Research Staff

Serapio M. Baca, Ph.D.

Serapio BacaSenior Research Scientist
Bayliss Lab, Pinn Hall 5013

phone: 434-982-4466

My research focuses on understanding the relationship, under various conditions, between respiratory centers in the brainstem that are chemosensitive (e.g., CO2 and pH) and those that are involved in driving inspiration and expiration. To understand these relationships requires a number of techniques including whole cell patch-clamp, nerve recordings, and optical imaging of populations of cells—neurons and glia—in reduced preparations. My approaches are complimented by a number of molecular approaches in the Bayliss lab that aim to uniquely identify the molecular components of the chemosensors and to identify cell-specific markers to better delineate the relevant cell networks present in the Retrotrapezoid nucleus (RTN) and other identified respiratory centers.

Pranav Bhaskar, Ph.D.

Pranav BhaskarResearch Associate
Desai Lab, Pinn Hall, 5015

phone: 434-882-6909

Throughout my short academic career, I was involved in studying the bacterial production of secondary metabolites and their pharmacological and industrial scale applications. Besides that, I have also worked briefly on the developmental role of Sirtuins (histone deacetylases) in Arabidopsis thaliana plantCurrently, I am more focused on gathering knowledge that can be applied to the treatment of chronic inflammation and its detrimental effects on many diseases by finding, characterizing and modulating the ion channels involved in inflammation, immunity and tissue homeostasis. 

Kallesh Jayappa Danappa, Ph.D.

Kallesh Jayappa DanappaResearch Scientist
Fox Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm. 1215

phone: 434-982-5892

My research focusses on development of novel therapies for B cell leukemia/lymphoma. Our recent work discovered multidrug-resistant cancer cells in leukemia/lymphoma patients de novo; these cells exhibit selection during treatment with pro-apoptotic anti-cancer therapies such as venetoclax (Jayappa et al., Blood Adv, 2021). We are exploring C6 ceramide nanoliposome-based therapies to deplete this reservoir of multidrug-resistant cancer cells in leukemia/lymphoma patients. In another project, we discovered the overexpression of activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) in drug resistant persister cancer cells in mantle cell lymphoma patients. We are investigating the role of AID in cancer cell survival and/or drug resistance, and exploring ways to target this protein for treatment in relapsed/refractory  patients. These novel therapies hold significant promise in achieving broader, deeper and more durable responses in cancer patients.

Venugopal Gunda, Ph.D.

Headshot placeholderSenior Research Scientist
Fox Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm. 1213

phone: 434-982-3204




Smriti Gupta, Ph.D.

Smriti GuptaResearch Associate
Bayliss Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm. 5013

phone: 434-982-4466

Primary research area of interest is elucidation of neural circuits in behaving animals and deep brain stimulation. Other research interest include understanding metabolic basis of different neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s Disease, Type 3 diabetes, Anxiety Disorders, Dementia, Depression and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Limeng Huang, Ph.D.

Limeng HuangResearch Associate
Zhu Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm. 5025

phone: 434-995-9499

My research interest lies in studying the neurotransmission in both healthy and diseased neural circuits. In addition to this, I aim to develop innovative optogenetic tools to precisely modulate AMPA receptor-mediated synaptic transmission.


Andrei Khokhlatchev, Ph.D.

Headshot placeholderSenior Research Scientist
Fox Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm. 1215

phone: 434-982-2878

My research focuses on how human Acute Myelocytic Leukemia (AML) cells respond to a novel nanoscale anticancer drug, Ceramide Nanoliposomes, developed in the laboratory by Dr. Mark Kester and colleagues.

I study the mechanism of CNL-induced cell death in AML cells and how to make CNL more efficient in anticancer therapy by combining them with other clinically used anticancer drugs.

I also study perturbations in the metabolism of one of the major classes of lipids, sphingolipids, in AML cells and how this could be used in AML cancers treatment.

Scott Kilianski, Ph.D.

Scott Kilianski Research Associate
Beenhakker Lab, Pinn 5058

phone: 973-900-1222

My current work aims to answer two questions: 1) how is the extraordinary neural synchrony initiated and rapidly broadcast across the entire cortex during an absence seizure? 2) How does energy metabolism alter neuronal excitability and ultimately change network-level activity to become more or less prone to seizure? To answer both of these questions, I use various types of genetically modified mice that allow me to finely dissect the contributions of energy metabolism signaling pathways and different brain structures that are involved in generating absence seizures.

Keyong Li, Ph.D.

Keyong LiResearch Scientist
Bayliss Lab, Pinn 5013

phone: 434-982-4466

My current study is how central chemoreceptors modulate respiration when exposed to high CO2 or the pH changed in blood in development. Phox2b (+) neurons in Retrotrapezoid Nucleus (RTN) are intrinsically sensitive to pH and play a vital role in regulating respiration. My study is focusing on the developmental changes of their pH-sensitivity and excitability. Multiple techniques including patch clamp, PCR, immunohistochemistry, imaging are used to investigate the ion channels in RTN neurons which are contributing to the developmental changes from cellular level to molecular level. Finally, the identified ion channels will be tested in whole animal model using in vivo gene transfer. The goal is to illuminate the mechanisms of modulation neuronal excitability and of respiration in development.

Mohan C Manjegowda, Ph.D.

Mohan C ManjegowdaSenior Scientist
Desai Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm 5017

phone: 434-243-1920

I hail from the foothills of the Western Ghats, India. Completed my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Visvesvaraya Technological University and Ph.D. from Dept. of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati, India. My doctoral research was focused on understanding the expression regulation and significance of G-protein coupled estrogen receptor (GPER1) in breast cancer. My research interests are epigenetics, chromatin dynamics, and gene expression regulation.

The focus of my postdoctoral research is to understand the onset and development of fatty liver disease (hepatic steatosis). Excessive accumulation of fat in the hepatocytes is a characteristic feature of hepatic steatosis. The pathological condition is also associated with the wrinkled nuclear lamina and abnormal nuclear morphology. I am studying the significance of this wrinkled nuclear lamina on chromatin dynamics and gene expression regulation. Using a gene-therapy approach, I am exploring the possibilities of reverting the wrinkles of the nuclear lamina to develop a treatment strategy. Next-generation sequencing techniques such as ChIP-Seq, Hi-C, and RNA-Seq are some of the high-end techniques I use for my investigation.

George M.P.R. Souza, Ph.D.

George SouzaResearch Scientist
Abbott/Guyenet Lab, Pinn Hall 5228

phone: 434-227-6010

My research interest is related to neural control of breathing and blood pressure. We are investigating how neurons at the lower brainstem (retrotrapezoid nucleus and rostral ventrolateral medulla) regulate breathing, blood gases homeostasis, blood pressure and arousal. We use chemo- and optogenetic approaches in vivo to perform gain- or loss-of-function experiments in order to reveal the role of specific neuronal types in those physiological variables.

Clint Upchurch Ph.D.

Clint Upchurch wearing a suit smiles and stands in front of greeneryPostdoctoral Researcher
Leitinger Lab, Pinn Hall 5039A

phone: 434-243-6386


Yajun Zhang, Ph.D.

Yajun ZhangResearch Scientist
Zhu Lab, Pinn Hall, Rm. 5025

phone: 434-227-3282

My research interest lies in the regulation of synaptic transmission in the nervous system, with a particular focus on developing new tools for brain science research. I have contributed to the development of genetically encoded sensors for the detection of neurotransmitters. Using the sensors for high-resolution fluorescence imaging could provide a deeper understanding of the complexity of the nervous system in both space and time. Ultimately, I aim to use these tools to study the regulation of presynaptic transmitter release in studying the fundamental mechanisms for psychiatric disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.