iPEnd T32 People

Current Trainees

Marcela Ambrogi, DVM, MS
Chad Vezina, PhD | Comparative Biosciences
Jenna Racine, MD | Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology


Research: Urinary tract infection (UTI) is the most common bacterial infection in pregnancy, with an estimated incidence of approximately 20% (Yan et al. 2018). About two-thirds of women with a UTI during pregnancy take antibiotics, and antibiotic resistance is a growing concern (Johnson et al. 2021). We have identified a novel innate response to UTI driven by a rare population of urethral epithelial cells that synthesize and secrete serotonin. We developed and optimized a mouse model of ascending UTI by instilling uropathogenic E. coli UTI89 into the urethra. Using this model, we collected exciting preliminary evidence that bacteria stimulate serotonin secretion from the urethra, causing it to activate a serotonin receptor on urethral pacemaking cells and initiate smooth muscle contraction, thereby expelling bacteria from the urinary tract. As the translational component of this study, we also propose to use Electronic Health records data for deliveries from the PeriBank database to look for consistent data showing manipulation of the serotonergic system in pregnancy can reduce UTI and associated complications.


Beth Lett, PhD
Irene Ong, PhD | Obstetrics & Gynecology and Biomedical Informatics
Aleks Stanic, MD/PhD | Obstetrics & Gynecology


Research: I am an early career interdisciplinary scientist working with bioinformatics and applied multi-omics research for human health and precision medicine. My PhD work involved genetics underlying different reproductive events in cattle that present as a negative to the dairy industry but potentially beneficial to beef production. In these projects, I conducted data cleaning and curation, GWAS analysis, short and long-read alignments, structural variant, InDel, and SNP detection, and molecular validation. For the postdoctoral work I have transitioned into a different realm of omics work in transcriptomics of both single-cell and spatial and from animals to human health to utilize discoveries made in computational biology to inform choices and health outcomes in clinical settings. My current project is working with preeclampsia and trying to understand the architectural differences between healthy and diseased tissue samples and identification of biomarkers for earlier detection.


Jessica Vazquez, PhD
Thaddeus (Ted) Golos, PhD | Comparative Biosciences
Aleksandar K. Stanic, MD/PhD | Obstetrics & Gynecology
Jenny Gumperz, PhD | Medical Microbiology & Immunology


Research: Recent studies have highlighted the link between fetal and early life exposures and the development of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. My project aims at understanding how sterile inflammation at the maternal-fetal interface impacts the development of the fetal immune system. Developing a deeper understanding of the effects of maternal inflammation on fetal immune development will provide opportunities for the development of targeted therapeutics either in utero or once offspring are born. This project has also allowed me to develop expertise in the use of the non-human primate as a model for human disease.


Luca Clemente, PhD
Derek Boeldt, PhD | Obstetrics & Gynecology
Manish Patankar, PhD | Obstetrics & Gynecology


Research: Preeclampsia is associated with increased expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and loss of the vasodilatory and barrier functions of the vascular endothelium. Our prior experiments have found that incubation of human umbilical vein endothelial cell (HUVEC) monolayers with TNFα or IL-1β degrades barrier function over a 20-hr period. We hypothesize that the loss of barrier function correlates with EC shifting into a “nonprofessional” immunomodulatory phenotype. In vivo, these cytokine-altered EC may induce immune cell recruitment and activation at the endothelial surface, contributing to a highly inflammatory microenvironment. Recent experiments we have conducted have found that cytokine exposure does indeed lead to increased EC expression of immunomodulatory proteins associated with immune cell recruitment and activation, likely contributing to PE-related vascular inflammation. Furthermore, the heterogeneity of protein expression patterns within treatment groups raises the possibility that subpopulations of HUVEC may be primed for unique functional relationships with immune cells. These data support the hypothesis that specific cytokine-driven EC-immune cell interactions may play a role in the pro-inflammatory vascular microenvironment and drive PE-related endothelial dysfunction. The identification of key immunomodulatory molecules may provide clinicians with specific drug targets that can be pharmacologically inhibited, thereby preventing the inflammatory cascade observed in some types of preeclampsia.


Faculty Trainers

David Abbott PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Rozalyn Anderson PhD, Professor of Medicine

Ian Bird PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Barak Blum PhD, Assistant Professor of Cell and Regenerative Biology

Derek Boeldt PhD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Pelin Cengiz MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics

Ricki Colman PhD, Associate Professor of Cell and Regenerative Biology

Dawn Davis MD/PhD, Professor of Medicine

Thaddeus (Ted) Golos PhD, Professor of Comparative Biosciences

Laura Hernandez PhD, Professor of Animal and Dairy Sciences

Joan Jorgensen DVM/PhD, Professor of Comparative Biosciences

Michelle Kimple PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine

Pamela Kling MD, Professor of Pediatrics

Sathish Kumar DVM/PhD, Associate Professor of Comparative Biosciences

Dudley Lamming PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine

Jon Levine PhD, Professor of Neuroscience

Matthew Merrins PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine

Jon Odorico MD, Professor of Surgery

Irene Ong PhD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Manish Patankar PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Bikash Pattnaik PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics

Scott Reeder MD/PhD, Professor of Radiology

Will Ricke PhD, Professor of Urology

Dinesh Shah MD, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Igor Slukvin MD/PhD, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Aleks Stanic-Kostic MD/PhD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Ei Terasawa PhD, Professor of Pediatrics

Chad Vezina PhD, Professor of Comparative Biosciences

Jyoti Watters PhD, Professor of Comparative Biosciences

Oliver Wieben PhD, Professor of Medical Physics

Jing Zheng PhD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Training Partners

Irene Ong PhD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Colin Jefcoate PhD, Professor Emeritus of Cell and Regenerative Biology

Linda Schuler DVM/PhD, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Biosciences

Medical Fellowship Partners

Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics

Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Endocrinology, Department of Medicine