Lab Members

Michael Whitfield
Principal Investigator, Professor of Molecular and Systems Biology

Dr. Whitfield is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Systems Biology at the Geisel School of Medicine. He graduated with honors from North Carolina State University with degrees in biochemistry and chemistry. He received his PhD from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in Biochemistry and Biophysics working with Dr. William Marzluff and then performed post-doctoral training with Drs. David Botstein and Patrick Brown at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr. Whitfield was awarded the 2002 Paper of the Year by the American Society for Cell Biology (Whitfield et al. 2002 MBC), he was a V Scholar for Cancer Research, was named a Hulda Irene Duggan Arthritis Investigator, and is the recipient of multiple NIH grants. When not in lab, he can often been found racing his bike with Team HUP United.

Monica E. Espinoza
Graduate Student- BS Biology, University of California, Irvine

I am currently working on exploring the role of dysbiosis in the esophageal microbiome of SSc patients to learn more about its potential as a driver of host immune response.

Mengqi Huang
Postdoctoral Fellow - PhD from Tufts University Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Boston, MA

Scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease generally characterized by fibrosis, vascular alterations, and autoantibodies. My plan is to study the phenotype and gene expression patterns of scleroderma patient-derived fibroblasts in 3D tissue models of human skin. My goal is to use these tissues to understand mediators that thought to play a role in scleroderma development.

Noelle N. Kosarek
Graduate Student - BS Biology, Lafayette College, Pennsylvania

I am currently exploring fibroblast heterogeneity in the skin of systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients by applying single cell RNA-sequencing (scRNA-seq) to a 3D tissue model of the disease.

Viktor Martyanov
Research Scientist- PhD from Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH

SSc gene expression data analysis with emphasis on clinical trials.

Dillon Popovich
Graduate Student - BS Biochemistry, Stony Brook University

I am currently interested in drug repositioning through computational methods in order to determine potential perturbagens that may dysregulate the SSc phenotype. I am also computationally looking at potential siRNAs that may be helpful to do this. In the future I plan to test these potential hits on a 3D tissue culture system to see what best affects the morphology and genetics of the disease.

Yue (Frank) Wang
Postdoctoral Fellow - PhD from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China

SSc gene expression data analysis with emphasis on clinical trials.

Tamar R. Wheeler
Graduate Student - BS Biochemistry, University of Vermont

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is more prevalent and presents with more severe clinical outcomes within specific racial and ethnic populations. My goal is to identify disease-relevant genetic and epigenetic abnormalities that contribute to the underlying predisposition of individuals to this disease. I am utilizing a novel 3D skin-like tissue model system built from patient-derived fibroblasts and Assay for Transposase-Accessible Chromatin using sequencing (ATAC-seq) to determine differential chromatin accessibility within actively transcribed regions and potentially identify disease-contributing SNPs in non-coding regions.

Tammara A. Wood
Project Coordinator - Master of Science

Tammara is the project coordinator for NIAMS Scleroderma Center Of Research Translation; National Scleroderma Core Centers investigating the genome-wide gene expression profiles of the autoimmune disease systemic sclerosis (SSc).

Yiwei Yuan
Graduate Student - BS Biology, Fudan University, Shanghai, China

I am currently investigating the intrinsic subsets in blood samples to understand the disease and my plan is to make use of histological images and spatial transcriptomics to determine the molecular subset and identify the connections between the mRNAs changes and corresponding morphological manifestation.

Lab Alumni

Kim Archambault
BS Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of New Hampshire

My current focus is on optimizing NanoString technology to investigate the gene expression profiles of samples from patients with SSc in order to classify SSc patients into intrinsic subsets.

Lee Brooks
Graduate Student

Lee is utilizing deep sequencing technology to define cis-elements that play crucial roles in RNA biology.

Guoshuai Cai
Postdoctoral Fellow - PhD from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

My current study is focusing on selecting predictive markers for SSc severity. Also, I am identifying the SSc severity-responsible microRNAs. In addition, I hope to develop RNA-seq differential expression (DE) analysis methods tailored to our SSc studies.

Susanna Choe
Lab technician - BA from Dartmouth College

I am studying the cell cycle-regulated gene Fam64A, whose knockdown leads to monopolar spindles, and characterizing its interactions with members of the chromosomal passenger complex and positives from a yeast two-hybrid screen.

Jennifer M. Franks
Graduate Student - BS Applied Statistics, BS Genetics, Purdue University

I am currently working on utilizing intrinsic molecular subsets to understand disease trajectory and characterizing the immune repertoire in patients with SSc.

Lacy George
Graduate Student

Lacy is originally from Atlanta, GA, and earned her BS in Biology cum laude from Mercer University in Macon, GA. She is currently working on a previously unannotated cell cycle-regulated gene, Fam64A. Using microarray data of hierarchically clustered cell cycle-regulated genes, she hypothesized that the protein is involved in spindle assembly, and indeed found that knockdown of Fam64A with siRNA leads to an increase in monopolar spindles. She is currently working to further characterize the function of Fam64A and determine the mechanisms that lead to this spindle defect. She is also working to identify cell cycle-regulated genes in an untransformed cell line to investigate cell type-specific differences in cell cycle-regulated genes.

Gavin Grant
Postdoc - PhD

Gavin studies how forkhead box genes regulate cell cycle gene expression and the cell cycle regulated genes in U2OS cells.

Michael E. Johnson
Postdoctoral Fellow - PhD from Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA

I am currently investigating the role various signaling pathways play in driving pathogenesis of scleroderma. Additionally, I am investigating the role of enhanced gene expression in SSc fibroblasts.

Zhenghui "Jerry" Li
Graduate Student - BS Microbiology, cum laude

Jerry received his BS in Microbiology (with honor) from University of Rochester in 2010. While in Rochester, Jerry worked on the anti-viral immune response in frog Xenopus laevis under the instruction of Dr. Jacques Robert. Here in Whitfield Lab, Jerry works on analyzing RNA-Seq data from human scleroderma tissue. In addition, Jerry works on correlating different mice models to human scleroderma sub types by microarray.

Matt Mahoney
Postdoctoral Fellow - PhD

Meta-analysis of scleroderma gene expression microarray data.

Bhaven K. Mehta
Graduate Student - BA Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; MA Biotechnology, Boston University

Bhaven is performing RNA-sequencing on multiple organs (skin, esophagus, fundus, duodenum, and blood) from individual patients with SSc to assess whether the traditional molecular subsets found in SSc skin are conserved across multiple tissues of an individual. Bhaven is also performing RNA-sequencing on an additional cohort to evaluate the differences and similarities between the upper and lower esophagus of patients with SSc.

Sarah Pendergrass
Graduate Student

Sarah came to the Whitfield lab by way of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, where she received an MS in Biomedical Engineering. At Thayer School, in the labs of Dr. Paul Meaney and Dr. Marvin Doyley, she researched alternative breast cancer imaging modalities as well as alternative atherosclerosis imaging methods. Here, in the Whitfield Lab, Sarah is using microarray technology to investigate the genome-wide gene expression profiles of skin and blood samples from patients with the autoimmune disease systemic sclerosis (SSc) to identify biomarkers and to extend and validate SSc subsets. When Sarah is not working hard in the lab, she donates time to support local good-will causes such as the The Haven, a local shelter for homeless families.

Jennifer Sargent
Graduate Student

Jenn is originally from Brisbane Australia where she received a BSc and Honors Class I in Biochemistry from the University of Queensland. Before coming to the Whitfield Lab, Jenn was a post-graduate researcher at UCSF studying signal transduction pathways in Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Jenn's research currently centers around the hypothesis that different mouse models may each resemble a different subtype of scleroderma disease. She has extensively characterized the gene expression signatures in murine cGVHD skin and found that gene expression bears a remarkable similarity to that found in the 'Inflammatory' subset of scleroderma patients. She is currently analyzing the TSK1 & TSK2 models and the bleomycin-induced fibrosis models to examine their similarities to human SSc in the context of the intrinsic subsets. She has also defined in vitro mechanistic signatures for profibrotic cytokines TGF, IL13 and IL4 in dermal fibroblasts and has identified differential expression of these signaling pathways in the intrinsic subsets found in scleroderma skin. Outside of lab Jenn is an avid foodie, road biker, climber and crossfitter, and in addition to being a graduate student is also a dedicated crazy cat lady.

Jaclyn N. Taroni
Graduate Student - BS Biology, Lehigh University

I work on functional genomic meta-analyses of multiple tissues and clinical manifestations of systemic sclerosis.

Diana M. Toledo
Graduate Student - BA Biology, Brown University; MS Genetic Counseling, Boston University

I am currently investigating the molecular outcomes of patients with SSc during different time points throughout the mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) drug trial. In addition, I am working on identifying DNA methylation signatures in SSc subsets and SSc-causing cell types (like macrophages).