About Us


Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience Newsletter! We are currently reaching out to you, our current and former students, trainees and faculty, to keep you informed of the growth and transformation of the Department. Many of you would not recognize the CBN Department as it is today. We are comprised of 27 faculty members, many of whom have a very strong emphasis in neuroscience. However, we also have faculty working in other exciting areas including immunology, cancer and cell biology. Seven members of the current faculty have been hired since 2008 giving our Department a decidedly youthful bent. As important as it is to inform our alumni of what we are doing, it is equally important to find out where you are and how your Biology or CBN degree has impacted your life after Rutgers. In this first newsletter, we have included short bios of a faculty member, a former undergraduate and a current undergraduate and a detailed history of the department. We are excited at the prospect of this newsletter setting the stage to reconnect with so many students and trainees who have crossed our departmental threshold. Please let us know what you are up to!  -Mike Kiledjian


History of the Department: The Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience has its origins in a long tradition of research and teaching in the biological sciences that began in the early days of Rutgers College. The first major that could be called “biological sciences” appeared in the catalog of 1888-89. Since that time, both the university and the biological sciences have grown in size and diversity and the various departments that have made up the biological sciences have reorganized and changed with the development of new areas of research. 


Meet a CBN faculty member: Mike Kiledjian grew up in New Jersey and earned his undergraduate degree from Cook College at Rutgers. After postdoctoral work at University of Pennsylvania, he joined the department in 1995 and is currently professor and department chair of CBN. His lab studies the regulation of mammalian RNA degradation and mechanisms linked to human neurological disorders.

Meet a CBN undergrad: Ashley Bispo graduated from high school in Union, NJ and is now a senior majoring in the CBN Research Honors Track. Her parents immigrated to the US from Portugal and she is a first generation college student. She is completing her thesis in the laboratory of Dr. Long-Jun Wu studying microglia-neuron communication.

Meet a CBN alumna: Dr. Jessica Belser grew up in New Brunswick and graduated from Rutgers College in 2003 with a degree in Genetics. She carried out her Henry Rutgers Honor’s thesis in the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience working with Dr. Lori Covey on transcriptional regulation of immunoglobulin genes. Jessica obtained a PhD from Emory University and is currently a Staff Scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. In 2013, she received a Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), for her work on flu virus. She will be traveling to Sierra Leone in December to help train staff at a CDC Ebola Testing Center.


Would you be willing to act as a mentor or provide a shadowing experience for a current CBN student? The department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience is developing a program to help our students explore various careers in the fields of cell biology and neuroscience in industry, academia, and the health professions. An opportunity to meet with one of our alumni to discuss their career experiences or shadow a professional in industry or the health professions can have a profound influence on the career choices a student makes. 

Contents:  Feature Article - Faculty Profile - Undergraduate Profile - Graduate Profile - Outreach

FEATURE ARTICLE: History of the Department

The Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience has its origins in a long tradition of research and teaching in the biological sciences that began in the early days of Rutgers College, as Queens College was renamed in 1825. The first evidence of formal study of the biological sciences at Rutgers was in 1830, when Lewis Caleb Beck, a noted botanist and chemist, was appointed Professor of Chemistry and Natural History (Cole, 1962). It is not clear exactly what courses Dr. Beck taught, but they may have included some human physiology and botany. He probably taught in Van Nest Hall, which was built in 1847, and included a laboratory for Dr. Beck’s classes and Museum (Cole, 1962). Following Dr. Beck’s death in 1855, he was replaced as Professor of Chemistry and Natural Sciences by George H. Cook. Professor Cook apparently taught courses in many areas of the biological sciences, including botany, physiology and zoology. The catalogue of 1863 includes an announcement of a new “Scientific School” which would include a chemistry laboratory, engineering, and a museum in which zoology, botany, geology, and mineralogy would be represented. This museum was eventually housed in Geological Hall (1872) where it remains today as the Rutgers Geology Museum (Cole, 1962). In 1862, with the passage of the Morrell Act, Rutgers was designated the state land-grant institution and the Scientific School became the College of Agriculture. Under funding from the Hatch Act (1864) New Jersey Hall was constructed and became the home for the Scientific School. George H. Cook later became the first director of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. (Cole, 1962; Cook history timeline and dean’s website)

The later part of the nineteenth century was a time of growth in the sciences and marked by two significant events for the biological sciences at Rutgers: the appointment of Julius Nelson as professor, and the appearance of the first course of study that could be considered a biology “major” in the catalogue of 1888-89. The four-year “course” in biology included such subjects as invertebrate zoology, agricultural zoology and botany, and osteology (Cole, 1962).  Richard Swann Lull was the first student to “major” in biology, graduating in 1889; Professor Lull later had a distinguished career as a paleontologist at Yale University. Over the next two decades, course offerings in “biology” continued to grow, adding such areas as bacteriology and neural physiology and biochemistry, following the rapid expansion of biological knowledge (Cole, 1962).  This growth continued into the early 20th century, with the 1919 catalogue showing 37 different courses in biology. The faculty also grew, with new additions including Thurlow Nelson, who replaced his father Julius Nelson as professor of zoology following Julius’ death in 1916, Minton Chrysler in botany, Leon Hausman and Alan Boyden in zoology, and Selman Waksman in in soil microbiology (Cole, 1962). By the late 1920’s, Rutgers College had four departments in the life sciences: Bacteriology (later Microbiology), Botany, Physiology and Biochemistry, and Zoology, all housed in New Jersey Hall (now home to the Economics Department) on the College Avenue Campus.  In 1936 the faculty in these departments created the Bureau of Biological Research, a collaborative research and training unit designed as “a natural compliment of the strong departmental organization “ (Constitution and Bylaws of the Bureau of Biological Research, Article I, Section 2). When the New Jersey College for Women was founded in 1913, they initially “borrowed” faculty from Rutgers College (Cole, 1962), but later added separate Departments of Biology and Microbiology . This departmental structure remained for many years.

During the decades following the end of World War II the university underwent a period of expansion and growth (Rutgers University History, Library webpage). At the same time, research in the life sciences took new directions, and “biology” encompassed new areas and fields of study, including the areas we now call cell biology and neuroscience, although departments continued to follow the traditional divide between botany and zoology. Several important events marked this period, including the designation of Rutgers as the State University of New Jersey by the 1956 Act and the allocation of 2.5 million dollars in the state budget of 1958 to fund the construction of a biology building to support undergraduate education (Cole, 1962).   Nelson Biological Laboratory was dedicated in 1962 on the “University Heights” Campus (now Busch Campus) and named in memory of Julius and Thurlow Nelson in honor of their contributions to the life Sciences at Rutgers College. The building cost $3.5 million dollars to construct and an additional $400,000 to equip. It had 290 rooms in three sections; a two story wing (the “C” Building) with an attached greenhouse was dedicated to undergraduate teaching with laboratories and offices. A central four story wing (the “B” building) housed the four departments: Botany (first floor), Zoology (second floor), Microbiology (third floor), and Physiology and Biochemistry (fourth floor).   The three story “A” building housed the Bureau of Biological Research, with laboratories and research space to encourage the collaborative research.

In the years following the move, the departments continued to grow, and the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry split to form two separate departments as those areas diversified and became more complex. As the life sciences expanded and diversified the faculty in the departments began to discuss reorganization and possibly consolidation of the life sciences departments in New Brunswick, which now included five departments in Rutgers College (Botany, Zoology, Physiology, Microbiology and Biochemistry), a Livingston department of Biology, with a research focus in neurobiology and behavior, and a departments of Microbiology and Biology at Douglass college, with research emphasis in cell biology and genetics , as well as a number of departments in Cook College (now SEBS). During this period the departments offered a diverse series of courses, many of which our students would recognize today. Each department offered its own major, and the five Rutgers college departments also offered a joint major in Biological Sciences. The departments of Biology at Livingston and Douglass also offered majors in Biology. The departments of Botany and Zoology jointly taught the General Biology course, with the first semester primarily concentrating on plant and cell biology, and the second on physiology and animal biology. The courses we now think of as “cell biology and neuroscience” were offered in a number of departments, including those at Douglass and Livingston. The Department of Botany taught cytology, and faculty from Botany and Zoology jointly taught histology and microtechniques. The Department of Zoology taught animal histology, endocrinology, immunology and animal development, while Physiology offered courses in general and animal physiology. Both the Departments of Botany and Zoology had strong programs in ecology, concentrating on plant and animal ecology, respectively. The research foci of the Department of Zoology continued to include a strong focus on parasitology and marine biology, building on the work of the Nelsons, and endocrinology and immunology, building on the work of James Leathem and Alan Boyden, founder of the Rutgers Serological Museum.

Under the leadership of Edward Bloustein in the 1970s, the university initiated a new focus on research, a focus that culminated in the acceptance of Rutgers University – New Brunswick into the American Association of Universities in 1989. During the 1970s, discussions concerning reorganization and consolidation of the faculties of the separate colleges (Rutgers, Douglass, and Livingston) took place across campus. The biological sciences departments were no exception, with on-going discussions about the best way to enhance the research and teaching missions of a discipline that had grown and changed tremendously during the preceding two decades. Although many life sciences faculty argued for a reorganization around the new disciplines that were emerging, the decision was ultimately made to create a Department of Biological Sciences as part of the consolidated Faculty of Arts and Sciences formed in 1981. The new department, under the leadership of Dr. David Fairbrothers , included over 80 faculty members from the former Biology Departments of Livingston and Douglass College as well as the Rutgers College departments of Botany, Zoology, Physiology, and Microbiology. A separate department of Biochemistry was formed at the same time. The department offered a major in in biological sciences, with concentrations in biological sciences, botany, zoology, ecology, neurobiology and behavior, physiology (animal), developmental biology, genetics, cellular and molecular biology, microbiology, and biomathematics. The new department of Biological Sciences brought together tremendous research strength in cell biology and neuroscience, genetics, and ecology and evolution. During the next decade, as these research foci solidified and grew, department members again began to discuss reorganization along disciplinary lines. In 1995 the Department of Biological Sciences was dissolved, and two new departments were formed in SAS, Genetics and Cell Biology and Neuroscience, joining the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (formerly Biochemistry) in the Division of Life Sciences. A third new department, Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, was formed at Cook College (now the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences) by the merger of the Department of Natural Resource Management with the ecology and evolution faculty from the department of Biological Sciences.

The Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience brought together faculty with research interests in cell biology and neuroscience who had formerly been in the Rutgers College Departments of Zoology, Botany, and Physiology, the Livingston Biology Department, and the Douglass Biology Department. These research foci have continued to grow, and today the department includes 32 faculty and research faculty. The department offers a major in cell biology and neuroscience, as well as a wide range of elective courses taken by majors across the life sciences, including immunology, systems physiology and histology.


Cole, William H. Biology at Rutgers. Address presented at the dedication of Nelson Biology Laboratory, 1962. Leslie Stauber papers, Rutgers University Archives.

Our History: How George H. Cook Shaped Rutgers.

A Historical Sketch of Rutgers University.

Guide to the Leslie A. Stauber Papers, 1927-1973, David L. Chadbourne, Shelley A. Myer, and Caryn Radick, March, 2004, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

For Further Reading

Manuscripts: Nelson, Julius, 1858-1916. Papers, 1876-1920 (bulk 1890-1915).

Gisler, Prinka. (2010) Instructions between the field and the lab: collecting blood for the ‘Serological Museum’ in the 1950s. Museum and Society, Vol. 8:2, 90-113.


Meet CBN faculty member Mike Kiledjian: Mike Kiledjian, Ph.D., is Professor and Chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience (CBN) at Rutgers.  Dr. Kiledjian is a Rutgers alumnus who graduated as a George H. Cook Scholar with a BA in Biochemistry from Cook College in 1985.  Like many Rutgers students, Dr. Kiledjian is a first generation college graduate from an immigrant family. Upon graduation, he obtained his PhD in molecular biology from University of Pennsylvania where he stayed to do his postdoctoral work.  Following his postdoc, he returned to Rutgers as a faculty member in 1995. 

How did you become interested in science?MK Photo

I was always intrigued and interested in science, but it wasn’t until I saw a documentary on cloning during my second year of high school that I realized I had a passion for research and initiated studies to clone fish. A completely crazy concept at the time (late 70’s), but I was able to obtain semi-cloned Japanese Medaka fish embryos which was amazingly thrilling for me. This experience cemented my commitment to pursue research as a career.

As a student did you do undergraduate research?

Yes. I worked in the Chemistry Department with Dr. Steve Winkle studying the biophysical properties of carcinogen binding to DNA and its consequences on DNA modifying enzymatic activities.

What was it about Rutgers that helped you make the decision to get a PhD?

Rutgers provided me with an outstanding academic foundation that enabled me to thrive during my graduate education. In addition to the great classroom based education, independent research provided me with valuable experience and more importantly, instilled confidence that I can carry out cutting edge research. Collectively, these were very important factors in my success. I was very excited to have the opportunity to return to Rutgers in 1995 to help train the next generation of scholars and professionals and I am delighted to still be serving in this capacity.

Meet CBN undergrad Ashley Bispo: I have always had an interest in the biological sciences and knew at a very young age that I wanted to pursue a career in this field.  Because Rutgers has so many biological science researchers, I knew it would be a perfect fit for me.  After taking a few courses within the CBN major, I found that I was interested in the unknown that encompasses neurological research.  I decided to become a CBN major and pursue research in a CBN lab.Bispo

I found the research being conducted in Dr. Long-Jun Wu’s lab involving microglial roles in pathological conditions to be fascinating.  The Wu lab is welcoming to undergraduate students, and I began my work as a research assistant almost immediately. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a lab that truly encourages undergraduates to really get involved with the research through the guidance of very helpful postdoctoral fellows.  I can honestly say that taking part in research has been one of the best decisions I’ve made during my undergraduate career.

I have been a part of the Wu lab for over a year. Last summer a Division of Life Sciences Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) funded my work and I am now working on my senior thesis project.  I plan to attend graduate school and ultimately obtain a PhD in neuroscience.  My research experience in Dr. Wu’s lab has given me direction, and the skills I have gained will be a tremendous asset in my future endeavors.

Meet CBN alumna Jessica Belser: In the summer of 2001, following my sophomore year at Rutgers, I joined a CBN laboratory, first as an undergraduate technician and ultimately for credit as a Henry Rutgers Scholar. As a genetics/microbiology major interested in pursuing an advanced degree in science that wasn’t a MD, my hope was this experience would help clarify if research was a direction I wanted to pursue following graduation. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this decision would be the start of a career that would lead me to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
Belser PPE
Working as a member of Dr. Lori Covey’s molecular immunology laboratory was a true crash course in the fundamentals of laboratory research – no kits allowed. I am sure I performed more molecular research in these two years than I have in the subsequent decade. This experience was invaluable as a foundation in performing research in an academic setting, but was equally instrumental in helping me articulate the kind of research I wanted to pursue after graduation. Having long been interested in public health and infectious disease, my undergraduate research experience helped tremendously in solidifying my decision to continue laboratory research in these areas.

Following the completion of my bachelor’s at Rutgers, I was accepted into a PhD program in immunology and molecular pathogenesis at Emory University in Atlanta, an acceptance I wholly attribute to the undergraduate research experience I gained in Dr. Covey’s laboratory. As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to perform my dissertation research in the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conveniently located right next door to Emory. Within a year of defending my dissertation, I was offered a staff scientist position within the Division, a position I continue to hold.

As a microbiologist at CDC, I perform research which contributes towards a greater understanding of influenza virus pathogenesis (how the virus makes you sick) and transmission (why some viruses spread by the air). I have further developed my own area of investigation within our research group examining the ocular tropism of influenza viruses, studying the ability of influenza viruses to both replicate specifically within ocular tissue as well as use the eye as a portal of entry to establish a respiratory infection. This work is often challenging, frequently unpredictable, wildly satisfying, and never dull. In addition to conducting and publishing research, I have had the opportunity to become involved in several other areas pertaining to public health, including contributing to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and 2013 H7N9 outbreak response efforts, and training international colleagues on the work we perform in Atlanta so their countries can become more self-sufficient.


The Careers in Cell Biology and Neuroscience (C-CBN) program will offer students in the department the opportunity to explore possible careers and supplement the knowledge they learn in the classroom with real world experience. Many of our majors have questions about careers they can pursue after completing the degree and what day-to-day activities those careers might involve. Alumni mentors already working in related fields can be an invaluable resource to our current students by helping answer their career related questions.

This program will pair alumni in the Tri-State area whose work uses cell biology or neuroscience in industry, government, education, or the health professions with undergraduate majors. Alumni mentors can support students in several ways:

1)      By hosting a student in your workplace for a one to two day shadowing experience.

2)      By meeting with a student to talk about your career.

3)      By hosting a small group of students to visit your company or work place for a tour and an opportunity to meet with other professionals in the field.

The C-CBN program is an unpaid enrichment experience and is not for academic credit. The Department staff will arrange all visits and provide mentors with guidelines to help create a successful experience for students and mentors. If you are willing to share your professional expertise with a current Rutgers CBN major, please complete our online form. Since this is a new program we would welcome your suggestions and feedback so that we can create the most meaningful experience for our CBN majors.