PhD Students

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Year Student Information Thesis Title Research Interests

Griffin Greco


Alzheimer’s Disease,
glial interactions

Griffin GrecoEducation:
Georgetown University, BS in Neurobiology, 2016

Prior Research: After graduation, I worked as a research assistant at Walter Reed for 2 years. Our lab focused on current vaccine trials for various infectious diseases, specifically focused on the effects of novel vaccines on white blood cells.

Dr. Stefano Vicini
Dr. Katherine Conant

Thesis Research: Pre-thesis


2018 Bryce Jones



Bryce JonesEducation:
University of Notre Dame, BS in Chemistry, 2015; Georgetown University, MS in Pharmacology, 2016; Georgetown University School of Medicine MD/PhD (in progress)

Prior Research: I researched anticancer drug discovery in the organic chemistry lab of Dr. Marvin Miller at the University of Notre Dame. I synthesized and characterized anticancer compounds with nano-molar activity against breast cancer over the course of several iterations of a structure-activity relationship study. These compounds exhibited selective activity against breast cancer among the cell lines that were tested.

Dr. Anna Riegel
Dr. William Welch

Thesis Research: Pre-thesis


2018 Serena Scognamiglio


Neurological disorders,
Drug abuse

Serena ScognamiglioEducation:
University of Naples – Federico II, PharmD, 2016

Prior Research: As an undergraduate, I carried out my experimental thesis at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, where I have been actively involved in experiments aimed at studying several topics: (1) The functional roles of microglia cells within the mesolimbic dopamine system during the course of the normal aging; (2) Investigation on the aging-related increases in microglial density and lipofuscin as benign/protective or neurotoxic factors. The culmination of this effort was an honor's thesis, entitled "Phenotypes of Basal Ganglia Microglia and Interactions with Surrounding Neurons During the Course of Normal Aging." My graduate-level research experience in the Neuroscience Department at GU, involves investigation on the influence of the glycoprotein 120 on dendritic spine formation in the striatum of a mouse model with HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder.

Dr. Daniel Pak

Thesis Research: Pre-thesis


2018 Eric Witherspoon


Oxidative stress,
Homeostatic plasticity

Eric WitherspoonEducation:
Morehouse College, B.S. in Biology, 2017

Prior Research: I’ve had several research experiences prior to matriculating into the PhD program at Georgetown University. My first experience was at the University of North Texas Health Science Center where the goal of my project was to look at the effect of chemical compounds on the Human Voltage-Gated proton channel (Hv1), and examine which compound would bind with a higher efficacy. The results from our study demonstrated that while ZnCl, Amiloride, and 5-(N,N-Hexamethylene) amiloride were able to bind and inhibit the Hv1 proton channel, 5-(N,N-Hexamethylene) amiloride was the best antagonist for reducing the amount of reactive oxygen species (ROS). My next research experience was at Morehouse School of Medicine where the objective of my research project was to look at the chemical compound, fumaric acid (FA), and its role in the reduction of cell toxicity and dopamine neurodegeneration in the substantia nigra and striatum regions of the brain. We were able to show that FA is able to prevent the increase of ROS, reduce mitochondrial function impairment, and prevent a loss of dopaminergic neurons in a Parkinson’s Disease model. Finally, my research at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine consisted of determining acetylcholinesterase (ACHE) levels in various regions of rat brain previously tested for fear extinction. Our studies indicated that several brain regions that contribute to fear extinction had higher levels of ACHE compared to other brain regions not involved in fear extinction.

Dr. Gerard Ahern
Dr. Tingting Wang

Thesis Research: Pre-thesis


2017 Mai Abdel-Ghani

The role of Alzheimer’s disease risk factor genes in hyperexcitability

Advisor: Dr. Daniel Pak

Amyloid beta,
synaptic plasticity 
Mai Abdel-GhaniEducation:
George Mason University, B.S. in Biology, 2014
Georgetown University, M.S. in Pharmacology, 2017

Prior Research: I studied the role of single nucleotide variants on Perilipin 4 and its impact on bone, skeletal muscle and fat phenotypes at the Research Center for Genetic Medicine at Children National Medical Center in Washington, D.C

Dr. Robert Yasuda
Dr. Daniel Pak
Dr. William Rebeck

Thesis Research: I employ a wide array of molecular biology techniques to study the underlying mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease risk factor genes in hyperexcitability.


2017 David Castellano


Advisors: Dr. Wei Lu (NINDS/NIH); Dr. Stefano Vicini

Neural Circuits,

David CastellanoEducation:
Arcadia University, BA Psychology, 2015; Columbia University,TC, MS Neuroscience, 2016

Prior Research: Synapse development and function, behavioral neuroscience, cellular and molecular neuroscience, pharmacology.

Dr. SOOHyun Lee (NIMH/NIH)
Dr. Stefano Vicini (Georgetown)
Dr. Timothy Petros (NICHD/NIH)

Thesis Research: Pre-Thesis


2017 Selena Garcia DuBar

APP phosphorylation and internalization regulates synaptic removal of AMPARs

Advisors: Dr. Stefano Vicini;
Dr. Daniel Pak

Synaptic plasticity,
Alzheimer's Disease

Selena Garcia DuBarEducation:
University of Richmond, B.S. Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, 2016; Georgetown University, M.S. Physiology & Biophysics, 2017

Prior Research: University of Richmond, under DR. J. Ellis Bell, examining the structure of suppressor of IκB Kinase ε (SIKE) using various spectroscopic techniques including 2D NMR & circular dichroism

Dr. Stefano Vicini
Dr. Daniel Pak
Dr. Gerard Ahern

Thesis Research: I use patch clamp electrophysiology in acute slices and primary culture along with confocal imaging to examine effects of APP phosphorylation sites on synaptic removal of AMPA receptors.


2017 Amanda Schneeweis

Identifying phosphorylated-tau epitopes involved during hyperexcitation

Advisor: Dr. Daniel Pak

Synaptic plasticity,
Alzheimer's Disease

Amanda SchneeweisEducation:
Purdue University, BS in Biomedical Engineering, 2017

Prior Research: Understanding structural relaxations of proteins in lyophilized solids using dielectric spectroscopy. Studying the chemical and physical stability of an HIV fusion inhibitor.

Dr. Italo Mocchetti
Dr. William Rebeck
Dr. Daniel Pak

Thesis Research: I use molecular biology and imaging techniques to better understand tau phosphorylation characteristics during hyperexcitation.


2016 Seham Alaiyed

The role of matric metalleoprotieneases in the efficacy of the antidepressants drugs

Advisor: Dr. Katherine Conant

Perineuronal nets,

Seham AlaiyedEducation:
Georgetown University, Physiology and Biophysics, MS; Qassim College of Medicine, Medicine and Surgery, MD

Prior Research: The neuroprotective mechanisms of Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers in LPS-induce inflammation in BV2 microglia cells model and in glutamate excitotoxicity in primary neuronal cells

Dr. Daniel Pak
Dr. Sonia Villapol
Dr. Katherine Conant

Thesis Research: In my dissertation proposal, I'm investigating a novel mechanism of linking antidepressant drug’s effects to perineuronal nets (PNN) processing and exploring the role of matrix metalleoprotieneases (MMPs) in promoting the development of a new prospective on our understanding of the mode of action of antidepressants. Some prior research provide evidence to support our hypothesis that MMPs are important contributors in controlling extracellular proteolysis in the synaptic plasticity. However, their role in the antidepressant efficacy have not been explored yet. My two primary research questions of my proposed projectare: Can monoamines and monoamines modulators stimulate MMPs dependent mechanisms of neuroplasticity, spinogenesis and neuronal dynamics. Whether MMPs activity is important for the antidepressant effects on the PNN integrity and neuronal activity.


2016 Safwan Hyder

Assessing basal ganglia pathways for seizure restraint

Advisor: Dr. Patrick Forcelli

Seizure Circuits,
Fiber Photometry
Safwan Hyder

Education: George Mason/Georgetown Universities-M.S. Biomedical Sciences, 2013
University of Missouri, Columbia-B.S. Biological Sciences, 2012

Prior Research: Mentors: Dr. Jim Sowers, Dr. Adam Whaley-Connell, Dr. Ravi Nistala
With my undergraduate mentors, I studied the roles of nutrient-sensing and trophic signaling pathways in metabolic syndrome and explored pharmacological agents as treatments for physiologic decline.

Dr. Niaz Sahibzada and Dr. Stefano Vicini
Dr. Bob Yasuda
Dr. Richard Gillis

Thesis Research: Under Dr. Forcelli's supervision, I am systematically assessing the ability of divergent basal ganglia pathways to control seizures in various preclinical models of epilepsy. To harness and modulate these circuits, we employ a combination of optogenetics and chemogenetics. By complementing these approaches with fiber photometry, I aim to map the activity of the basal ganglia in the normal and epileptic brains with cell-type and pathway specificity.


2016 Evan Wicker

The role of the mediodorsal thalamus in Epilepsy and behavior

Advisor: Dr. Patrick Forcelli

Circuit manipulation,
Evan Wicker

Education: Minnesota State University, Moorhead, BS, Mass Communications & Public Relations, with minors in Biology and Chemistry (2011)
Georgetown University, MS, Pharmacology (2014)

Prior Research: University of Memphis, Dr. Liu - changes in cell rhythmicity after CLOCK/BMAL point mutations
Georgetown University, Dr. Forcelli - attenuation of seizures via opogenetic manipulation of the substantia nigra and superior colliculus
Georgetown University, Dr. Malkova - defense behaviors from activation of the superior colliculus

Dr. Burns-changes in sleep after traumatic brain injury
Dr. Villapol: role of hepatic serum amyloid a1 as a biomarker after traumatic brain injury
Dr. N'Gouemo-role of inferior colliculus and periaqueducal grey in seizures from genetically epileptic prone rats

Thesis Research: Invesigating the ability of direct inhibition of the mediodorsal thalamus, or indirect inhibition via activation the reticular nucleus of the thalamus, to attenuate seizures.


2015 Andrew Heitman



Andrew HeitmanEducation:

Prior Research:


Thesis Research:


2015 Elyssa LaFlamme

Memory processing in the medial temporal lobe

Advisors: Dr. Ludise Malkova; Dr. Parrick Forcelli

Parahippoampal cortex

Elyssa LaFlammeEducation:
Smith College, B.A. in Neuroscience and Biological Sciences, 2015

Prior Research: The Effects of oxytocin in the lateral septum and central nucleus of amygdala on same-sex peer affiliation in meadow voles.

Dr. Ludise Malkova
Dr. Patrick Forcelli
Dr. Stefano Vicini

Thesis Research:


2014 Thien Nguyen

Differential functions of sex-linked neuroligins at synapses

Advisor: Dr. Katherine Roche (NINDS)

Cell adhesion molecules,

Thien NguyenEducation:
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, BS in Biology/BA in History

Prior Research: At UNC, I worked as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Lee Graves lab. I examined changes in kinases that ultimately lead to drug-resistance in myeloid leukemia. After graduation, I worked with Dr. Silvia Kreda at the Cystic Fibrosis Center at UNC where I studied the role of bicarbonate in mucin secretion.

Dr. Li Yang (NCI)
Dr. Daniel Pak
Dr. Katherine Roche (NINDS)

Thesis Research: My research is focused on the molecular functions of neuroligins (NLGNs), at synapses. More specifically, I am studying the human specific isoforms of neuroligins, NLGN4X and NLGN4Y. While NLGN4X is expressed in both male and female, NLGN4Y is only expressed in male. My thesis is aimed to elucidate the differential functions of these sex-linked adhesion molecules at synapses.


2014 Erin Wenzel

Novel mechanism of HIV envelop protein gp120 neurotoxicity: the role of microtubules

Advisor: Dr. Italo Mocchetti

Cellular/molecular neuroscience

Erin WenzelEducation:
University of California, Los Angeles, BS in Biochemistry, 2014

Prior Research: At UCLA in the lab of Dr. Richard Staba, I worked on improving predictive algorithm for electrode implantation surgical outcome success in epilepsy patients. I also worked in the lab of Dr. Richard Olsen examining GABAA receptor alterations in the amygdala in response to acute and chronic alcohol exposure.

Dr. Juan Saavedra
Dr. Italo Mocchetti
Dr. Kathleen Maguire-Zeiss

Thesis Research: My research focuses on HIV associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) which describes a subset of HIV-positive patients displaying cognitive impairments. Specifically, I focus on how the HIV protein gp120 damages neurons. Healthy neurons carry messages throughout your brain using a network of axons, which are like intracellular highways. However, gp120 causes traffic jams and slows down the speed of the cargo transported on these highways. This impairment in axonal transport damages neurons and can eventually lead to cell death. I am investigating potential pharmacological therapies to prevent damage from occurring and to maintain neuronal health, even in the presence of HIV and HIV proteins such as gp120.



Program Graduates
















  • My Chau, M.S. (Ph.D. 2009 in Cell Biology)
  • Guisou Zarbalian M.S.