“…The mind that is not baffled is not employed / The impeded stream is the one that sings.” ~ The Real Work by Wendell Berry

Aparna Lakkaraju, PhD

Associate ProfessorAparna Lakkaraju BFF photo

I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) and raised in Hyderabad, India.  After earning a Bachelors degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Kakatiya University, I came to the United States for graduate school.  I worked with Dr. Janet Dubinsky and Dr. Yueh-Erh Rahman at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where I developed a novel liposome-based gene delivery system for neurons.  Studying how these liposomes traffic in neurons spurred my interest in cell biology and I decided to do a post-doctoral fellowship in cell biology and ophthalmology in the laboratory of Dr. Enrique Rodriguez-Boulan at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College in New York City.  In New York, I began my foray into vision research and was struck by how little is known about the basic biology of complex diseases like age-related macular degeneration.  This led me to focus my research program on the cell biology of the retinal pigment epithelium and investigate how functional deficits in intracellular trafficking and cholesterol homeostasis can drive vision loss. Outside of the lab, I love reading, traveling and art in almost any form (especially opera, jazz and theater).  I also enjoy trying my hand at the NYT crossword, cooking, pottery and playing the veena and the violin with wildly variable results.


Li Xuan Tan, BS Genetics

Graduate Student, Pharmaceutical Sciences

I am originally from a small island (Penang) located in northern Malaysia. I was very fortunate to receive the Malaysian Public Service Department Scholarship that helped me come to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my B.S. in Genetics.  During my undergraduate years, I worked in Dr. Jing Zhang’s lab on projects to understand how ras oncogene contributes to leukemogenesis in hematopoietic stem cells. In my senior year, I had the opportunity to work in Dr. Arash Bashirullah’s lab on a project that aims to understand how defects in heme biosynthesis pathway affect the development of Drosophila, which recapitulates certain phenotypes associated with porphyria. I graduated with a BS in Genetics in May 2012 and decided to continue my studies in the Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program at UW. I joined Dr. Aparna Lakkaraju’s lab in December 2012. I am now studying how lysosome-associated pathology could contribute to age-related macular degeneration. When I am free, I enjoy watching Running Man (Korean variety show) with my friends, cooking, listening to music and playing the piano.

Gurugirijha Rathnaswamy, PhD

Post-doctoral AssociateDSC_2030_edited

I earned my B.Tech in Biotechnology and MS in Neuroscience from India. During my MS, I worked on a project investigating the effect of calcium chelators in altering spatial memory. After graduation, my interest towards pursuing a career in research was spurred with a scholarship from National University of Singapore to do my PhD. In Singapore, I worked with Dr. Charanjit Kaur studying the molecular pathways that mediated hypoxia induced white matter injury. Upon completing my thesis in 2013, I continued as a postdoc in the same lab where I explored mechanisms contributing to retinal ganglion cell death. I was thrilled to see that these cells acted in a similar complex way like neurons in the brain. Vision is one of the greatest gift a person could have and losing it could be very much devastating. Not much has been known about the basic biology underlying retinal diseases that leads to erectile dysfunction or loss of vision. In April 2016, I joined the Lakkaraju lab, where I am studying the mitochondrial dynamics in the retinal pigment epithelium and evaluating whether mitochondria will be a viable drug target to prevent vision loss. When I am not in lab, I love painting and try my hands in a variety of crafts. I also like to cook and listen to music.


Gulpreet Kaur, MS Microbial Sciences

Graduate Student, Cellular & Molecular Biology Program

Colin Germer, BS Genetics

Incoming Graduate Student, Pharmaceutical SciencesColin for website

I earned my BS from UW-Madison in Genetics. During my undergraduate years, I worked in a variety of different labs with different model organisms. One of which was the Vierstra Lab, investigating the role of the BTB gene in the Arabidopsis ubiquitinylation pathway. Eventually, I settled down in the Greenspan Lab. There, I worked on Pcolce1’s role in cornea wound healing. I now work with the Lakkaraju Lab to research exosomes, small vesicles that carry proteins and even mRNA, which can expand the cell’s effective protein repertoire. My goal is to find out what their role is in the retinal pigment epithelium as it pertains to age-related macular degeneration, as not all things in the body are necessarily “good”. Being that exosomes also appear to have a critical role in the immune system, I’m rather excited about it, since immunology was always an interest of mine during my undergraduate years. In my spare time, I like to play guitar on my Mesa Nomad 45 and GM for a few Warhammer 40,000 RPGs.

Nilsa La Cunza, BS Biomedical Engineering

Incoming Graduate Student, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Nilsa for websiteI earned my BS from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Biomedical Engineering and minor in Mathematical Biology.  During my undergraduate years, I became involved in research through summer internships at external universities including Rutgers University in NJ and Yale University. At Rutgers, I worked in Dr. Li Cai’s lab, investigating the regulatory factors that are involved in the differentiation of neural stem cells towards progenitor cells and interneurons. At Yale, I worked in Dr. Jay Humphrey’s lab and investigated cell-ECM interactions by treating fibroblast-seeded collagen gels with two drugs that inhibit collagen’s cross-linkers. After graduating, I was accepted to the University of Michigan’s NIH-sponsored Post-baccalaureate Research Program, and worked in Dr. Linda Samuelson’s lab. The lab focuses on gastrointestinal stem cells and my project focused on characterizing the role of the Notch signaling pathway in regulating cellular homeostasis in the murine stomach. I joined the Lakkaraju lab in August 2015 and have been studying how Apoe isoforms function in cholesterol transport in the RPE and to assess whether Apoe isoforms modulate the response of RPE cells to statins. My other project focuses on understanding the mechanisms that take place during autophagy in the RPE, specifically the last stage of autophagy where microtubules play a big role. Microtubules, composed of tubulin, form intercellular highways to transport vesicles in the cell and post-translational modifications of tubulin have been shown to alter organelle traffic but why this occurs is still not fully understood.  When I am not in lab, I enjoy listening to Kpop music and learning to cook Korean/Peruvian dishes.



Lab Alumni

  • Kimberly Toops, Assistant Scientist 2015-16; Postdoctoral Associate 2011-2015. 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, Pharmacology-Toxicology student 2011-2012. Current position: School of Optometry, Memphis.
  • Charles Rodenkirch, Biomedical Engineering 2010-2014. Current position: Graduate Student, Columbia University.




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