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Meet the Junior Faculty

Victoria Abraira: I received my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Southern California and my graduate degree in Neuroscience from Harvard University. As a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School I set out to understand the cellular and synaptic substrates underlying innocuous touch perception by elucidating the functional organization of sensory neurons in mouse hairy skin and uncovering the neural codes of touch perception in the spinal cord dorsal horn.  Now in my own lab, I’m extending these studies with the use of new mouse genetic tools to dissect touch circuits from the skin to the brain, with the long term objective of uncovering an integrative model of touch perception in health and disease. Our tactile world is rich, if not infinite. The flutter of an insect’s wings, a warm breeze, raindrops, and a mother’s gentle caress all impose mechanical forces upon our skin, and yet we encounter no difficulty in telling them apart and react differently to each. How do we recognize and interpret the myriad of tactile stimuli to perceive the richness of the physical world? My lab utilizes the power of mouse molecular genetics to understand our sense of touch, from pain to pleasure and everything in between. 

Qian Cai: Dr. Cai obtained her PhD at NIH through the National Institutes of Health-Shanghai Second Medical University (NIH-SSMU) Joint Ph.D. Program in Neuroscience. She holds a Masters in molecular virology from SSMU and an MD from Shanghai Tongji University School of Medicine. After receiving her medical degree, she practiced as a physician in internal medicine and infectious disease in Shanghai for three years. She was awarded NIH K99/R00 award to support her career development. She is also a four-time recipient of the NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence. Dr. Cai enjoys mentoring young scientists interested in molecular neuroscience careers. She is currently funded by NIH for her work on investigating the role of neuronal autophagy-lysosomal regulation in AD pathogenesis.

Wei Dai: My research is focused on using cutting edge tools from cryo-electron microscopy (cryoEM) and tomography (cryoET) to analyze higher order protein structure and protein-protein interactions in cells and tissues relevant to human health and disease. My decision to focus on molecular/cellular ultrastructure as an independent researcher reflects my experience and training in structural analysis of multi-protein complexes on various length scales. I obtained my PhD at Baylor College of Medicine studying the Bordetella bacteriophage using an integrative approach that combined cryoEM single particle analysis with cryoET. As a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Wah Chiu at National Center for Macromolecular Imaging, I continued to focus on structural aspect of cellular processes, this time to understand the mechanisms underlying Huntington’s Disease pathogenesis. Since arriving at the Faculty of CBN in the spring of 2016, I have established an interdisciplinary research program aimed at deciphering higher order protein aggregate structures and protein-protein interactions in neurodegenerative diseases. I am also teaching a session in Advanced Cell Biology course. I appreciate the rich environment at Rutgers, to collaborate with my colleagues and to interact with the students.

Peng JiangI earned a PhD in Neuroscience and Biophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China. I did my postdoctoral work on developing stem cell regenerative medicine and stem cell models of neurodevelopmental disorders at the University of California, Davis. I’m fascinated by neuroscience simply because the brain is the body’s most mysterious organ. No one can really say how the brain works. When the brain gets sick, it becomes even more mysterious. When I was exploring new territories for my postdoctoral research, the groundbreaking human induced pluripotent cells (a.k.a. iPSCs) emerged as a powerful tool in understanding human brain development and disease mechanisms, and potentially reversing disease pathology. I thus became very interested in stem cell biology and since then, I’ve been pursuing research at the interface of stem cell and neuroscience. Currently, the goal of my lab is to dissect the development pathways and corresponding pathogenesis of neurological diseases using human iPSCs, and develop stem cell regenerative medicine to treat brain injury.

Kelvin Kwan:  Dr. Kwan was an undergraduate at Caltech and a graduate student at Harvard University where he studied molecular biology and biochemistry. It was not until his post-doctoral career at Harvard Medical School when he ventured into the field of neuroscience and honed in on studying the sensory hair cells of the inner ear. He joins a well-established group of auditory neuroscientists to continue his research at Rutgers. Although Dr. Kwan’s research focuses on the development of cultured stem cells for the auditory system, he has also been heavily engaged with the nascent consortium of Rutgers scientists who use human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) to probe mental health disorders. The ability to interact with colleagues in his field as well as reach out and benefit from cross disciplinary studies was a major draw for his arrival at Rutgers.

David Margolis:  I studied Neuroscience as an undergraduate at Brown University and earned a PhD in Neurobiology & Behavior at the University of Washington. For my postdoctoral training, I moved to Zurich, Switzerland for five years to learn in vivo imaging in mice, work that I continue here at Rutgers. The Margolis Lab is housed in new state of the art lab space ideal for imaging brain activity in behaving mice. I enjoy the possibilities to interact with other CBN faculty and students as well as those from neighboring departments, such as Psychology and Biomedical Engineering.

Max Tischfield: I am a graduate of the Rutgers College Honors Program and a Henry Rutgers Scholar in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience. I have a long standing interest in human genetics, and also cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate normal human development and the pathophysiology of neurological, vascular, and craniofacial diseases. As a graduate student in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, I cloned and functionally characterized several human gene mutations, including transcription factors and cytoskeleton proteins, that are critical for the development of neurons and blood vessels. During my post-doctoral studies at Johns Hopkins Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, I used mouse genetics to investigate the requirement of the Wnt/Beta-Catenin pathway for blood barrier development and maintenance. I also characterized blood vessel malformations in children with craniosynostosis, and discovered that paracrine BMP signaling from the developing skull is critical for venous angiogenesis in the head. Going forward, my lab will continue to use mouse genetics, high resolution imaging, and various molecular biology and stem cell approaches to model human disease. My lab resides in the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, and will provide a multi-disciplinary research program that will include: deciphering how blood and lymphatic vessels develop in the meninges and their impact on brain health; the establishment and maintenance of blood barriers in the brain and retina in normal development and disease; mouse models of neuropsychiatric disease, with a particular focus on Tourette's syndrome. I am excited to return to Rutgers, and I am eager to collaborate and mentor undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral fellows. 

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