Postbac Spotlight—Meet the INRO 2020 Cohort

We’re shining the spotlight on the 2020 Intramural NIAID Research Opportunities (INRO) fellows who began their postbac training in June 2020.

INRO is an initiative through which NIAID sponsors and promotes postbac trainees from U.S. populations underrepresented in the biomedical sciences and those dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion.

Read about the unique experiences of the 2020 cohort that led them to pursue postbac research training at NIAID.

 

 

 

 

Anne Berhe

Anne Berhe

Anne Berhe, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Pathogenesis and Immunity Section of the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Pathogenesis and Immunity Section of the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology

Intended Path: M.D.
Research Interests: Malaria, Vaccinology, Infectious Diseases

Anne Berhe is an Eritrean-American born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. Since high school, Anne’s research experiences have been tied to infectious diseases, as she has seen the direct impact of many of these diseases on those in her community. Her first lab experience at the Lundquist Institute, where she developed methods of detecting extremely antibiotic-resistant bacteria, sparked her interest in pursuing translational research. From there, Anne continued to conduct research in various molecular and microbiology labs throughout her undergraduate career, from Pomona College; to Harvard University; to University College London (UCL). At UCL, she conducted research on protein export in the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, in the lab of Andrew Osborne, D.Phil. Here, she became infatuated with malaria research and continued to complete her senior thesis at Pomona College in developing a novel genetic screening method for malaria drug targets.

Currently, she is conducting research in the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology under Patrick Duffy, M.D., Ph.D., where she is involved in projects focused on vaccine development for pregnancy malaria and transmission-blocking malaria. Along with wet lab research, Anne is passionate about health equity and plans to apply for medical school and pursue a career as a physician-scientist.

 

 

Natalia Bettis

Natalia Bettis

Natalia Bettis, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Lymphocyte Biology Section of the Laboratory of Immune System Biology

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Lymphocyte Biology Section of the Laboratory of Immune System Biology

Intended Path: M.D./Ph.D.
Research Interests: Infectious Disease, Vaccine Development, Virology

During her undergraduate studies at Howard University, Natalia Bettis was afforded invaluable opportunities to cultivate her passions for both medicine and biomedical research. She first had the opportunity to study abroad in Dakar, Senegal, where she shadowed pediatrician Jean-Louis Chauvin, M.D., while attaining fluency in French. Becoming a servant-leader, someone who exists to serve all people of this world, is her ultimate goal.

Natalia graduated summa cum laude from Howard University with a B.A. in French and a minor in biochemistry and was honored with the chemistry department’s award for Best Proficiency in Biochemistry and with induction into Phi Beta Kappa in 2018. Immediately following graduation, Natalia earned the position of biophysics and biochemical research lab scholar under Rodrigo Maillard, Ph.D., at Georgetown University. Natalia then transitioned into teaching high school honors and non-honors chemistry at Washington Latin Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She was then presented with the opportunity to serve as a biochemistry apprentice to Iliana Maria Restrepo, Ph.D., of Howard University.

In 2020, Natalia was accepted into INRO where she works as a postbac in the Lymphocyte Biology Section of the Laboratory of Immune System Biology under the supervision of Ronald Germain, M.D., Ph.D., and Emily Speranza, Ph.D. She is currently studying the early host immune responses to Ebola virus infections using the lab’s capacity for high-multiplex tissue imaging, in the hope of identifying new ways to target this pathogen and advance therapeutic development to help heal the people of equatorial Africa.

Daniella Butler

Daniella Butler

Daniella Butler, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Pathogenesis and Immunity Section of the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Pathogenesis and Immunity Section of the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology

Intended Path: Ph.D.
Research Interests: Vaccinology, Infectious Disease, Health Disparities

Daniella Butler is passionate about infectious disease, public health, and disparities in healthcare. While studying at Grinnell College, Daniella made a point to explore the full spectrum of biological research subjects, from molecular biology to public health population studies. This experience informed her decision to pursue her current work in malaria vaccinology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

As a Posse Foundation full-tuition scholar, Daniella graduated with a B.A. in biology at Grinnell College. She pursued a variety of research opportunities during her time at Grinnell. In 2018, she worked with Susan Villarreal, Ph.D., to measure how annual burn schedules affect the ecological diversity of prairies in Iowa. The following year, she studied under the supervision of Darren Mays, Ph.D., M.P.H., at Georgetown University to investigate correlates of tobacco product use and behavior in young adult populations. She presented a capstone research poster and presentation to a large audience of medical professionals and deans at Georgetown University Medical School. Finally, Daniella worked under her academic advisor, Benjamin DeRidder, Ph.D., to research and implement an experiment that quantified the induction levels of glutathione reductase and ascorbate peroxidase in Gossypium hirsutum under safener treatment.

Daniella is now working as a postbac in the Laboratory of Malaria Immunology and Vaccinology conducting novel malaria vaccinology research. Her ultimate goal is to pursue a Ph.D. to further her study in the biological sciences and infectious diseases.

Tylisha Gourdine

Tylisha Gourdine

Tylisha Gourdine, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Immunobiology and Molecular Virology Unit of the Laboratory of Virology

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Immunobiology and Molecular Virology Unit of the Laboratory of Virology

Intended Path: Ph.D. 
Research Interests: Virology, Molecular Biology, Immunopathology

Tylisha graduated cum laude from Hartwick College with a B.S. in biochemistry in 2020. Aside from her academic pursuits, she was the cross country and track and field captain, as well as president of Hartwick's section of the American Chemical Society chemistry club. She also worked as a biology, chemistry, and calculus tutor. During her time at Hartwick, she performed analytical research under the direction of Catherine Balnis, Ph.D. Her research involved developing a protocol using analytical methods to determine the composition of phenolic compounds in different samples of whiskey. This protocol is currently being used at the Center for Craft Foods and Beverages in Oneonta, NY. She also preformed marine microbiology research under the direction of Stephanie Carr, Ph.D., where she developed her aseptic technique culturing and identifying previously unknown microorganisms from below the ocean floor. She was awarded the Freedman's Award from Hartwick College to fund this project.

Currently, Tylisha as a postbac as part of the INRO initiative in the Laboratory of Virology under the supervision of Andrea Marzi, Ph.D., where she works to develop therapeutics and treatments against highly infectious pathogenic viruses and analyzing immune responses to vaccination. Tylisha hopes to further her studies in immunology and molecular biology and to work in vaccine research and development.

Hector Ibanez

Hector Ibanez

Hector Ibanez, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Viral Pathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Viral Pathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation

Intended Path: M.D. or M.D./Ph.D.
Research Interests: Virology, Analytical Protein Chemistry, Cancer Biology

Hector Ibanez grew up in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, and enrolled at Cornell University in the fall of 2016 with the hopes of completing a degree in chemistry and chemical biology. During his time at Cornell, Hector worked regularly in the Crane Laboratory of Biophysics, studying the proteins involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms in model organisms and the proteins involved in the production of nitric oxide in several bacterial species. Hector received several fellowships and awards for his work, among them the Cornell-Howard Hughes Accelerating Medical Progress through Scholarship (CHAMPS) fellowship and the Frank L. and Lynnet Douglas Fellowship. The findings of his final project, an elucidation of the fundamental principles that governed the reduction-oxidation chemistry of Aer, an E. coli chemoreceptor, were compiled into a senior thesis that was awarded high honors by the Cornell department of chemistry and chemical biology, allowing Hector to graduate magna cum laude in the spring of 2020.

In the summer of 2020, Hector was accepted as a postbac as part of the INRO initiative, allowing him to join the Viral Pathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation. Here, Hector works to understand the interactions between the protein Platelet Factor 4 (CXCL4) and the viral envelopes of both HIV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. When not working in the lab, Hector works as a board member and fundraising director for a certified nonprofit that he cofounded in response to the growing pandemic-caused hunger crisis in his native homeland.

Grace Lank

Grace Lank

Grace Lank, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Immunopathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Immunopathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation

Intended Path: M.D.
Research Interests: Virology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases

In 2020, Grace graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in biology from Pepperdine University. She conducted clinical research as an undergraduate at the Darrow Stem Cell Institute in Los Angeles, where she investigated the efficacy of platelet-rich plasma therapy and stem cell injections on pain reduction. During her time at Pepperdine, she developed an increasing interest in the biochemistry of viruses and vaccines and spent time working with AIDS patients at a clinic in her hometown of Seattle, WA.

Motivated by her experiences in the clinical setting and her desire to contribute to the study and treatment of viral disease, she pursued and was awarded a postbaccalaureate fellowship through the INRO program at NIAID. Grace is currently a member of the Immunopathogenesis Section in the Laboratory of Immunoregulation under the supervision of James Arthos, Ph.D., and Claudia Cicala, Ph.D. During her fellowship, she aims to elucidate the impacts of the SARS-CoV-2 glycan shield on viral antigenicity and function. Ultimately, Grace plans to pursue a medical career as a physician while continuing to conduct biomedical research.

Outside of research, Grace enjoys hiking, biking, and playing the piano and has performed as a classical and jazz vocalist.

Joie Ling

Joie Ling

Joie Ling, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section of the Laboratory of Bacteriology

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in Pathogen Molecular Genetics Section of the Laboratory of Bacteriology

Intended Path: Ph.D.
Research Interests: Bacterial Pathogenesis, Host-Microbe Interactions, Infectious Diseases

Joie graduated from Haverford College, where she conducted biochemical/biophysical chemistry research under the mentorship of Casey Londergan, Ph.D., and Louise Charkoudian, Ph.D. Her research looked at visualizing and understanding the dynamic nature of the Type II acyl carrier protein and its role in bacterial biosynthetic pathways. She focused on optimizing the placement of site-specific vibrational probes along the protein's phosphopantetheine arm for visualization using IR and Raman spectroscopy.

Upon graduating, Joie joined the Laboratory of Bacteriology under the supervision of Michael Otto, Ph.D., in NIAID. Her current research is focused on elucidating the biochemical mechanisms behind Bacillus subtilis's putative probiotic effects on Clostridium difficile in the human gut.

In addition to her scientific interests, Joie is devoted to the promotion of diversity, inclusivity, and equity in STEM and higher education as a whole. As an undergrad, she co-founded a student group that works in tandem with faculty to increase accessibility of STEM classes for students of color and first-generation, low-income students by increasing faculty accountability and creating structures of support for students. She is also very interested in addressing racial and ethnic health disparities on a structural and policy level.

Looking to the future, Joie plans on entering a Ph.D. program that will allow her to further learn about the biochemical mechanisms of disease. Upon obtaining her Ph.D., Joie hopes to use her science background to continue her advocacy work in the realm of science policy and science outreach, with a focus on addressing racial and ethnic inequalities.

Jobel Matriz

Jobel Matriz

Jobel Matriz, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Epithelial Therapeutics Unit of the Laboratory of Clinical Immunology and Microbiology

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Epithelial Therapeutics Unit of the Laboratory of Clinical Immunology and Microbiology

Intended Path: M.D. 
Research Interests:
Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Immunology

Jobel graduated from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM) with a B.S. in microbiology. While at UHM, she participated in the National Institute of General Medical Sciences' (NIGMS) iDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program. As an INBRE research associate, she joined the laboratory of Joanne Yew, Ph.D., where she characterized the fungal diversity of the native Hawaiian Drosophila grimshawi and its physiological impact on oogenesis. Jobel spent a summer working with Jennifer Honda, Ph.D., at National Jewish Health to investigate the impact of Kilauea volcanic ash on nontuberculous mycobacteria and exposure to monocyte-derived macrophages. She received the Exceptional Scientific Achievement award from the University of Colorado's Graduate Experience for Multicultural Students (GEMS) program, who hosted the internship.

As a postbac in the INRO initiative, Jobel joined the Epithelial Therapeutics Unit of the Laboratory of Clinical Immunology and Microbiology under the supervision of Ian Myles, M.D., M.P.H. The research group's previous work determined that Roseomonas mucosa from healthy skin offers protection against atopic dermatitis (AD). Building on this, she currently focuses on the characterization of the therapeutic benefits of R. mucosa through TNFR2-mediated tissue repair. She is eager to explore translational research as the group prepares for a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of R. mucosa treatment in individuals with AD.

Mathiu Perez

Mathiu Perez

Mathiu Perez, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Human Eosinophil Section of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Human Eosinophil Section of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases

Intended Path: M.D./Ph.D.
Research Interests: Structural Biology, Biophysics, Chemical Biology

Mathiu’s robust research experiences in the fields of structural biology, biophysics, and chemical biology have focused his interest on a multidisciplinary research approach as a tool to advance and innovate medicine.

As a B.S.-M.S. honors student at the City College of New York (CCNY), he majored in biochemistry with a concentration in physics. As a result of his developing research interest in the progression and treatment of diseases, Mathiu investigated the cytotoxic effects of single-walled carbon-nanotubes when used as drug-delivery tools for triple-negative breast cancer cells in the laboratory of Regina Sullivan, Ph.D. Later, he joined the laboratory of Ruth Stark, Ph.D., where he investigated mechanisms of plant defense and the structural integrity of the plant periderm. Mathiu’s time at CCNY culminated in several publications.

Mathiu’s continuing interest in using structural biology and chemical biology to study human health and disease led him to participate in summer research programs at Harvard Medical School. There, he joined the laboratory of Sara Buhrlage, Ph.D., at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he studied the identification and characterization of cysteine proteases regulating ubiquitin-like protein cleavage. After graduating, Mathiu became a postbac as part of the INRO initiative under the mentorship of Amy Klion, M.D. Mathiu currently investigates familial eosinophilia, an autosomal dominant condition, characterized by dysregulation of IL-5 transcription.

Mathiu’s career goal is to obtain an M.D./Ph.D., which will help him lay the groundwork for deep investigation of diseases, offering him the opportunity to use science to tailor improvements in patient outcomes.

Aiyana Ponce

Aiyana Ponce

Aiyana Ponce, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Vector Molecular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Vector Molecular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research

Intended Path: M.D.
Research Interests: Infectious Diseases, Cancer Biology, Developmental Biology

Aiyana Ponce, a native of El Paso, Texas, graduated with highest honors from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2020 with a B.S. in cellular and molecular biochemistry and a minor in Spanish. Upon graduation, she was honored as a UTEP Top Ten Senior, as the “Outstanding Senior” in the department of biological sciences, and as the College of Science “Woman of Mines.”

At UTEP, Aiyana worked in the laboratory of Marc Cox, Ph.D., for three years on a project focused on understanding the FKBP52 cochaperone, a highly promising therapeutic for the treatment of prostate cancer. In addition to this, she participated in three summer research programs at the University of Connecticut, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine working with Leslie Caromile, Ph.D.; Peter Lwigale, Ph.D.; and Adrienne McNees, Ph.D., respectively.

She currently works in the Vector Molecular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research under the supervision of Jesus Valenzuela, Ph.D., where she is studying the local and systemic innate and adaptive immune response to Aedes aegypti bites in an endemic population in Cambodia. She is also a fellow of the NIH Academy and is working on a project to combat iatrophobia (the fear of doctors) among certain populations.

Aiyana intends to attend medical school after her time at NIH. She aspires to become a well-rounded physician who connects both scientific training and compassionate care to treat patients and serve as an inspiration to future physicians who come from underrepresented backgrounds.

Yvonne Rangel-Gonzalez

Yvonne Rangel-Gonzalez

Yvonne Rangel-Gonzalez, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Vector Molecular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Vector Molecular Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research

Intended Path: M.D.
Research Interests: Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Parasitology

Yvonne Rangel-Gonzalez comes from a traditionally underserved demographic. Her mother and father emigrated from Mexico to settle in the agricultural regions around Monterey County, CA. She is one of six children, and hers is the first generation in the family to study for and attain a college degree. As a science major, Yvonne developed a keen interest in research and completed two summer research internships in 2016 and 2017 through ACCESS, an NIH-funded extramural program, at the University of California-Santa Cruz. In these two separate research experiences, she studied Vibrio cholera and bacteriophages. In 2018, she was offered a one- year undergraduate research position in the laboratory of Julian Schroeder, Ph.D., at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) to study Arabidopsis thaliana plants and the mechanisms they use to alleviate heavy metal toxicity. In 2019, she graduated from UCSD majoring in biochemistry and cell biology.

Determined to seek higher education in the sciences, she applied for and was accepted as a postbac in the INRO initiative at the National Institutes of Health. She is currently an NIAID postbac fellow and proudly works in the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research under the supervision of Jesus Valenzuela, Ph.D., where she studies visceral leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical vectorborne disease. A career in ocular surgery or emergency medicine is her ultimate goal. She is exceedingly grateful for all the supportive figures that have guided and mentored her into becoming the scholar that she is.

Yuna Seo

Yuna Seo

Yuna Seo, Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Viral Pathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation

Credit
NIAID

Postbaccalaureate Fellow in the Viral Pathogenesis Section of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation

Intended Path: M.D.
Research Interests: Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Sleep Medicine

Yuna Seo graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University in 2020, with a B.S. in general biology. As an undergraduate supervised by Edwin Kan, Ph.D., in the department of electrical and computer engineering, she evaluated a wireless RF antenna, a device that could be used to collect vital signs in cases of respiratory diseases and sedated patients. In particular, she oversaw a human study to explore variations in breathing rates associated with chronic diseases such as sleep apnea. During this time, she learned the importance of preventive medicine through technology and human subject research.

As an INRO postbac fellow, she is unraveling the biological and clinical significance of a supra-homeostatic concentration of interleukin 7 (IL-7) to find new principles for HIV treatment under the guidance of Paolo Lusso, M.D., Ph.D. Yuna plans to ultimately pursue a career in medicine.

Learn more about Intramural Research Training Opportunities (INRO).

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