Current Students



IMSD Mentor: Paul Paolini, Ph.D.

Carlos Alvarez is a Biology major with an emphasis in Cell and Molecular Biology. He began the MBRS/IMSD program in November 2014.  He is currently working in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Paolini in the Department of Biology measuring the variation in calcium regulation in different regions of cardiomyocytes. Calcium inflow/outflow is tightly regulated in order to induce a rhythmic contraction and relaxation of cardiomyoctes. Improper regulation of this signal molecule could lead to arrhythmia, tissue damage and other heart complications. Understanding how calcium is regulated could lead to the development of treatments for heart disease and drug discovery.

Carlos is also working in Dr. Joy Phillips and Dr.Marilyn Thoman’s lab in the Donald P. Shiley Bioscience Center, studying the immune cell population of the lung pleural cavity, and assessing the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome on the immune system regulatory mechanisms.

In the summer of 2012, Carlos was selected for a summer internship at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). At TSRI, Carlos worked in the Immunology Department under the direct mentorship of  Dr. Ann Feeney. His project investigated the effects of the growth factor IL-7 on germ line transcription during pro B to pre B cell stages of cell development.This provided further insight into the regulatory mechanisms in place during B cell generation. Understanding the regulatory mechanisms involved in immune cell generation can be applied towards remediating immune deficiencies and the epigenetic modifications associated with immune disorders.

In the summer of 2014, Carlos was selected for an internship at the University of Utah. During his stay he was able to work under the mentorship of Dr. Dean Tantin, in the Pathology Department. His project investigated the interaction of Oct1 transcription factor and OcaB co-activator, and their recruitment of Jmjd1a, a histone demethylase, during the generation of memory T cells. The absence of this interaction prevents the generation of an efficient memory response when re-exposed to an antigen. The study of fundamental mechanisms of the adaptive immune system can potentially lead to the generation of vaccines and the remediation of immune deficiencies, as well as development for treatment therapies for reestablishment of proper immune response.


IMSD Mentors: Diane Smith, Ph.D. & Sanford Bernstein, Ph.D.


IMSD Mentor: Kelly Doran, Ph.D.

KATRINA CABLE, Cell and Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D.

Cable, Katrina



In July 2013, Katrina joined the IMSD program as a Cell and Molecular Biology major. She is working in the lab of Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D., where they study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of nervous system regeneration in fresh water planarians Schmidtea mediterranea. Due to the abundance of pluripotent stem cells throughout the body, this model is able to regrow all of its body tissue after injury or amputation. Katrina is currently working on characterizing the patterns of expression and function of the SOX C, SOX H and several WNT genes in this model. Katrina would like to obtain her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology, specifically in the area of developmental epigenetics. She is interested in understanding the important link of developmental epigenetic markers and disease. She aspires to help develop gene therapies that will ease symptoms of incurable diseases.


IMSD Mentor: Stanley Maloy, Ph.D.

Portrait of Marely Hilleger

Marley Hilleger joined IMSD in January 2014. She is a Microbiology major and conducts research in Dr. Stanley Maloy’s lab. The lab investigates the impact of phage-encoded genes on the formation of environmental reservoirs to facilitate the evolution of novel pathogens. Specifically, Marley’s project focuses on phage-encoded antibiotic resistant genes in the environment and in wastewater treatment plants. Marley will graduate in spring 2015 and will be applying to Ph.D. programs this fall. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science.


CARLO QUINTANILLA, Biology & Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Ricardo Zayas, Ph.D.


Carlo Quintanilla is a dual major in Biology and Psychology and began the IMSD program in June 2014. He is currently working in Dr. Ricardo Zayas’ planarian regeneration laboratory in the Department of Biology, where they investigate the transcriptional regulation of nervous system regeneration. Particularly, Carlo is working on identifying transcription factors specific to motor neuron populations and determining their role in the post embryonic nervous system. Understanding the key factors involved in motor neuron differentiation and function can provide new insights in the development of stem cell based therapies for motor neuron disease patients.

In the past, Carlo has worked on a broad range of projects in various sub-disciplines of neuroscience. As a MARC Scholar he worked on projects investigating the neural substrates responsible for influencing alcohol addiction in the mammalian brain. Under the mentorship of Dr. Susan Brasser in the Psychology Department, he helped to introduce a new method to the lab allowing for indirect measurements of neuronal activity following stimulus and behavioral testing.  As a SURP Scholar in the summer of 2013, Carlo was introduced to circadian biology in the Department of Anatomy of Neurobiology at Boston University. Under the mentorship of Dr. Irina Zhdanova, he focused on investigating the circadian regulation of neurogenesis in the adult zebrafish brain. He plans to extend his studies of circadian biology as a doctoral student in neuroscience.


BEN TURNER, Cellular & Molecular Biology
IMSD Mentor: Elizabeth Dinsdale, Ph.D.

Cristo Redentor (1)
Benjamin Turner is a senior majoring in Cell & Molecular biology working in Dr. Elizabeth Dinsdale’s metagenomics and microbial ecology research laboratory in the Department of Biology. Currently he studies how changes in carbon dioxide affect the total viral assemblages of two marine alga ecosystems. The first is giant kelp, Macrocyctis pyrifera and the second are rhodolith algae. His experiments were conducted in a controlled environment in aquarium tanks; the sample water was filtered through a 0.22 um pore to isolate phages from larger microbes. The phages are further concentrated using ultracentrifugation and a cesium chloride gradient. The viral DNA is subsequently extracted for high-throughput sequencing and phage identification. Viruses are highly important factors in global marine ecology and understanding how climate-change factors influence the viruses may suggest possible consequences over time.
During the summer of 2014, Ben worked as a foreign-travel research assistant in Dr. Fabiano Thompson’s microbial genetics lab at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) in Brazil. For two weeks he studied DNA extraction techniques and extracted bacterial samples from coral environments in the Abrolhos Bank. The DNA samples were vacuum-dried, which allowed transport back to the US.
Ben has applied for PhD programs in microbiology and molecular biology and hopes to conduct medical research in a governmental setting such as with the CDC or Department of Defense.



Villanueva, Marlo PhotoMARLO VILLANUEVA, Biology
IMSD Mentors: Mark Sussman, Ph.D. & Natalie Gude, Ph.D.

Marlo joined the IMSD program in December 2013. He is majoring in Biology and conducts research in Dr. Mark Sussman’s laboratory. Marlo entered the Stem Cell and Myocardial Research Laboratory in January 2012, working under the mentorship of Dr. Natalie Gude. Marlo’s main project deals with Notch signaling, which enhances cardiac repair in cardiac progenitor cells. His goal is to earn a Ph.D. in stem cell biology. Marlo will graduate in Spring 2015, and plans on entering a Ph.D. program after earning his B.S.




ALICIA ZAMUDIO, Biology & Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Ralph Feuer, Ph.D.



IMSD Mentors: Paul Paolini, Ph.D. & Tom Huxford, Ph.D.

Posed portrait of Eric Lopez


ERIC LOPEZ, Chemistry
IMSD Mentor: Diane Smith, Ph.D.

Eric has been working in the Quinone electrochemistry group in Dr. Diane Smith’s research lab since spring 2013, and joined the IMSD program as a chemistry major in August 2013. Eric primarily conducts cyclic voltammetry experiments to investigate the effects of Hydrogen bonding on the electron transfer mechanism of Vitamin K in organic solvents, particularly dichloromethane and acetonitrile. Eric is scheduled to graduate with a B.S. in Chemistry and ACS certification in May 2015, and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in either chemistry or chemical engineering.


SASHARY RAMOS, Chemistry Sashary Ramos2
IMSD Mentor: William Tong, Ph.D.

Sashary joined the IMSD program as a Chemistry major in January 2014. Her research experience began in fall 2011, when she began volunteering in Dr.William Tong’s laser spectroscopy laboratory. The Tong lab uses nonlinear laser wave-mixing spectroscopy, paired with capillary electrophoresis, for separation and determination of proteins, amino acids, and small molecules. Her current project in the Tong lab focuses on the detection of the p24 antigen, a HIV marker; and CA 15-3, a breast cancer marker. During the summer of 2013, she had the opportunity to conduct research at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Dr. Gus Rosania; there she used polarization microscopy to characterize fluticasone propionate, an active ingredient in a popular asthma medication. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Chemistry and continue to do research incorporating her two main interests: Chemistry and Physics. Sashary plans on graduating in May 2015 with a B.S. in Chemistry.


ROBERT VASQUEZ, Biochemistry
IMSD Mentor: Douglas Grotjahn, Ph.D.

Portrait of Robert Vasquez


Robert joined the IMSD program in February 2014 as a Chemistry major with an emphasis in Biochemistry.  He entered Dr. Grotjahns lab in October 2013, when his proposal for Pfizer La Jolla’s Industrial Relations Diversity Research Fellowship in Chemistry was awarded.  He is currently conducting research in Dr. Grotjahn’s lab synthesizing n-heterocyclic carbene/pyridyl ligands that bind to metal centers, testing their ability to selectively oxidize water and organic substrates. Robert’s goal is to earn a Ph.D. in Chemical Biology and projected to  graduate spring 2016.


CARLOS BRAMBILA, Bioengineering
IMSD Mentor: Paul Paolini, Ph.D.




Carlos joined the IMSD program in July of 2013 as an undergraduate in Biology with an emphasis in Bioengineering. Carlos joined Dr. Paul Paolini’s laboratory in the fall of 2012 through the NSF S-STEM program, and is currently conducting his research project in the Paolini laboratory. Dr. Paolini’s laboratory focuses on the mechanics and dynamics of the neonatal rat cardiocyte to further understand the human heart. In the Spring of 2013, Carlos had the opportunity to presented his first research poster at San Diego State University’s Student Research Symposium. The following year in February, he co-presented his current research at the Biophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco, which focuses on creating an open-source, cost effective stimulator to study the comparison of cardiocyte cultures between paced and unpaced cells in order to observe changes in gene and protein expression of myosin isoforms over time. In the summer of 2014, he was accepted in the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) Research Experience for Undergraduates program and conducted research at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science under the project title “High-Throughput Drug Screening in vivo Using Droplet Microfluidics” where he presented his work at various conferences in Atlanta, Georgia, Los Angeles, California, and San Antonio, Texas. Carlos is very interested in the application of Bioengineering aspects in his current project at SDSU and plans to focus his research in the field of biomaterials, tissue engineering, and/or biomedical instrumentation. His primary academic goal is to obtain his doctoral degree in Bioengineering or Biomedical Engineering and have a laboratory of his own at a university where students will have the same opportunities as he did: to unfold their passion and potential in the sciences.

EVAN TULLY, Bioengineering
IMSD Mentor: Sanford Bernstein, Ph.D.




McKinnon, SymoneSYMONE MCKINNON, Psychology
IMSD Mentor: Terry Cronan, Ph.D.

Symone McKinnon joined the IMSD program in June 2013. Symone is a psychology major and has been working in Dr. Terry Cronan’s Health Outcomes Studies Lab since spring 2013. Dr. Cronan’s lab focuses on developing, implementing, and evaluating intervention programs to encourage healthy behaviors among people suffering from chronic diseases. The lab’s current study, entitled “Fight FMS”, is an intervention-based study which tests the effectiveness of two interventions (either education or physical activity) on improving functioning in Fibromyalgia (FMS) patients. As a result of her early research experience in Dr. Cronan’s lab, Symone is now inspired to continue research in graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. With this career she hopes to research ethnic health disparities, work with people suffering from mental health disorders, and develop treatment plans to help people overcome some of these issues. Symone is an EOP student and will graduate in May 2015 with a B.A. in Psychology.


JUAN PENA, Psychology & Spanish
IMSD Mentor: Elizabeth Klonoff, Ph.D.


Juan Peña is a Psychology and Spanish double major and began the MBRS/IMSD program in October 2014. He has been working under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Klonoff since Spring 2014. Dr. Klonoff’s lab focuses on research in cultural diversity, tobacco and health. Juan is currently part of Project VOCES, a study of well-being among undocumented Latino immigrants living in San Diego. In doing this work, he was inspired to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and continue doing research in Latino health disparities, including Latino mental health. In the future, he would like to continue researching Latino health disparities and collaborate internationally through bringing his research to Spanish speaking countries. His hope is to inform the development of culturally sensitive interventions in the U.S. and in these countries. Juan will be graduating in May of 2016 and will apply to graduate programs in Fall of 2015.


SAVANNA TIERNEY, Psychology, minor in BiologyTierney, Savanna
IMSD Mentor: Paul Gilbert, Ph.D.

Savanna joined the IMSD program in January 2013. She is a Psychology major with a minor in Biology and currently conducts research at the Center for Healthy Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease Research under the direction of Dr. Paul Gilbert. This lab investigates the effects of neurodegenerative disease on cognition, with a specific focus on memory function. The principal method of her research is neuropsychological assessment of specific clinical populations, including individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, as well as cognitively healthy older and young adults. Her projects investigate the impacts these diseases have on daily activities and how to detect age-related changes and deficits earlier in individuals with these conditions. She transferred from San Diego Mesa College in the fall of 2012. As a Bridges to Baccalaureate Scholar, Savanna presented her summer project exploring source memory function in individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. In the future, she would like to apply her background in Biology and Physiology to concentrate not only on diagnosis, but also uncovering more information about the etiology of neurodegenerative diseases as well as effective methods of both treatment and prevention. Savanna will graduate in May of 2015 and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology.


DUYEN TRANG, Psychology, minor in Statistics
IMSD Mentor: May Yeh, Ph.D.

Duyen joined the IMSD Program in June 2013 as a Psychology major with a minor in Statistics. She is currently conducting research at the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center (CASRC) under the mentorship of Dr. May Yeh. The laboratory focuses on examining cognitive match, or agreement, between therapists and clients in psychotherapy. Duyen’s project investigates the relationship between cognitive match and contributing factors (e.g. parent-therapist ethnic match, parent-therapist acculturation match, and acculturation level of parent) that may increase therapeutic alliance between therapists and parents of youths receiving outpatient mental health services. The purpose of this study is to identify and understand factors of cognitive match that may help to increase youths’ therapy attendance, progress, and possibly even outcomes. As a former Biomedical Exploratory Program (BEP) Scholar and a current IMSD Scholar, Duyen aspires to pursue a Ph.D. degree in Clinical Psychology to learn more about children’s mental health with an emphasis on cultural issues. Her eventual goal is to join academia as a university professor. Duyen will apply to graduate programs in Fall 2014 and earn her B.A. in Psychology in Spring 2015.

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