked on a novel signal transduction mechanism to understand how plasma membrane lipid composition influences the activity of a potent tumor suppressor. While working with Dr. Sevier, I was interested in the structural basis for how cells protect themselves against redox imbalances. To answer this, I used x-ray crystallography to solve the structures of four interesting Hsc70 variants. These structures will help explain a novel post-translational modification and the subsequent functional changes of HSP-family proteins. I joined Dr. Sondermann’s laboratory for my PhD and aim to characterize how a particular group of proteins can synthesize and degrade the compound c-di-GMP in bacterial cells. The level of c-di-GMP is indicative of the formation of biofilms; thus, we strive to solve a unique molecular mechanism and potentially elucidate an entry point for combating these networks of bacteria.

Matt Pennington, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Gerlinde Van de Walle Pennington
Immunology and Infectious Disease
I am originally from Kansas City, but I completed by undergraduate degree at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. As an undergraduate I worked on several different projects focusing on the Kaposi’s sarcoma associated herpesvirus, neuroblastoma, and adolescent African elephant behavior during puberty. I came to Cornell with the intention of studying Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, but through my rotations I have rediscovered my original interest in virology and have decided to focus my research on viral pathogenesis.
I am working in the Van de Walle lab and am currently working on a number of different project related to equine viruses. We are investigating the role of mesenchymal stem cells during equine herpesvirus (EHV) type 1 infection with different stains to see if their involvement could explain the observed differences in clinical outcomes.  I am also exploring the possible role of EHV-2 and EHV-5 in the development of equine ulcers. Finally, I am working to differentiate equine mesenchymal stem cells into hepatocytes to develop a culture system for several novel equine flaviviruses. 

Emily Perregaux, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Matthew DeLisa Emily
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
My name is Emily Perregaux. I am from Saratoga Springs, NY. I completed a Bachelors of Science in biology and a minor in chemistry from Houghton College in Houghton, NY. My experiences with undergraduate research and time spent working in industry inspired me to pursue a PhD.  Before starting as a student in the BBS program, I worked at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. as a research associate studying monoclonal antibody stability. I decided to come to Cornell and participate in the BBS program because the atmosphere was so open to interdisciplinary work and collaboration and allowed me to explore my many interests through rotations. My research interests lie in immunology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and glycobiology. I am interested in studying the complex machinery underlying protein synthesis, modification, and function, which a focus on glycosylation. When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy making pottery, hiking, riding horses, riding my bike, and rock climbing. 

Nora Springer, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Claudia Fischbach-TeschlSpringer
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
I am originally from south central Pennsylvania, but my studies have taken me to many places in the US from urban to very rural. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology from Marietta College in OH.  I then moved to NYC and pursued certification as a veterinary technician at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY.  After working as a veterinary technician in NYC for several years, I went to veterinary school at Kansas State University.  I then completed a companion animal medicine and surgery internship at Louisiana State University prior to coming to Cornell University for specialty training in pathology.  I achieved Diplomate status in the American College of Veterinary Pathologists in 2013.  In my free time I enjoy volunteering for animal rescue groups.
As a pathologist, I am inherently curious about the pathophysiology underlying disease processes. I believe in a “one medicine” and comparative approach to interrogating ubiquitous biologic problems such as cancer.  I chose to pursue PhD training at Cornell University because of the unique opportunity to collaborate with world-class veterinarians, physicians, and physical scientists.  I am a member of the Fischbach laboratory, a biomedical engineering laboratory, which evaluates how the tumor microenvironment (the non-neoplastic cells and support structures surrounding a tumor) affects the progression of cancer.  I am interested in how the chemical and structural changes to obese fat versus its lean counterpart affect breast cancer development and progression.  By evaluating dysregulated processes in the tumor microenvironment that benefit the tumor, I hope to identify novel preventative or therapeutic targets for breast cancer.

Melissa Toledo, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Paula CohenM Toledo
Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Hola! My name is Melissa Toledo and I am from the small town of Colonia located in central New Jersey. I am first generation Colombian in the United States, which means that I can speak, read, and write in Spanish! I completed my undergraduate career at The College of New Jersey where I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology.  Even though I enjoy studying the different theories associated with multiple typesof societies around the world, my true love is biology, specifically reproductive physiology. I fell in love with the reproductive sciences when my mother became pregnant with her third child while I was in high school. Since then, I read textbooks and articles on gamete physiology, fertilization, and the different stages of pregnancy. While my undergraduate research had nothing to do with reproduction (I studied the effect of prenatal nicotine on serotonin cells in the brainstem of neonatal mice), I still enjoyed learning multiple laboratory techniques that can be used in many different fields of research.
I decided to enroll in the BBS Program (Molecular and Integrative Physiology) at Cornell University because of the great variety of opportunities for rotation labs and courses associated with reproductive genomics and physiology. After completing my rotations, I finally found a home in the lab of Dr. Paula Cohen where I will be characterizing the meiotic defects of CNTD1 female mice.

Jocelyn Wang, Ph. D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Brian RuddJocelyn Wang
I was born in China and moved to Toronto, Canada with my parents in 2006. I obtained my bachelor degree at University of Toronto where I majored in pharmacology and human biology. As an undergrad, I devoted most of my junior and senior year in research. I conducted two independent research projects during my last two years in undergrad. One was looking atthe correlation between obesity and problem gambling within mood disorder population, and another was trying to figure out the expression pattern of a newly identified gene Sfmbt2 in mammalian extraembryonic tissues. These experiences inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology at Cornell.