Devin Mae Christopher is a second year PhD student in Gene Therapy and Vaccines (CAMB). She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2011 with her BS in Psychology and BA in Biology. As an undergraduate she began her research career in molecular neuroscience, which furthered her interest in molecular biology. She also participated in the NIMH COR (Career Opportunities in Research) program with Dr. Philip May at UNM CASAA (Center on Alcohol, Substance Abuse and Addiction) which sparked her interest in public health and epidemiology.
Devin is now a student in Dr. Dan Rader’s lab, working primarily on pre-clinical studies demonstrating the feasibility and safety of gene therapy for several cholesterol metabolism disorders including Familial Lecithin-Cholesterol Acyltransferase deficiency and Abetalipoproteinemia. Her public health interests include global health/infectious diseases and veterinary epidemiology.
Kristel Emmer is a second year PhD student in the Cell and Molecular Biology program with a concentration in Gene Therapy and Vaccines. Her interest in public health began as an undergrad at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, where she received a minor in Public Health in addition to a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry/Molecular Biology. Kristel joined the Public Health Certificate Program at Penn to gain more exposure to the field of public health and to discover career opportunities in the field.Kristel is interested in research involving infectious diseases, particularly viruses and vaccines to viruses. She is currently performing her pre-dissertation research in the lab of Dr. Hildegund Ertl at the Wistar Institute. Dr. Ertl’s lab focuses primarily on pre-clinical development of vaccines to infectious diseases and cancer. Kristel is researching the development of a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. Ultimately, Kristel hopes to pursue a career that bridges vaccine research and immunization in a global health setting.
Seleeke Flingai is a second year PhD student in the Gene Therapy and Vaccines department. However, his research is purely immunological, asking a simple yet important question: how do immune cells travel to sites of disease? Working in Dr. Gudrun Debes’ lab, he is working to uncover novel factors – chemokine receptors, adhesion molecules, etc. – that are involved in the trafficking of lymphocytes to and from places of inflammation or infection. Insight into this mechanism would have impacts on ameliorating inflammatory diseases, improving vaccine formulations, and more.
Ultimately, this connection between disease and vaccines is what interested him in public health. With many of vaccine-preventable deaths continuing to ravage much of the developing world, the improvement of medical infrastructure – in particular, disseminating vaccines cheaply and efficiently – is crucial to improving global health. Seleeke hopes to marry the microscopic view with the population perspective, combining his biological training with the human element.
Alyssa MacMillan is a fifth year PhD student in Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology. She has long been interested in infectious disease epidemiology, a field that combines basic science knowledge with public health approaches. This interest led her to double major in Health&Societies and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, and helped draw her to the Public Health Certificate Program.
Her basic science thesis project, under the supervision of Dr. Susan Ross, involves determining the mechanisms by which APOBEC3, a mammalian anti-viral protein, restricts the mouse retrovirus, Mouse Mammary Tumor Virus. This natural mouse pathogen allows for an in vivo model to help understand intrinsic immune protection from retroviruses. Her independent study in public health has been carried out with the help of Dr. Robert Gross, an Associate Professor in both Medicine and Epidemiology. She has helped carry out secondary data analysis for a clinical trial aiming to improve HIV drug adherence, working on database construction as well as descriptive and quantitative statistical tests. This analysis will aid in better understanding the primary results of the clinical trial, as well as help shape future drug adherence interventions.
Rachel Leibman is a second year PhD student in Microbiology, Virology, andParasitology studying genetic engineering of T-lymphocytes for therapeutic purposes in the lab of Dr. Jim Riley. Her current research revolves around genetically engineering primary human T-cells to express modified antigen receptors in an attempt to target active, HIV-infected cells as well as the latent HIV reservoir.
She enrolled in the PHCP program because of her interest in utilizing her basic science background to enhance public health education. She believes that the PHCP is a great opportunity for basic scientists to broaden their graduate education by learning about public health, health care policy, and epidemiology.
Chao Lu is a fifth year Cancer Biology student. He has a long-standing interest in understanding the molecular mechanism of cancer. He was attracted to the Public Health Certificate Program because he wants to combine knowledge from basic science and cancer epidemiology to discover new pathways underlying tumor development and novel treatments for cancer.
His basic science project, carried out in the laboratory of Dr. Craig Thompson, focuses on mutations of the isocitrate dehydrogenases (IDH) that were recently found in leukemias and gliomas at high frequency. The findings of his project will help to elucidate the oncogenic mechanism of this gene mutation and identify potential therapeutic targets. Under the supervision of Dr. Timothy Rebbeck, his PHCP independent study involves systematic assessment of additional genetic factors’ contribution to breast and ovarian cancer risks in people carrying germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. The results of this study will provide benefits to genetic counseling, prediction, prevention and management of these types of cancer.
Alana Sharp is a first year PhD student in Immunology. She graduated in 2010 from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque with a B.S. in Biology. Although her primary interest is in biomedical research, she is interested in exploring in parallel the interface between translational research and public health. Through her involvement in the Public Health Certificate Program, she hopes to affect change by promoting the effective delivery of therapeutic treatments to patients, within the broader context of public health policy. Alana hopes to use her scientific training as a means to serve as a liaison between the scientific community, medical professionals, and the broader community. She is also interested in issues relating to women’s health, global health, and the effects of socioeconomic disparity on wellness.
Through her undergraduate classes in medical anthropology, Megan quickly learned that science and society do not exist independent of each other and there is a need to make health solutions culturally relevant. This knowledge drew her to the interface between basic research and public health, leading her to participate in the Public Health Certificate Program. Currently, Megan is a second year PhD student in the Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitology department. She will be performing her thesis work in the laboratory of David Weiner, focusing on HIV vaccine development.
Yuxiang Zhang is a first year PhD student in Pharmacology. He got his Bachelor of Medicine in Basic Medical Sciences from Zhejiang University in China. Because of an interest in the genetic epidemiological research of complex diseases, he studied genetic susceptibility to tuberculosis in Chinese population and discovered the polymorphisms of genes involved in innate immunity associated with tuberculosis susceptibility. Then, he completed the Master Program of Biotechnology in University of Pennsylvania. In 2012, he started his PhD study in Pharmacology at Penn and he entered the Public Health Certificate program because of an interest in population-based research.Currently, his research direction in Public health is the population susceptibility to complex and chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases and chronic inflammation diseases.