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Alumni

 

Luke Smith – BMS Graduate Student (2015-2020)

Since graduating from the University of Puget Sound with a BS in Biology, I have had the opportunity to work in industry, as an intern at Alios Biopharma, and in academia, as a research technician in the Villeda Lab at UCSF. During my time as a research technician, I became deeply interested in studying the processes by which the brain ages, and thus, have joined UCSF’s Biomedical Sciences PhD program to continue studying those processes. Specifically, I am interested in how and why the systemic milieu changes with age, and I would like to further tease apart the functional consequences of those changes.
Current position: Associate Editor at PLOS Biology



 

Brit Ventura – Post-Doctoral Fellow (2016-2018)



 

I graduated with a B.S. in Biology and minor in Spanish from the University of New Mexico, followed by a M.S. in Molecular Biology from the University of Oregon and finally a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from the University of Virginia. My graduate work focused on characterizing the composition and contributions of tumor microenvironment cells in medulloblastoma. My work revealed a novel differentiation pathway of tumor cells, which resulted in a distinct tumor microenvironment cell-type which contributed to tumor progression. Now, in the Villeda Lab, I am interested in investigating the intersection of the immune system and neurodegenerative diseases. When not in lab, I am a serious chef and outdoor enthusiast. 
Current position: Research Scientist at Unity Biotechnology

 

Cesar Sanchez-Diaz – Research Assistant (2017-2019)

I recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Molecular and Cell Biology, with an emphasis in Immunology. During my time at Cal, I was very intrigued by the intrinsic changes within immune cells and how the differ between a healthy and diseased organisms. In the Villeda lab, I am exploring how the brain’s immune system operates in times of stress and aging, as well as investigating key regulators responsible for this deviation in homeostasis. In the long run, I hope to better understand the aging process at a cellular and molecular level to further elucidate our mechanistic understanding on brain rejuvenation. Outside of lab, I enjoy playing soccer and going on long bike rides.

 

 

Kirsten Chui – Research Assistant (2017-2018)

 

 

I recently graduated from UC Berkeley College of Chemistry with a B.S. in Chemical Biology. I have always been very interested in the fields of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. However, it was during my time at Cal when I realized how Chemistry can be used as a tool to not only study but also manipulate biological pathways. I am fascinated by how young blood can rejuvenate old brains, I will be exploring what molecules in blood are responsible for this rejuvenation and potentially their mechanisms. Ultimately I hope to find ways to slow down or even reverse the ageing process at the molecular level. Outside of lab I enjoy traveling and cooking. 

Current position: Research Assistant in the Brack lab

 

 

 

Liz Wheatley – DSCB Graduate Student (2012-2018)

I graduated from Wesleyan University in 2009 with a BA in Studio Art and a minor equivalent in Chemistry. I later joined the Beveridge Lab at Wesleyan to complete my MA in Chemistry with a focus in computational molecular biophysics, and graduated again in 2012. My thesis utilized Molecular Dynamics (MD) calculations to investigate the salt-based conformational stability and transitions of unusual DNA structures, and involved computational structure prediction of an unknown protein-DNA complex. My interests within the biological field strengthened during my previous graduate work, and I joined the DSCB program here at UCSF hoping to pursue my biological studies with a biophysical perspective in mind. While still broad, my interests encompass neurology, stem-cell based tissue regeneration, and applications for treating cancer and disease.

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Colorado Denver - Elizabeth Kovacs Lab

 

 

 Karin Lin – Neurosciences Graduate Student (2012-2018)

 

 

Growing up in Vancouver, BC, I have been lucky enough to enjoy living and studying in such a lovely city. I recently graduated from the University of British Columbia where I majored in pharmacology, but my research experiences during these past years in neuropharmacology and cognition labs have directed me towards the field of neuroscience to pursue my graduate studies. Since arriving at UCSF, I have become increasingly intrigued by the interaction between the immune system and the neural system. While the prevailing dogma had been that these two systems operate primarily independent of each other except for in pathological conditions, a newer frontier in neuroscience explores the bidirectional communication between these systems. I am interested in how classically immune cells and molecules may help shape neural circuits and function not just in development, but also in the aging brain.

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at Denali Therapeutics

 

 

Joe Udeochu – BMS Graduate Student (2012-2017)

I graduated from UCLA with a BS in Physiological Sciences. During my time at UCLA, I worked on identifying neuronal populations in the upper cervical spinal cord that are involved in the transmission of pain stimuli. This experience formed my foundation in basic science research and greatly motivated my decision to further my science education in graduate school. As a student in the biomedical sciences program, I hope to study the role of immune cells and signaling factors on cognitive function. As a graduate student in the Villeda lab, I am working on characterizing changes in microglia in the ageing brain with the goal of identifying cell intrinsic and extrinsic pathways that result in aberrant cognitive function and decreased neurogenesis with age.  

Current position: Post-doctoral Fellow in Dr. Li Gan's Lab at UCSF.

 

 

 

Cassie Zuckerman – SFSU undergraduate student (2016-2017)

 

I’m currently in my senior year of undergraduate studies at San Francisco State University, working towards my B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology. During my time as an undergraduate, I’ve developed a strong interest in regenerative and aging sciences. In the Villeda lab, I’ll be exploring the role classical immune molecules play in regulating adult neurogenesis. After graduating, I plan to pursue graduate studies and continue focusing on aging research. 

 

 

Xuelai 'Shelly' Fan – Post-Doctoral Fellow (2015-2017)

 

I initially trained as a research pharmacist at Peking University with a focus on cancer pharmacology. I received my doctoral degree in neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, where I studied novel ways to eliminate pathogenic proteins in the brain that are involved in neurodegenerative diseases and stroke. For my postdoctoral work I seek to elucidate the cellular and molecular pathways of rejuvenating factors. I hope to further our mechanistic understanding of age-related cognitive decline and potentially delay or reverse its onset.

 

 

 

 

Hank Garcia – Post-Doctoral Fellow (2014-2016)

 

In 2009 I graduated with a B.S. in Molecular Genetics from the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. Afterwards, in 2014 I received my PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) through the University at Buffalo. My research focused on FACT, the target of a class of anti-cancer drugs called Curaxins, and its critical role in cancer cells versus normal cells. I find aging research extremely fascinating, and as such my interests shifted from cancer to aging. I joined the Villeda lab as a post-doctoral fellow to investigate the role of factors in the blood that contribute to rejuvenation of the aging brain. 

 

Cedric Snethlage – Master's Student (2013-2016)

I graduated with a B.S. in Biology from UC Santa Cruz in 2010. After taking 2 years off to work as a tutor and teacher I am currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Biomedical Sciences at San Francisco State in the Professional Science Master's (PSM) program with a concentration in Stem Cell Biology. Since starting work at UC San Francisco, I have become more interested in adult neurogenesis and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. I plan to study the role of immune molecules in adult neurogenesis.
Current position: Graduate student at UC San Diego

 

 

 

Manasi Iyer – Research Assistant (2014-2016)

 

I graduated with a B.A. in Biology with a concentration in neuroscience from Williams College. During my time at Williams, I worked on characterizing addiction and arousal neural circuits regulated by the neuropeptide hypocretin. As an undergraduate, I was primarily interested in learning about the neural circuits that control homeostatic behaviors. More recently, I have become interested in the interaction between the nervous and immune systems and how that interaction affects the brain as it ages. As a research associate in the Villeda lab, I will examine specific epigenetic changes that regulate adult neurogenesis in the adult brain. 
Current Position: Graduate student in the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program


 

Jill Bouchard – Post-Doctoral Fellow (2013-2015) 

I graduated with a B.S. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Throughout this time, I worked as a research technician at the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences in a molecular neurobiology lab, where I gained valuable experience in molecular and biochemical techniques. More recently, I obtained my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). It was during this time I became very interested in how immune responses contribute to neuronal function. As a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Saul Villeda’s lab, I would like to understand the signaling mechanisms between glial cells and neurons in the context of cognitive impairment in the aging brain.
Current Position: Assistant Professor - Los Medanos College

 

 

 

 Kris Plambeck – Master's Student (2012-2014)

 

 

I graduated from the University of California, Merced in 2011 with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology. Currently, I am a graduate student at San Francisco State University pursuing a Master's Degree in Biomedical Sciences within the Professional Science Master's (PSM) program with a concentration in Stem Cell Biology. During my time at UC Merced I worked in stem cell research on breast cancer and breast cancer metastasis. . Within the Villeda lab, I will aim to elucidate specific molecular mechanisms underlying the ability of the aging brain to rejuvenate. Through the identification of these mechanisms, we will be able to potentially halt the aging process in hopes of preventing neurodegenerative diseases before their onset.

Current position: PhD Student at UC Davis (BMCDB)

 

 

 Abby Rowlands – Research Assistant (2012) 

 

I am a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland. At SMCM my research primarily focused on animal models of schizophrenia and drug addiction, utilizing numerous behavioral testing techniques, highlighted by a senior capstone research projects entitled Effects of Isolation Rearing on the Motivational Properties of Cocaine in the Conditioned Place Preference Test. I graduated SMCM with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience in 2010. I then joined the Tyler Lab at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and was involved in projects using a variety of noninvasive neuromodulation approaches such as TMS, tDCS, and ultrasonic neuromodulation, as well as neurophysiological approaches such as EEG, MRI, and fMRI to characterize brain activity patterns in response to tasks of modulation paradigms. I am eager to begin research in the Villeda Lab aimed at understanding the mechanisms involved in the rejuvenation of plasticity and cognition by young blood in the old brain.