People

Aparna Lakkaraju, PhD

Professor, Edward and Estelle Alexander Endowed Chair for Vision Research

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Li Xuan Tan, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate

 

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Renuka Chaphalkar, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate

 

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Colin Germer

Graduate Student

 

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Nilsa La Cunza

Graduate Student

 

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Sydney Williams

Graduate Student

 

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Aparna Lakkaraju, PhD

Professor,
Edward and Estelle Alexander Endowed Chair for Vision Research

Dr. Lakkaraju received her PhD at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where she performed her thesis work in the Departments of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Neuroscience. Her work on gene delivery to the brain in stroke models introduced her to neuronal cell biology and imaging techniques. Dr. Lakkaraju completed her post-doctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Enrique Rodriguez-Boulan at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College in New York City, where she was first introduced to the retina. It was during this period that she began to study the cell biology of blinding retinal diseases with a focus on inherited and age-related macular degenerations.

After her postdoctoral work, Dr. Lakkaraju joined the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an Assistant Professor in 2010. In 2018, the Lakkaraju lab moved to UCSF, where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ophthalmology. She has a joint appointment in the Department of Anatomy, and is an active member of UCSF’s Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics (PSPG) and Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Graduate Programs.

Dr. Lakkaraju directs the Postdoctoral Training Program in the Department of Ophthalmology and chairs the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee of the PSPG program. Dr. Lakkaraju also serves as the co-chair of ARVO’s Women’s Leadership Development Program.

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Li Xuan Tan, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate

About me:
I grew up in Penang, Malaysia and had the opportunity to pursue my undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a scholarship from the Public Service Department of Malaysia. Following completion of my undergraduate studies, I joined the Lakkaraju Lab as a graduate student studying organelle trafficking in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). I received my PhD in 2018 and continued my work in the Lakkaraju Lab here at UCSF. I am now studying the crosstalk between the autophagic and phagocytic pathways in the RPE.

Other interests:
Eating, making desserts (cheesecake, cream puffs etc), traveling to new places to eat things I’ve never tried before (that is not raw meat and not spicy).

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Renuka Chaphalkar, PhD

Postdoctoral Associate

About me:
I received my Ph.D in May 2020 from University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, Texas in Biomedical Sciences under the supervision of Dr. Raghu Krishnamoorthy. During my Ph.D, I studied the mechanisms underlying endothelin-mediated neurodegeneration of retinal ganglion cells (RGC) in glaucoma focusing mainly on the mitochondrial dysfunction in RGCs. For my postdoctoral studies, I joined Lakkaraju lab in August 2020 at UCSF. My current work is aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) degeneration, mitochondrial dynamics and regulation of autophagy in age-related macular degeneration. For my project, I have been able to broaden my skillset through learning super resolution live cell imaging, image analysis and molecular biology techniques.

DEI/Outreach activities:
Mentored undergraduate students participating in biomedical sciences project as a part of “The Summer Multicultural Advanced Research Training (SMART)” program. Volunteered in community outreach activities of the North Texas Eye Research Institute including vision screening of pre-school kids.

Other interests:
During my spare time, I enjoy listening to podcasts, explore nature, hike and read.

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Colin Germer

Graduate Student

About me:
I’m a 3rd year graduate student in the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics program. I came to UCSF from Wisconsin and earned my undergraduate degree from UW-Madison. My current project involves understanding the role lipids play in the activation of mechanosensitive ion channels within the RPE.

DEI/Outreach:
I participate in graduate student recruitment for PSPG and am currently a member of the outreach arm of the PSPG DEI committee. I’ve hosted a number of high school and undergraduate students as mentees as well as volunteered for a number of science outreach events, including UCSF’s Science Education Partnership. I’m always looking for more mentees!

Interests:
Outside of lab work, I love cooking and biking.

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Nilsa La Cunza

Graduate Student

About me:
I was born in Perú and raised in New Jersey. I studied Biomedical Engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. During my undergraduate education, I became involved in research through summer internships at external universities including Rutgers University in NJ and Yale University. After graduating, I was awarded an NIH-funded post-baccalaureate fellowship at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where my research centered on characterizing the role of the Notch signaling ligands in regulating epithelial cell homeostasis in the murine stomach. I joined the Lakkaraju lab in August 2015 and have been studying the role of the cholesterol transporter Apolipoprotein E (ApoE), whose isoforms modulate the risk of age-related macular degeneration, in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). My results have prompted me to ask how organelle transport is regulated in the RPE.

DEI/Outreach:
I participate in PSPG recruitment events, and I am a member of the Transparency & Accountability taskforce of PSPG’s DEI committee. I volunteer for the Bay Area Science Festival and UCSF’s Science Education Partnership.

Other interests:
I enjoy being a plant mom, working out, and hiking. On the weekends, I like to bake and make beaded jewelry.

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Sydney Williams

Graduate Student

About me:
I am hailing all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina and went to school at Hampton University in Virginia to study biology on the pre-med track. During my undergraduate career, I took up several research projects both on campus and during the summers at University of California at Irvine’s Principles of Biophotonics and Biomedical Engineering (PBBE) program. My research spanned microbiology, cell biology, and toxicology topics in basic science as well as public health and cancer studies. I joined the Lakkaraju lab in June 2022 with the intentions of coupling computational techniques with experimental approaches to explore more causal mechanisms of AMD in the RPE, along with drug repurposing to treat AMD.

DEI/Outreach:
I am an officer for Black Excellence in STEM (BE-STEM) and have recently joined the DEI committee for the PSPG graduate program. In my first year, I have mentored Black and brown high school and undergraduate students of UCSF’s SRTP and BAYS programs and aspire to create/promote programs that broadcast STEM education and innovation to the next generation of scientists!

Other interests:
music, sports, working out, eating, watching sunsets, trying new things/adventures

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Lab Alumni

  • Tania Mancilla Aceves, PROPEL scholar 2021-2022
  • Thushara Thamban, Postdoctoral Associate 2019-2022. Current position: science writer, India
  • Girijha Rathnasamy, Turtle Tree Labs, Singapore
  • Gulpreeet Kaur, Graduate Student, Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Program. Current position: Imaging Specialist, Olympus.
  • Kimberly Toops, Postdoctoral Associate 2011-2016. Current position: Account Manager, Zeiss Microscopy.
  • Sara Amirahmadi, Associate Research Specialist 2015-2016. Current position: Exact Biosciences
  • Jin Xu, Assistant Scientist 2010-2013. Current position: Resident, Pathology program, UW-Madison
  • Max Melberg, Undergraduate, Pharmacology-Toxicology 2011-2012. Current position: School of Optometry, Memphis.
  • Charles Rodenkirch, Undergraduate, Biomedical Engineering 2010-2014. Current position: Graduate Student, Columbia University.