Current Graduate Students

Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine Graduate Program

Hunter Aliff

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2019
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Visvanathan Ramamurthy - View Lab   
Research: My research is centered around how the photoreceptor responds to stress and the role of Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90) in the photoreceptor stress response.
Other Interests: I like to go fishing, hanging out with friends, axe throwing, bowling, videogames, and happy hours.

Rawaa Aljammal

Rawaa Aljammal

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2017
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Visvanathan Ramamurthy - View Lab  
Research: I am interested in understanding the importance of protein posttranslational modification and the functional diversity it imparts to the protein. I use photoreceptor neurons as my model system.
Other Interests: Besides my study, I enjoy nurturing my two little boys and walking my puppy.

Sruthi Balaji

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Roberta Leonardi - View Lab
Research: My research focuses on elucidating the physiological role of NUDT8 and its role in brown adipose tissue thermogenesis.
Other Interests: Cooking, playing brain teaser games and puzzles, and gardening. 

Thomas Bradley

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2019
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: David Smith - View Lab
Research: My research explores the function and biology of different proteasomal activators (i.e. PA200, and PA28gamma), as well as proteasome isoforms that are critical for spermatogenesis.

Celine Brooks

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2019
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Maxim Sokolov - View Lab
Research: My project is looking at the role of chaperonin containing TCP-1 (CCT) in retinal health and disease.
Other Interests: I enjoy hiking, reading, traveling, and spending time with family

Brooke Brothers 

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Wen-Tao Deng - View Lab
Research: My project entails the generation and characterization of two novel mouse lines modeling blue cone monochromacy, a severe X-linked disease involving color vision deficiency and daytime blindness. These models will then be used for the development and application of translational gene therapy techniques to improve daytime vision.
Other Interests: I love realism-style drawing and painting, as well as crocheting, learning languages, doting on my plants, playing piano, and writing short stories and novels.

Kathryn (Katie) Chmelik

Graduate Student
Program start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: WenTao Deng – View Lab
Research: My current project focuses on validation of a transgenic mouse model to represent the human fovea of blue cone monochromacy patients and development of AAV-mediated gene therapy to treat cone photoreceptor degeneration.
Other Interests: Outside of the lab I enjoy dance, D&D, and board/card games.

Evan Cramer

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2020
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Aaron Robart - View Lab
Research: My current research is focused on the applications of group II intron mobility for biotechnology.
Other Interests: Outside of the lab I enjoy being outdoors hiking, golfing, and playing soccer. When I am not doing those things, I enjoy cooking and video games.

Donald Dariano 

Graduate Student
Program start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Bradley Webb - View Lab
Research: I am currently researching how defects in a lysosomal amino acid transporter lead to retinitis pigmentosa through a combination of biophysical, cell, and animal models.
Other Interests: Outside of performing research, I like to spend time with my husband, our three cats (and two dogs) as well as play video games or cook.

Andrew Giromini

Andrew Giromini

Graduate Student
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Eric Kelley - View Lab

Heather Hansen

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2021
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Bradley Webb - View Lab
Research: I'm studying how organization of metabolic enzymes contribute to their activity and function in cells, focusing specifically on enzymes in the glycolytic pathway.
Other Interests: I enjoy being outdoors, playing video games, going to museums, and playing my flute

Giovanni Howells

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2020
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: David Smith - View Lab
Research: I will utilize the novel single-molecule fluorescence resonance energy transfer (smFRET) microscopy in order to understand the dynamic structure and functions of soluble N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor attachment protein receptor (SNARE) proteins and its interactions with other synaptic proteins in the ribbon synapses. Malfunction of synaptic proteins in the ribbon synapses alter synaptic transmission by disrupting synaptic vesicle exocytosis leading to vision disorder causing severe blindness. smFRET allows super-resolved single-molecule images in real time to depict important intermediate conformations and map heterogeneous populations of conformational states lost in ensemble measurements due to averaging behaviors. Characterizing the normal ("healthy") conformational state of protein molecules allow us to decipher the mechanistic role of abnormal ("diseased") state of protein molecules, which will help develop future treatments and drug targets related to vision loss.
Other Interests: My hobbies outside the lab include traveling, snowboarding, playing video games and trying new foods. I also play soccer in my free time and played in college.

Md Qamrul Islam

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2023
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: David Smith - View Lab
Research: My research area is the molecular mechanism and therapeutic targeting of proteasome function in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. I specifically focus on the role of proteasome-activating nucleotidase (PAN), exploring its mechanism in protein substrate binding, unfolding through ATP hydrolysis, and its function as a molecular chaperone through its coiled-coil (CC) domains.
Other Interests: Outside lab work, I like hanging out with friends, listening to music, playing video games, traveling, and spending time in nature.

Bohye Jeong

Bohye Jeong

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2019
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Peter Stoilov - View Lab
Other Interests: Hanging out with friends, playing the piano, hiking trails.

Rachel King

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2021
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Eric Kelley - View Lab
Research: I am working on identifying the mechanisms through which the CoA-degrading enzyme Nudt19 regulates lipid metabolism and kidney function.
Other Interests: I like to hike the trails in Morgantown, play disc golf, read, and I am currently writing a short novel.

Shannon Eshelman


Graduate Student
Program Start: 2021
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Michael Robichaux- View Lab
Research: My research focuses on mapping the localization of key regulators of rhodopsin trafficking, including rhodopsin itself, in the inner segment as well as characterising the ER in rod photoreceptor neurons with the use of nanoscopy techniques.
Other Interests: Outside of lab, I enjoy traveling, anything dog or space related, and listening to music.

Brianna Miller

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2021
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: John Hollander - View Lab
Research: My current research focuses on how Turing patterns form, as well as applications of Turing patterns as the relate to structural biology.
Other Interests: I am deeply passionate about researching my family history and ancestry. I also enjoy listening to music, playing my violin, and playing video games.

Faezeh Moakedi

Faezeh Moakedi

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2018
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Visvanathan Ramamurthy - View Lab   
Research: My research pertains to the phosphodiesterase-6(PDE6) enzyme as the effector of phototransduction signaling in photoreceptor cells. My goal is to understand the role of lipid modifications in the assembly or/and activation of PDE6 multimeric protein.
Other Interests: Trail hiking, cooking, and listening to podcasts

Artjola Puja

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Jianhai Du - View Lab   
Research: My research is focused on understanding the tissue-specific metabolism in healthy and retinal diseases. The ultimate goal is to target metabolism to develop therapies for retinal degenerative diseases to fight blindness.
Other Interests: I love traveling, exploring diverse cultures, and spending time in nature. My hobbies are meditation, reading books, photography, pilates, & aerobics.

Urikhan Sanzhaeva

Urikhan Sanzhaeva

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2019
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Visvanathan Ramamurthy - View Lab   
Research: My research project is focused on determining the functional role of β-tubulin 4B (TUBB4B) and the mechanisms behind diseases caused by mutations in this β-tubulin isotype.
Other Interests: Skiing, hiking, and cooking

Scott Saylor

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2020
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Werner Geldenhuys- View Lab   
Research: My research involves the development of covalent inhibitors for NEET-family proteins, which are believed to play important roles in mitochondrial homeostasis and cellular metabolism. When dysregulated, these proteins may contribute to diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer, and stroke, and therefore serve as therapeutic targets for novel drugs aimed at treating those conditions.
Other Interests: Exploring WV, MD, and PA, cooking, music, jogging, swimming, dogs, and all things Japan.

Holly Shultz

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2023
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Aaron Robart - View Lab
Research: My research focuses on nucleic acid structures through X-ray crystallography and cryo-EM, specifically examining the structures of catalytic nucleic acids like DNAzymes and RNA constructs.
Other Interests: Outside of science, I enjoy hiking, baking sourdough bread, and making and drinking coffee. 

Sarah Starcovic

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Aaron Robart - View Lab
Research: I study large catalytic RNAs called Group II introns and am interested in their structures and catalytic mechanisms.
Other Interests: My hobbies include reading, fiber crafts like sewing and crocheting, and hanging out with my cat.

David Tacuma


Graduate Student
Program start: 2022
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: David Smith – View Lab
Research: My research focuses on the molecular mechanism and structural changes in the holoenzyme Proteasome associated with the activation-inhibition by aberrant proteins and mutations (in-vitro and in-vivo) in neurodegenerative diseases.
Other Interests: Besides research I enjoy botany, playing the cuatro, the bass and somehow playing with omic data.

Samantha Thompson

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2020
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Michael Robichaux- View Lab
Research: I'm currently working on structural studies of group II intron RNPs.
Other Interests: I enjoy hiking with my dog, reading, and traveling.

Sila Yanardag

Sila Yanardag

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2017
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Visvanathan Ramamurthy - View Lab
Research: My project is focused on the role of kinesin KIF2C in primary cilia disassembly in glioblastoma. The primary cilium is a ubiquitous microtubule based organelle that protrudes from the apical surface of most human cells and is lost during carcinogenesis. The primary cilium is an important regulator of proliferation and a key sensory organelle. This organelle serves as a hub for multiple signaling cascades. While it is tempting to speculate that the loss of cilia deregulates signaling and promotes oncogenesis, the impact of loss of the primary cilium in glioblastoma is unknown. The KIF2C protein is upregulated in many cancer cells and promotes both cilia disassembly and proliferation. Inhibition of KIF2C activity might lead to significant tumor growth inhibition and improve GBM patient survival.

Cancer Cell Biology Graduate Program

Abha Maskey

Abha Maskey

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2018
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Elena Pugacheva - View Lab
Research: I'm currently working on understanding the role of hypoxia and nuclear aurora kinase A in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer metastasis.
Other Interests: Reading books, cooking, and going out for walks.

Neuroscience Graduate Program

Alexis Crockett

Graduate Student
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Visvanathan Ramamurthy - View Lab

Sree Indrani Motipally

Sree Motipally

Graduate Student
Program Start: 2017
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Saravanan Kolandaivelu - View Lab
Research: Progressive rod cone degeneration (PRCD) gene, linked with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is exclusively expressed in the photoreceptor outer segment (OS). I am currently investigating the functional role of PRCD in the maintenance photoreceptor OS structure, and how the most common “Cysteine to Tyrosine” mutation in PRCD leads to RP.
Other Interests: I like cooking, hiking and gardening.

Pharmaceutical and Pharmacological Sciences

Sajad Sarvari

Graduate Student
Degree: Ph.D. Candidate
Advisor: Mark Tseytlin - View Lab