Biochemistry and Cellular Biology

Iannis E Adamopoulos BSc(Hons), M.Phil, D.Phil

Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology
School of Medicine, University of California at Davis

Osteoimmunology (see also: dermatology, immunology, translational research and osteoimmunology)

Our laboratory studies the interface between the skeletal and immune systems, a newly emerging area of research called “osteoimmunology”. Haematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow give rise to both T cells which are important in inflammation and osteoclasts that regulate bone resorption. Differentiation and activation of osteoclasts from their precursors is tightly regulated by cytokines and growth factors such as receptor activator of nuclear factor kappa beta (RANKL), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and various interleukins. Receptor engagement of these molecules results in signaling cascades and transcriptional changes that give rise to medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and osteopetrosis. Using in vivo gene transfer of immune cytokines IL-23 and IL-17, we have established new arthritis animal models that highlight the importance of these immune cytokines in arthritis initiation and bone homeostasis. Using in vitro assays, we continue our attempts to define the cellular and molecular mechanisms that take place in this fascinating interplay of the immune and skeletal systems.

For more information, please contact Dr IE Adamopoulos or visit

Julie Bossuyt, DVM, PhD

Chair MCIP Graduate Group
Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine

(See also: Cardiovascular Biology)

The lab studies the molecular mechanisms that drive activation and function of the related kinases, protein kinase D (PKD) and calmodulin dependent protein kinase (CaMKII) in healthy and failing hearts. We focus on understanding the local regulatory mechanisms that control the myriad cellular outcomes for these multifunctional kinases. Hereto we apply cutting-edge high resolution fluorescence imaging techniques (such as FRET, TIRF, FRAP and confocal) and novel biosensors to obtain unique insight into the spatiotemporal dynamics of the local Ca-CaM, CaMKII and PKD signals.

Potential summer research projects:

  1. PKD regulation of actin dynamics in cardiac myocytes
  2. Role of  PKD in cardiac stress during pregnancy

Contact :

Ching-Hsien (Jean) Chen, PhD

SOM: Nephrology/Internal Medicine (See also: Internal Medicine, Oncology)

Dr. Chen’s research strives to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer malignancy and thereby identify useful biomarkers and/or druggable targets. She seeks to develop peptide-based therapeutics to mitigate cancer metastasis and drug resistance by targeting aberrant oncogenic signaling. Research in her laboratory focuses on how the phospholipids such as PIP2 and PIP3 are regulated during the development of malignancies and inflammatory diseases.

Potential summer research projects: 1) examine the feasibility of phospholipid retention strategies for cancer immunotherapy. This project will use genetic manipulations and pharmacological approaches to elucidate mechanisms of tumor immune evasion and develop targeted therapies for increasing the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors; 2) characterize the mechanisms of cancer stemness in order to discover therapeutic targets for combating cancer progression and overcoming drug resistance. This study will help the development of novel treatments that destroy cancer stem-like cells without adversely affecting self-renewal of normal stem cells.

Please visit Dr. Chen's website at:

Gino Cortopassi

VM: Dept. of Molecular Biosciences (See also: Neurobiology)

Mitochondrial disease results from inherited defects in mitochondrial genes or exposure to mitochondrial toxins. We investigate pathomechanism, including mitochondrial defect ->neuroinflamation->neurodegeneration. We screen for protective molecules for mitochondrial disease.  We are interested in canine distemper and its relationship to human multiple sclerosis.

Please visit Dr. Cortopassi's website at:

Elva Diaz, PhD

Med: Pharmacology (see also: genetics/genomics, neuroscience and pharmacology/toxicology)

Dr. Diaz is trained in molecular and cellular biochemistry and functional genomic approaches to understanding nervous system development. The two main areas of interest are neural proliferation and synaptic differentiation in rodent model systems. The Diaz lab uses genomic approaches such as DNA microarrays to identify genes differentially regulated in nervous system development. Individual candidates genes are studied with molecular and cellular techniques including primary neuronal culture, immunocytochemistry, electrophysiology, and transgenic mouse models. Potential projects include: 1) understanding the role of transcription factors during neural proliferation in the cerebellum and potential implications for diseases such as brain tumors; 2) dissecting the role of a novel family of transmembrane proteins in synapse development and potential implications for neurological diseases such as mental retardation and schizophrenia.

Please visit Dr. Diaz's website at:

Pascal Gagneux, Ph.D.

Affiliated with UC Veterinary Medical Center – San Diego

(See also: Reproductive Biology)

Dr. Gagneux is interested in primate molecular diversity. His lab investigates the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for the generation and maintenance of primate diversity, its potential roles in protecting populations from pathogens as well as potential consequences for reproductive compatibility. He is currently studying cell-surface molecules of sperm cells in closely related primate species. His focus is on glycans, the oligosaccharides attached to glycolipids and glycoproteins of the cell surface. The numerous parallels between the surface molecules of successful pathogens and those found on the surface of mammalian sperm, invite the analogy between internal fertilization and “extremely successful infection”. These interests examine the differences in sperm surface molecules  and sexual selection (via sperm competition and cryptic female choice) and whether such differences might contribute to reproductive incompatibility and speciation due to female immune rejection of sperm with incompatible glycoconjugates. Dr. Gagneux has studied the behavioral ecology of wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Ivory Coast, population genetics of West African chimpanzees, and differences in sialic acid biology between humans and great apes with special consideration of their differing pathogen regimes. His great concern is that the current surge in interest for comparative genomics is not being translated into direct support for the conservation of primates in their endangered natural habitats.

Please contact Peter Ernst or Christina Sigurdson first for more information

Cecilia Giulivi, PhD

VM: Molecular Biosciences

(see also: Genetics and Genomics, Neurology/Neurobiology)

Given the diversity of pathologies for which mitochondrial dysfunction is implicated, transformative approaches are needed to investigate disease pathogenesis, improve diagnosis, identify prognostic biomarkers, and generate novel treatment strategies. For the first time, we aim at creating a database in VetMed by leveraging our own clinical and research as well as those published in peer-reviewed Journals to consolidate a broad range of mixed phenotypes associated with mitochondrial disorders and dysfunction. The complete, thorough mitochondrial phenotyping platform will include datasets composed of available data (e.g., multi-omics data, mitochondrial function readouts, genetics, and quantitative imaging mitochondrial morphology descriptors) from different species to promote knowledge among clinicians and faciliate diagnosis of mitochondrial disorders in animals.

Please visit Dr. Giulivi's website at:

Peter J. Havel, DVM, PhD

Department of Molecular Biosciences
School of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Nutrition
Director, Endocrinology and Metabolism Core
Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center

(See also: Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, Pharmacology, Translational Medicine)

Our highly translational research program is actively investigating the regulation of energy homeostasis and carbohydrate/lipid metabolism, and involvement of endocrine systems in the pathophysiology of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. My laboratory is studying the mechanisms regulating the secretion of pancreatic and gastrointestinal, and adipocyte hormones. The role of endocrine, metabolic, and dietary factors in regulating energy balance, insulin action, and lipid/carbohydrate metabolism is studied in animal models (rodents and nonhuman primates) and humans. We are conducting studies on the prevention and treatment of diabetes in a rat model of type 2 diabetes developed in our laboratory (UCD-T2DM Rat) that is more similar in pathophysiology to type 2 diabetes in humans than other available models (Am. J. Physiol., 2008). We have used the UCD-T2DM model for 15 additional published studies on the pathophysiology of T2DM and for investigating pharmacological and surgical approaches for the treatment and prevention of T2DM. We have been involved in clinical studies and experiments in animal models investigating the effects of bariatric surgery procedures on how these endocrine changes are involved in improvements of carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and the resolution of type 2 diabetes observed after surgery. Another major focus of the research is the role of diet composition (such as dietary fat and fructose) in the development and progression of obesity, diabetes, and dyslipidemia including studies in animal models and clinical studies in humans. In addition, our laboratory has been conducting translational studies funded by the NIH, ADA, and pharmaceutical/ biotechnology industry sources at the California National Primate Research Center in a diet-induced rhesus monkey model of metabolic syndrome with insulin resistance and dyslipidemia (Clinical. Trans. Sci., 2011, ILAR Journal, 2017) as extensions of our studies in rodent models and as preclinical investigations that generate data and hypotheses that are then tested in clinical studies in humans. We have demonstrated that consumption of fructose, but not glucose-sweetened beverages for 10 weeks increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in humans (J. Clin. Invest., 2009). We also recently completed a comprehensive NIH-funded dose-response study of the metabolic effects of sugar- sweetened beverages (Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 2015) and are currently studying the metabolic effects of dietary sugars under ad libitum versus energy-balanced conditions.

Matthias Hess, PhD

Department of Animal Science  (See also: Microbiology/Parasitology)

I am a microbiologist with a strong background in biotechnology. My research centers on the multi-scale (from molecule to cell to population to ecosystem) understanding of microbial systems through cultivation-independent as well as cultivation-based techniques. One of the ecosystems my group has been focusing on over the last years is the gut microbiome of ruminants and we have established an artificial rumen system in the laboratory to address questions related to gut and animal health and performance. More recently we have been expanding our work into other animal systems such as fish, pigs and poultry.  

For more information visit Dr. Hess’ website at

Amir Kol, DVM, PhD

VM: Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology

(See also: Translational/Regenerative Medicine)

My research is in the field of stem cell biology and translational regenerative medicine. Our group is specifically focused on the use of pluripotent stem cells in naturally occurring diseases in companion animals as platforms to conduct high level translational research to facilitate the development of novel regenerative medicine therapeutics for human and veterinary use. Ongoing projects in the lab include the regulatory networks that govern canine somatic cell reprogramming to induced pluripotent stem cells, and cellular replacement treatments for canine diabetes mellitus . Our group is always looking for the brightest and most enthusiastic future scientists that are eager to realize the incredible potential and promise of regenerative medicine. 

Contact information:

Pamela Lein

Neurodevelopment, neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, neurotoxicology, seizures, asthma

VM: Molecular Biosciences (See also: Pharmacology/Toxicology, Neurology)

The overarching goal in the Lein laboratory is to determine how environmental stressors interact with genetic susceptibilities to influence the risk and severity of neurodevelopmental disorders, neurodegenerative disease, seizures and airway hyperreactivity. Altered patterns of connectivity are associated with functional deficits in the central and peripheral nervous systems; therefore, we are investigating how environmental contaminants, chemical convulsants and inflammation perturb neuronal connectivity as determined using biochemical, morphogenic, functional and electrophysiological endpoints. We are also developing biomarkers of OP neurotoxicity and testing novel therapeutic approaches for protecting against the neurodegenerative effects associated with chemical convulsants.

If interested, please contact Dr. Pamela Lein at

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Ronald Li, DVM, MVetMed, DACVECC

Department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences 

(See also: Immunology/Infectious Diseases, Surgery, Emergency and Critical Care)

Dr. Li is a small animal criticalist and platelet-neutrophil biologist in the department of Surgical and Radiological Sciences.  The Li Comparative Platelet and Neutrophil Physiology Laboratory focuses on platelet and neutrophil interaction in health and diseases, immune and hemostatic function of platelets and the testing of anti-platelet therapies in small animals.  Currently Dr. Li is working on projects related to the impact of genetic polymorphisms in cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy on clopidogrel therapy and platelet activation.  His laboratory is also investigating the role of platelet-derived high mobility group box-1 in platelet activation and neutrophil extracellular trap formation in dogs and cats.   

 Please contact Ronald Li at for more information.

Mike Mienaltowski, DVM, Ph.D.

Tendon repair, stem/progenitor cell biology

College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (See also: Orthopaedics/Biomechanical Engineering, Genetics/Genomics and Translational Research)

My primary research interests include:

(1) the development, maturation, and repair of musculoskeletal connective tissues like tendon and ligament

(2) cellular mechanisms behind broiler muscle pathology

(3) the roles of the microbiome in proper gut transition in foals from birth to weaning.

In my musculoskeletal research projects, I am particularly interested in how differences in niche affect cells within the environment in growth and repair. Moreover, I am interested in the physiology of usage and elite performance as well as pathophysiology from over-usage, acute and chronic injury for all musculoskeletal tissues on all species as they might be related to use, environment, or genetics, and as they might be related to the manipulation of niche and collagen regulation genes. Furthermore, because the proper development of the musculoskeletal system  depends greatly upon proper foal growth and foal growth subsequently depends upon appropriate nutrition, I am interested in understanding how gut microbes facilitate healthy gut transitions in the foal. More information can be found at:

Contact information for Dr. Mienaltowski:  e-mail:

David J. Segal, Ph.D.

Genome Center, Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, Pharmacology, and MIND Institute

(See also: Neurology/Neurobiology, Translational Research, Genetics/Genomics)

Research in the Segal Lab revolves around engineering zinc finger, TALE, and CRISPR/Cas nucleases and transcription factors. Almost every disease has a genetic component. Often this information is used only to determine how condemned a person is to develop disease. We would like to use the genetic information to fix the disease. A guiding principle for our work has been to study how nature does what it does, then attempt to use that knowledge to make useful tools to improve public health. We continue to develop new methodologies for genome editing. Our most recent efforts focus on creating epigenomic editing tools that can precisely manipulate epigenetic information at specific loci. Such tools can be used for the long-term control of gene expression for both research and therapeutic applications. Angelman syndrome is a rare neurogenetic disease that is the textbook example of an imprinting disorder. We are using artificial transcription factors to activate the epigenetically silenced gene in in the brains of mice and other animal models. 

Please visit Dr. Segal's website at:

Aijun Wang, PhD

UC Davis Medical Center, Department of Surgery (see also: Translational Research, Orthopedics, Surgery)

My name is Aijun Wang. I am an assistant professor at the Department of Surgery, School of Medicine. My research interests center on engineering stem cells and biomaterials to develop novel regenerative medical therapies, especially surgical treatments for congenital anomalies. Since my employment as Co-Director of the Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory and an Assistant Professor at the University of California Davis School of Medicine in 2012, my lab has successfully combined tissue-engineering technologies with the most advanced fetal intervention, and developed novel biomaterial and stem cell-based treatments (including nanofibrous materials, fetal membrane, decelluarized extracellular matrix, iPSC-derived stem cells, placenta-derived stem cells) for devastating structural and genetic birth defects, such as spina bifida, hemophilia and congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Currently, we are extensively using the mouse, rat, guinea pig, rabbit and sheep experimental models to develop novel regenerative therapies. We are also adapting these novel therapies we developed in the lab for the treatment of naturally occurring diseases in companion animals.

Please visit Dr. Wang’s website at or the  website  for  the  Surgical Bioengineering Laboratory at

Contact Dr. Wang:

Luke A. Wittenburg, DVM, PhD, DACVCP

VM: Surgery & Radiology (See also: Pharmacology/Toxicology, Oncology)

Dr. Wittenburg is a veterinary clinical pharmacologist with basic research interests in cancer biology and investigational/developmental therapeutics for treatment of cancer in pets and people.  A better understanding of the biology and response to therapy in veterinary patients with cancer is crucial to translate discoveries in our pet populations to potential therapies in humans with cancer.  Dr. Wittenburg’s current projects involve aspects of clinical pharmacology (PK/PD modeling) and in vitro pharmacology (comparative metabolism of chemotherapeutic drugs across species). Much of our current focus is to study the importance of protein-protein interactions with regard to transcription factors in the development and survival of osteosarcoma.  Summer project options include those that are basic science/molecular biology based and involve the use of inhibitors of transcription factor protein-protein interactions in human and canine osteosarcoma as molecular probes for identification of potential novel therapeutic targets, or clinical pharmacology based involving development and implementation of high performance liquid chromatography tandem-mass spectrometry (LC/MS-MS) methods for quantitation of chemotherapeutic drugs in veterinary species

Please contact Dr. Wittenburg ( for more information.

Joshua Wood, PhD, MBA, PMP

Associate Director of Laboratory Operations, Mouse Biology Program (MBP)

(See also: Genetics/Genomics, Translational Research/Regenerative Medicine)

My research focuses on optimizing genetic engineering techniques to generate novel animal models. STAR Students in my labs will get an opportunity to work on projects encompassing animal husbandry, genetic engineering and design, pronuclear injection & electroporation, embryo transfer, cryopreservation and recovery, as well as genotyping and sequencing. STAR students will also get an opportunity to learn the business operations and the challenges faced by a large research and production laboratory. In addition to developing new and complex animal models, we are also actively researching previously unmanipulated regions of the genome including enhancers and long noncoding RNAs. As a members of the Knockout Mouse Project, Mutant Mouse Resource and Research Center, Mutant Metabolomic Phenotyping Center, Cancer Center Shared Resource, and Designated Campus Core Facility we offer the opportunity to do fast paced, high throughput research on novel animal models.

Contact Information: