Neuroscience PhD Program

Neuroscience PhD Program Students

Current Students

Antonio Allevato
Antonio Allevato
Second year student - Wicha Lab
BS in Neurobiology, University of Texas at San Antonio

Language comprehension requires high-order cognitive functioning to construct a meaningful message from rapid streams of input. The use of prediction based on sentence context allows healthy young adults to process language efficiently. Antonio’s research focuses on using electroencephalography to investigate the level of context used in dynamic listening comprehension under ideal and taxed conditions. The outcome of this research will help to determine how neuro-atypical populations evaluate and integrate linguistic information and communicate with their communities.

Uchit Bhaskar
Uchit Bhaskar
Third year student - Carless Lab
BE in Biotechnology, Visvesvaraya Technological University

Uchit’s research focuses on the broad aspects of epigenetics, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). He is currently working in the Carless Lab to establish in vitro human cell models of aging (particularly astrocytes and microglia) that can better reflect late-onset diseases like AD. He will use this and similar existing neuronal models to help understand how changes in DNA methylation could contribute to disease progression, and how cell-cell interactions mediate these processes. Uchit is also involved in utilizing epigenetic editing strategies in stem cell-derived models of AD that could potentially be developed as a tool for ameliorating the disease burden.
LinkedInTwitterResearchGate

Nicole Cook
Nicole Cook
Fourth year student - Muzzio Lab
BS in Behavioral Neuroscience, St. Edward’s University

Nicole is exploring cellular representations, neural dynamics, and circuits in the auditory cortex during recent and remote fear memory.

Tara Flaugher
Tara Flaugher
Third year student - Wicha Lab
Funding: Department of Defense SMART Scholarship, Pat Tillman Scholarship
BS in Biology, Texas State University

Is the ability to understand language impacted after concussion? To address this question, Tara uses a mixed methods approach, featuring electroencephalography/event related potentials (ERPs) to investigate language comprehension in adults with and without a history of concussion. Specifically, her research focuses on understanding how individuals use context and associated words when reading sentences. After graduation, Tara will continue leverage her knowledge of the EEG/ERP technique and neuropsychological assessments to understand human performance, as a cognitive neuroscientist at the Naval Information Warfare Center in San Diego, California.
LinkedInTwitter

Celia Gagliardi
Celia Gagliardi
Fifth+ year student - Muzzio Lab
Funding: National Institutes of Health – F31 EY031582
BS in Neuroscience, Boston University

Reorientation, regaining our bearings when lost, is a navigational process that is critical for finding food, shelter, or other resources. When lost navigators are disoriented, the primary cue for reorienting is the shape of the surrounding area. However, with repeated experience, other environmental cues can be associated with a goal location and drive reorienting behavior. My research investigates the spatial representations residing in the retrosplenial cortex and hippocampus as disoriented mice gain experience within a reorientation context or when a reorientation context is ambiguous at the single-cell and population level using in vivo electrophysiology, calcium-imaging, and computational approaches. Additionally, I use optogenetic techniques to probe the functional role of GABAergic projections from hippocampus to retrosplenial cortex as animals gain experience with a reorientation task.
LinkedIn (Looking for postdoc opportunities)

Charles Garcia
Charles Garcia
Second year student - Gamblin Lab
BS in Neurobiology, University of Texas at San Antonio

Charles’s research focuses on studying tau aggregation with the goal of creating tau structures that replicate tau structures found in Alzheimer’s disease. Different naturally occurring free fatty acids will be utilized to induce tau aggregation. Using thioflavin fluorescence assay, laser light scattering, and electron microscopy, the impact of differing fatty acids on tau aggregation will be compared.

Erin Hurley
Erin Hurley
Fifth year student - Hsieh Lab
BS in Cognitive Science, University of Connecticut

Erin is interested in the molecular mechanisms underlying familial Alzheimer's disease. Her research uses brain organoids derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells that have been CRISPR edited to carry Presenilin1 mutations. She is determining early cellular changes in vitro that would go unnoticed in the developing human brain in vivo to potentially provide an earlier timepoint for intervention for preventing Alzheimer's disease before symptoms manifest.
LinkedIn

Morgan Johnston
Morgan Johnston
Third year student - Wanat Lab
Funding: National Science Foundation - GRFP fellow
BS in Integrative Biology and Physiology, Oklahoma State University

Morgan’s (she/her) research focuses on how stress impacts learning, with a specific interest in neuropeptides like corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and oxytocin. She is also a passionate advocate for the inclusion of female subjects in neuroscience research and examines how sex and the estrous cycle affects behavior. In addition to her love of neuroscience research, Morgan is also extremely dedicated to science communication and has her own YouTube and TikTok accounts where she strives to make neuroscience research more accessible to the public. Her primary research and professional goals are to expand what is currently known about the female brain, especially in regards to mental health, and to improve access to science education.
Linktree

James Jones
James Jones
Fourth year student - Wilson Lab
Funding: National Institutes of Health - F31 NS127499
BS in Physiology & Neuroscience, University of California-San Diego

It's the rate and pattern of spikes by which neurons encode signals, the axon on which signals travel, and the synapse through which signals are transmitted between neurons. Synaptic networks of neurons in the basal ganglia produce stable spatiotemporal patterns of spiking which encode will, movement, sensation, and learning. The external globus pallidus (GPe) is a synaptic network of inhibitory, oscillatory neurons and an intersection of many pathways within the basal ganglia. The goal of my research is to determine how oscillating GPe neurons produce spatiotemporal patterns of spiking in the GPe through the local inhibitory network, and how signals from separate basal ganglia pathways are transformed by the GPe network.
Twitter

Stephen Jones
Stephen Jones
First year student
BS in Neuroscience, Brigham Young University

Stephen has studied the immune interactions with the striatal dopamine system.
Twitter

Won-Haeng Lee
Won-Haeng Lee
Fourth year student - Lee Lab
MS in Biomedical Gerontology, Hallym University

There are accumulative studies that suggest the link between brain insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). However, the pathophysiological role of insulin resistance in AD is not fully understood. My research interest is to understand the cause of brain insulin resistance in AD and its contribution to disease pathogenesis in vivo and in vitro.

Matthew Lopez
Matthew Lopez
Fifth+ year student - Muzzio Lab
MS in Applied/Clinical Psychology, Lamar University-Beaumont

 

Kelly Lozano Ortiz
Kelly Lozano Ortiz
First year student
BS in Biology, Universidad Ana G. Mendez

Kelly is interested in studying neural circuits of neurological disorders using animal models. She has experience in the use of Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy in modified Carbon-Fiber and Platinum microelectrodes for the detection of Neuropeptide Y. During a Post-Baccalaureate Research Experience Program at Louisiana State University - New Orleans she worked in the use of Immunohistochemistry to study the correlation of Simian Immunodeficiency Virus viral loads and the accumulation of senescent cells in SIV-Infected Female Rhesus macaques.

Karina Meyer-Acosta
Karina Meyer-Acosta
Fourth year student - Hsieh Lab
BS in Biology, University of Connecticut

Karina’s research uses 3D brain organoids to model Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sara Mirsadeghi
Sara Mirsadeghi
First year student
MS in Neuroscience, Royan Institute

The Hsieh lab studies mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (mTLE), the most common intractable epilepsy in adults, and genetic epilepsies, a group of rare neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by early onset seizures. In rodent models of mTLE, adult neural stem cells proliferate, migrate aberrantly, and disrupt the hippocampal circuitry, and in turn, contribute to seizure activity. In one type of genetic epilepsy, ARX is a transcription factor important for cortical development and interneuron migration, i.e., polyalanine (pAla) expansion mutation in ARX contributes to changes in both cortical and subpallial development. In these projects, Sara is going to unravel the network mechanisms underlying acquired and genetic epilepsy associated with ARX pAla mutations. She will use an integrated approach to investigate rodent and human neurogenesis both in vitro (3D brain organoids) and in animal models utilizing electrophysiological techniques including chemogenetics/optogenetics, Ca2+ imaging, silicone probe and whole cell patch clamp recording.

Bahram Pahlavan
Bahram Pahlavan
Fifth year student - Santamaria Lab
BS in in Mechanical Engineering, Sharif University

Bahram’s research focuses on the computational modeling of temperature effect on neuronal excitability and the computational modeling of Purkinje neurons.

Kannan Thangamani
Kannan Thangamani
Fifth+ year student - Zhang Lab
BS in Biotechnology, SRM University

Coxiella burnetii is an obligate intracellular Gram-negative bacterium that causes acute and chronic Q fever in humans. Neutrophils are one of the main components of our innate immune system and thus the first line of defense against invading pathogen. Neutrophils are abundant in numbers and their recruitment and activation can help in containing the pathogen as well as inflammation due to the reactive proteins in their granules. Rodent studies have shown C. burnetii can inhibit apoptosis and prolong neutrophil survival. But not a lot of studies have been done to understand the role of human neutrophils in the host defense against this pathogen. I study how C. burnetii infects and affects the cellular process such as apoptosis and autophagy in human neutrophills. As an aspiring science communicator, I am in the process of breaking down barriers between scientists and the common public. First step being explaining complex scientific topics in a more relatable and understandable way through my TikTok (English) and secondly, the neurobiology behind everyday events via my YouTube channel in my native language Tamil.
InstagramLinkedInTiktokYouTube

Ryan Wood
Ryan Wood
Third year student - Macpherson Lab
BS in Biology, University of Texas at Austin

 

Recent Alumni

Vanessa Cerda
Vanessa Cerda, PhD

Mentor: Nicole Wicha, PhD
Funding: National Institutes of Health - F99/K00 NS124178
Thesis: Two Times Four = Dos Por Cuatro
Current Employment: Postdoc, Booth Lab, Vanderbilt

Bryan Fowler
Bryan Fowler, PhD

Mentor: Lindsey Macpherson, PhD
Thesis: A Modest Petrosal: Elucidating Function and Molecular Identity in the Understudied Peripheral Taste Ganglion
Current Employment: Postdoc, MacPherson Lab, UTSA

Amandine Grenier
Amandine Grenier, PhD

Mentor: Nicole Wicha, PhD
Thesis: The meaning of Multiplication: Electrophysiological Evidence of Semantic Memory Access and Organization in Children
Current Employment: Postdoc, Wicha Lab, UTSA

Merridee Lefner
Merridee Lefner, PhD

Mentor: Matt Wanat, PhD
Funding: MindScience Foundation
Thesis: The Neural Correlates of Acquiring and Updating Reward Value
Current Employment: Postdoc, Moghaddam Lab, Oregon Health Sciences University

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Jessica Perkins, PhD

Mentors: Carlos Paladini, PhD and Charlie Wilson, PhD
Thesis: Distinct Subthreshold Signatures of Midbrain Dopamine Neurons Drive Firing Patterns during Noxious Events
Current Employment: Postdoc, Khaliq Lab, National Institutes of Health

Matthew Wood
Matthew Wood, PhD,

Mentor: Nicole Wicha, PhD
Thesis: Challenging the Gold Standard in Lifespan Cognition Neuroscience: Electrophysiological Studies of How We Do Arithmetic as We Grow and Comprehend Sentences as We Age
Current Employment: Data scientist for Northside Independent School District

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