Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D. : <h4>Institute Director</h4>

Steven H. Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D.

Institute Director

Lab Website
Dr. Zeisel is recognized as an international leader in nutrition research. His team's work established the requirement for choline, a newly recognized essential part of our diet. His work on nutrition and brain development, genetic variation and diet requirements, environment and nutrition, and medical education are supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Zeisel directs one of the NIH national centers of excellence in human nutrition research. Learn More.

Jana Harrison : <h4>Institute Deputy Director</h4>

Jana Harrison

Institute Deputy Director

Ms. Harrison is an experienced research administrator. Prior to joining the Nutrition Research Institute, she was the Senior Associate Director of the Urban Institute at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and was responsible for oversight and management of daily Institute operations. Ms. Harrison earned an M.A. and A.B.D. degree in International Political Economy from the University of Southern California.


Brian Bennett, Ph.D. : <h4>Assistant Professor-Department of Genetics</h4>

Brian Bennett, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor-Department of Genetics

Lab Website
Dr. Bennett joined the NRI in December 2011. Dr. Bennett is focused on integrative genetic studies, also called systems genetics, to elucidate the genetic component of chronic metabolic diseases, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. The goal of this work is to identify individual genes and/or the interaction of groups of genes, also called biologic networks, contributing to chronic disease. In addition to his appointment at the NRI, Dr. Bennett has an appointment in the Department of Genetics at UNC. Learn More.

Wenhong Cao, M.D. : <h4>Research Associate Professor, Nutrition</h4>

Wenhong Cao, M.D.

Research Associate Professor, Nutrition

Wenhong Cao, M.D., studies insulin resistance, which is a precursor or key component of many major modern health problems, including obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disorders, non-alcoholic fatty liver, Alzheimer’s disease, some cancers (breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer), and aging. Dr. Cao’s lab focuses on the mechanisms of insulin resistance including the following components: hepatic gluconeogenesis, hepatic lipogenesis, production of new mitochondria, autophagy-dependent removal of aged/damaged mitochondria, and insulin receptor isoforms, using various molecular, cellular, and animal models. His ultimate goal is to find new and more effective ways to prevent and reverse insulin resistance caused by the positive energy imbalance due to overeating and/or lack of physical activity. Learn More.

Carol Cheatham, Ph.D. : <h4>Assistant Professor, Psychology</h4>

Carol Cheatham, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Psychology

Lab Website
Dr. Carol Cheatham is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, she earned her Ph.D. in child psychology and neuroscience in 2004. She will be part of the Institute's brain research team. In addition to her appointment with the NRI, Cheatham will also hold an appointment as assistant professor in UNC's department of psychology. She has published research on memory recall in pre-term infants, the role of fatty acids in neonatal brains and how stress impacts brain development, as well as other topics.
Learn More.

Stephen Hursting, Ph.D., M.P.H. : <h4>Professor</h4>

Stephen Hursting, Ph.D., M.P.H.


Dr. Stephen Hursting is interested in diet-gene interactions relevant to cancer prevention, particularly the molecular and hormonal mechanisms underlying energy balance-cancer associations.

Folami Ideraabdullah, Ph.D. : <h4>Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics</h4>

Folami Ideraabdullah, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics

Folami Ideraabdullah, Ph.D., joined the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in January 2013 as an Assistant Professor of Genetics in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). Her long-term research goal is to understand the role of gene-environment interactions in phenotypic variation and disease. Learn More.

Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., Ph.D. : <h4>Research Professor, Nutrition</h4>

Martin Kohlmeier, M.D., Ph.D.

Research Professor, Nutrition

Martin Kohlmeier’s expertise is in laboratory diagnostics, nutritional genetics and the use of computers for professional and lay nutrition education, with doctorates in medicine, biochemistry and clinical biochemistry from the universities of Heidelberg and Berlin. He is director of the Nutrition in Medicine project, which provides comprehensive online nutrition education to medical students, physicians and other healthcare providers worldwide. Dr. Kohlmeier searches for small genetic differences that change how much of a nutrient people need for optimal health. He is developing online computer programs that use genetic and other personal information to guide individual food choices in a safe and effective way. He expects that personalized nutrition can make a major impact on the big killer diseases, such as reducing breast cancer risk by a third or more. Learn More.


Natalia Krupenko, Ph.D. : <h4>Assistant Professor, Nutrition</h4>

Natalia Krupenko, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Nutrition

Natalia Krupenko, Ph.D., joined the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in April 2014 as Assistant Professor. Dr. Krupenko’s research is focused on the role of folate (vitamin B9) in promoting health and preventing disease in humans.

Sergey A. Krupenko, Ph.D. : <h4>Professor, Nutrition</h4>

Sergey A. Krupenko, Ph.D.

Professor, Nutrition

Sergey A. Krupenko, Ph.D., joined the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in 2014. Dr. Krupenko’s research focuses on vitamin folate and its role in liver function and cancer disease.

Philip May, Ph.D. : <h4>Research Professor</h4>

Philip May, Ph.D.

Research Professor

Philip A. May, PhD, joined the NRI on April 1, 2011 as Research Professor and is an expert in the field of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Dr. May has conducted extensive research on the epidemiology and risk factors for FASD, including alcohol use and abuse, and how FASD relates to mental health and deviance. Dr. May’s specialty areas also extend to demography and medical sociology, focusing much of his research on community-wide prevention of the disorder. Learn More.

Mihai Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D. : <h4>Assistant Professor, Nutrition</h4>

Mihai Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Nutrition

Dr. Niculescu obtained his M.D. degree from Carol Davila University of Medicine in Bucharest, Romania in 1995. He practiced medicine in Romania and was an assistant professor of Physiology at Transylvania University in Brasov, Romania from 1996 to 2000. In 2005 he obtained his Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His research focused on choline and brain development, and he has written numerous articles in this area. His current work studies how high-fat diets alter gene expression. Learn More.


Saroja Voruganti, Ph.D. : <h4>Assistant Professor, Nutrition</h4>

Saroja Voruganti, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Nutrition

Saroja Voruganti, Ph.D., joined the UNC Nutrition Research Institute in November 2013 as an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Voruganti’s long-term research goal is to understand the genetic and environmental factors that affect complex human diseases using a combination of statistical, molecular and bioinformatics (network/pathway analysis) techniques. Learn More.


All Staff

Jody Albright : <h4>Research Assistant, Bennett Lab</h4>

Jody Albright

Research Assistant, Bennett Lab

Jody Albright, a former business owner from Salisbury, is a 2011 graduate of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with AS and AAS in Biotechnology degrees. He has recently joined the NRI in Dr. Bennett's lab as a laboratory technician. Jody is excited to use his recent education to develop several new protocols for the laboratory .

Prakasam Annamalai, Ph.D. : <h4>Research Scientist, S. Krupenko Lab</h4>

Prakasam Annamalai, Ph.D.

Research Scientist, S. Krupenko Lab

Prakasam Annamalai Ph.D. joined the NRI in April of 2014 as a Research Scientist in Sergey Krupenko’s lab to study the role of folate stress enzyme ALDH1L1 (a.k.a FDH) in cancer cells. Dr. Annamalai earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Annamalai University, India, where his work focused on the identification of anti-diabetic principle(s) from natural resources and characterization in the rat model of diabetes mellitus (DM). At the NRI, he continues to study the apoptosis mechanism, and broaden his research perspective in Bcl2 family proteins and development of the ALDH1L1 knock out mouse model.

Andrea Armer : <h4>Recruiter, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Andrea Armer

Recruiter, Cheatham Lab

Andrea is currently working toward a Masters in Health Education and Promotions. She earned her B.S. in Elementary Education from Appalachian State University, then taught third grade for several years in the public school system. In the Cheatham Lab, she is able to combine her love for children with her love for health and nutrition. She is very excited to be in the lab and is eager to learn all she can about the research process.

Jackie Black : <h4>Business Officer</h4>

Jackie Black

Business Officer

Jackie Black joined the NRI in January 2013, where she serves as the Business Officer. She brings more than 10 years of experience in academic research, having worked at Wake Forest University School of Medicine as a finance and research administrator in various divisions, most recently in the Division of Surgical Sciences. A native of southwestern Virginia, she now resides with her family in Winston-Salem. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Public Health from UNC-Greensboro.

Tondra Blevins : <h4>Clinical Services Technician</h4>

Tondra Blevins

Clinical Services Technician

Tondra Blevins is the Institute's medical laboratory and clinical services technician. She works with research subjects for the NRI's human research studies and clinical trials. Tondra also serves as the Institute’s phlebotomist. Tondra has more than 20 years of medical laboratory experience and has been employed by the Nutrition Research Institute since 2009.

Grant Canipe : <h4>Psychology Graduate Student, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Grant Canipe

Psychology Graduate Student, Cheatham Lab

Grant Canipe is a native of Concord.  He started at UNC with Dr. Cheatham in August of 2013.  In the past, Grant has focused on dopamine signaling along various pathways using nutritional and exercise interventions.  He hopes to continue expanding his knowledge in areas of development, particularly brain aging, using nutritional interventions.  As a graduate of Appalachian State University in May 2013, Grant will always call the Blue Ridge Mountains his second home.  He loves the outdoors!  You are likely to find Grant hiking, mountain biking, playing tennis, or riding his motorcycle.

Brandi Childers : <h4>Office Manager/Human Resources Manager</h4>

Brandi Childers

Office Manager/Human Resources Manager

Brandi Childers serves as the office manager for the NRI administration. She has more than eight years experience in administration and community partnership management. Prior to coming to work for the Nutrition Research Institute, Brandi worked in local government. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she is a native of Kannapolis, where she has chosen to raise her young family.

Geetha Chittoor, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdotoral Research Associate, Voruganti Lab</h4>

Geetha Chittoor, Ph.D.

Postdotoral Research Associate, Voruganti Lab

Dr. Geetha Chittoor’s main research interests are focused on genetic epidemiology of complex diseases such as obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other chronic kidney disease (CKD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. Since the days of her undergraduate biology program in India, she developed a special interest in health-related research. As part of her Master’s thesis, she examined the profiles of obesity and blood pressure in two endogamous populations of the Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, India. As part of her Ph.D. program in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, she addressed similar issues, but with emphasis on genetic epidemiological investigation of blood pressure and its correlation with metabolic syndrome-related traits in children. Her postdoctoral training at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, San Antonio, with initial two years of support provided by a Cowles Postdoctoral Fellowship provided her an opportunity to work in the field of genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics. She is conducting research on the genetic risk of CKD and CVD in minority populations, and further investigating the gene-by-environment interaction influences (e.g. diet, physical activity, socio-demographic factors, ethnicity) on CKD/CVD outcomes.

Suzanne Dane : <h4>Director of Community Outreach</h4>

Suzanne Dane

Director of Community Outreach

Suzanne joined the NRI in May 2014 as the director of development and community outreach. She brings more than 20 years of nonprofit development experience, having worked previously at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, and with the National Main Street Center and Historic Hotels of America at the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. Suzanne is a graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

Ryan Dayvault : <h4>Facilities and Special Projects Coordinator</h4>

Ryan Dayvault

Facilities and Special Projects Coordinator

Ryan Dayvault joined the NRI in May 2008, where he serves as the Assistant to the Deputy Director and Special Projects Coordinator. A native of Kannapolis and 2008 graduate of Catawba College, Ryan holds a B.A. in Political Science with an emphasis in public administration and a minor in business administration. An avid supporter of the efforts at the North Carolina Research Campus, Ryan has served in various capacities throughout the development of this project while in college and maintaining his residency in Kannapolis.

Amin Esmaeilniakooshkghazi, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoc, S. Krupenko Lab</h4>

Amin Esmaeilniakooshkghazi, Ph.D.

Postdoc, S. Krupenko Lab

Bio coming soon!

Koyt Everhart : <h4>Research Technician, Voruganti Lab</h4>

Koyt Everhart

Research Technician, Voruganti Lab

Koyt Everhart received both his Bachelor's in Biology and Master's in Bioinformatics at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte. First as an intern then staff at North Carolina State University Plants For Human Health Institute as a bioinformaticist, he soon became a team member of the UNCNRI as a research technician for Dr. Saroja Voruganti.

Baharan Fekry, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoc, N. Krupenko Lab</h4>

Baharan Fekry, Ph.D.

Postdoc, N. Krupenko Lab

Baharan Fekry works in the Natalia Krupenko lab, focusing her research on the functional connection between folate and sphingolipid, as well as defining molecular and biochemical mechanisms by which sphingolipid signaling regulates cancer therapeutics. She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry. Her dissertation work focused on characterization of a specific antigen in human blood between normal and cancer patients. Dr. Fekry joined Dr. Krupenko’s lab as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 2011 at the Medical University of South Carolina, and moved to the NRI with her in 2014.

Walter Friday : <h4>Research Assistant, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Walter Friday

Research Assistant, Zeisel Lab

Walter Friday, a Kannapolis native, recently returned to Cabarrus County to get married. He is a 2010 graduate of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with an AAS in Biotechnology. He is pleased to be working at the Nutrition Research Institute as a research technician. He enjoys spending time with his wife, reading, and traveling.

Brooke Giles : <h4>Communications Specialist</h4>

Brooke Giles

Communications Specialist

Brooke Giles joined the NRI in January 2014 as a Web Developer and in August 2014 moved to a Communications Specialist under the leadership of Suzanne Dane. Along with serving the NRI, she runs her own business serving clients in web and graphic design. Brooke holds a B.A. from Campbell University. A native of Charlotte N.C., Brooke and her husband relocated to Salisbury in 2013.

Summer Goodson, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Summer Goodson, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab

Summer Goodson earned her Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation work focused on using both established and novel techniques to investigate the role of metabolism in sperm function. A native of Rowan County, she joined the NRI as a postdoctoral research associate in January of 2014. Her primary research focus is understanding the role of choline metabolism in male fertility.

Carolyn Harris : <h4>Administrative Assistant to the Director</h4>

Carolyn Harris

Administrative Assistant to the Director

A Kannapolis native, Carolyn Harris is the administrative assistant to Dr. Steven Zeisel, Director of the Nutrition Research Institute. She has over 15 years providing administrative support and office management in the healthcare field with the Department of Defense, as well as in the private sector. She received a bachelor's degree in Business Administration from Montreat College.

Julie Hasken : <h4>Project Manager, May Lab</h4>

Julie Hasken

Project Manager, May Lab

Julie earned a BS in Health Science from Truman State University and a Masters in Public Health, with a concentration in Health Education and Health Behavior, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a Certified Health Education Specialist, her prior work focused on tobacco prevention and control. At the NRI, Julie works with Philip May, Ph.D., on the administrative and programmatic implementation of community-based Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders studies worldwide.


David Horita, Ph.D. : <h4>Scientific Grant Writer</h4>

David Horita, Ph.D.

Scientific Grant Writer

David Horita joined the NRI in 2013 as a grant writer. He assists faculty by identifying funding opportunities and writing/editing research proposals. David developed research and writing experience in metabolism and cell signaling during his 13 years as a faculty member in Biochemistry at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He did postdoctoral work at the NCI/NIH and obtained a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin and a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College.

Scott Jaworski : <h4>Applications Analyst</h4>

Scott Jaworski

Applications Analyst

Scott Jaworski joined the NRI in May 2008, where he serves as the Applications Analyst and IT Consultant. Scott brings years of experience in the University IT field, having worked in the IT Technical Support field both as a student and staff member at UNC Charlotte, where he graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science in 2001.

Daniel Lupu, M.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate</h4>

Daniel Lupu, M.D.

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Dr. Daniel Lupu studied medicine in Romania and is developing his interest in the relationship between prenatal environmental cues (especially nutrition) and fetal brain development—specifically, the epigenetic imprinting that takes place in utero. His lab skills include histological assessment, nucleotide sequencing, PCR and RT-PCR, and protein labeling.


Yuryi Malakhau : <h4>Lab Assistant, S. Krupenko Lab</h4>

Yuryi Malakhau

Lab Assistant, S. Krupenko Lab

Yuryi Malakhau is a Belarussian native who joined the Sergey Krupenko lab at the NRI in April 2014, having moved with him from the MUSC of Charleston. Yuryi graduated from the Belarussian State Technological University with an MS in Biotechnology Engineering. He has been doing research related to cancer cell as well as folate metabolism for the past two years. In the future, he would like to obtain an MD/PhD degree and continue his research.

Tamara Marlowe : <h4>Medical Lab Technician</h4>

Tamara Marlowe

Medical Lab Technician

Tamara Marlowe, a Kannapolis native, joined the Nutrition Research Institute in November 2013. She is a 2013 graduate of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with an AAS in Biotechnology. Tamara is working in the Clinical Suites as a Medical Lab Technician. She enjoys working with research subjects and also serves as a phlebotomist.

Grace Millsap : <h4>Research Assistant, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Grace Millsap

Research Assistant, Cheatham Lab

Grace Millsap is a North Carolina native, currently seeking her second bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in Biology. She obtained her first degree in Psychology from Appalachian State University, and plans to pursue her Ph.D. in neuroscience. Grace spent several years in between degrees teaching kids gymnastics and dance on a noncompetitive level. Her current position as a Research Assistant for the Cheatham Nutrition and Cognition Lab fuses her two loves of teaching children and learning about brain development, and she feels truly lucky to work with such wonderful people.

Allison Nestor : <h4>Research Technician, Bennett Lab</h4>

Allison Nestor

Research Technician, Bennett Lab

Allison Nestor joined Dr. Brian Bennett’s lab in May 2013 as a research technician. Prior to joining the Bennett team, Allison was an intern through the RCCC co-operative extension program, in NRI Director Dr. Steven Zeisel’s lab. She graduated from RCCC in 2013 with an AAS in Biotechnology and an Industrial Engineering Bio-processing Certification. She is excited to join the Bennett team and feels fortunate to be working with another RCCC graduate.

Judy Oakes : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ideraabdullah Lab</h4>

Judy Oakes

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ideraabdullah Lab

Dr. Oakes earned her Ph.D. in Biology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her dissertation work focused on development of oral immunotherapies and vaccines using a transgenic soybean platform. She continued her training as a postdoctoral research associate at The Center for Genes, Environment & Health (National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver Colorado) investigating environmental exposures and genetic variation in a mouse model, and how these combinations influences innate immune response in the lung. In Dr. Ideraabdullah’s lab, Dr. Oakes will be investigating the role of gene-environment interactions and epigenetic states during embryo development. Her focus is on investigating how these epigenetic states are influenced by nutrient deficiency or over supplementation.


Stephen Oreña : <h4>Research Assistant, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Stephen Oreña

Research Assistant, Zeisel Lab

Stephen Oreña received his B.S. degree in Zoology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an M.S. degree from Harvard Medical School, Boston. He went on to do drug discovery research in the areas of diabetes and obesity at Pfizer, Inc. Stephen has extensive experience in cell biology, molecular biology and animal research with expertise in the design and execution of a variety of in vitro and in vivo assays for both screening and mechanistic purposes. Stephen is currently working on a phytochemical screen for activation of the anti-oxidant response pathway.

Jennifer Owen : <h4>Research Technician, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Jennifer Owen

Research Technician, Zeisel Lab

Jennifer Rhinehart Owen attended East Carolina University and received a BS in Biology and an MS in Cell Biology. Her work there focused on characterizing Mesenchymal stem cells in human breast tissue. She is very excited about working at the Nutrition Research Institute as a research technician focusing on molecular biology techniques.

Eneda Pjetri, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Eneda Pjetri, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab

Eneda Pjetri earned her MD at Marmara University, Turkey and her PhD in neuroscience at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. Her dissertation focused on the role of genetic and environmental interaction in an animal model of anorexia nervosa. During her PhD she also worked at the Section of Eating Disorders, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, United Kingdom. Dr. Pjetri joined the NRI as postdoctoral researcher in September 2013. Her research focus is to further study choline's role in behavior using knockout mouse models.

Julie Pope : <h4>Administrative Assistant, NRI Administration</h4>

Julie Pope

Administrative Assistant, NRI Administration

Bio coming soon!

Debby Reed : <h4>Research Technician, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Debby Reed

Research Technician, Zeisel Lab

Debby Reed received her BS in biochemistry and her MS in plant physiology from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Debby has worked with several research labs using analytical methods such as gas and liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry to develop metabolic profiles of biological samples. She is working with the Zeisel lab to perform lipid analysis for ongoing diabetes research at the Nutrition Research Institute.

Heather Shaw : <h4>Research Assistant, May Lab</h4>

Heather Shaw

Research Assistant, May Lab

Heather received her B.S. in Nutrition & Dietetics from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Heather has a background in public health nutrition with a focus in maternal, infant and child health. In 2012, Heather became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to professionally assist breastfeeding families. She has a special interest in how fetal and infant nutrition impact physical and cognitive development. She is thrilled to further her understanding of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and is honored to be a part of Dr. May’s research team.

Kelly Sheppard : <h4>Doctoral Candidate, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Kelly Sheppard

Doctoral Candidate, Cheatham Lab

Kelly is a Kannapolis Scholar and Dr. Cheatham’s graduate student. She received a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill. Originally from Raleigh NC, Kelly graduated with a B.S. in Psychology and a concentration in Poverty and Human Capabilities from Washington & Lee University in 2008. After graduation she worked for two years in Washington DC with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation helping kids learn the basics of nutrition and physical activity. She is excited to get to spend the next two summers in Kannapolis doing research in nutrition and cognitive development.

Jessica Sisneros : <h4>Clinical Research Specialist</h4>

Jessica Sisneros

Clinical Research Specialist

Jessica Sisneros joined the NRI in September 2014, where she serves as a Clinical Research Specialist.  She is a Registered Dietitian with prior nutrition research experience in public health with UNC Chapel Hill.   Jessica earned her B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from East Carolina University.

Tangi Smallwood : <h4>Ph.D. Student, Bennett Lab</h4>

Tangi Smallwood

Ph.D. Student, Bennett Lab

Tangi is a graduate of UNC Charlotte where she majored in Biology and Psychology and worked on research projects in both departments. She divided her free time between studying neuronal mechanisms for locomotor activity using an algorithmic model of motor neurons and identifying how variations in HDL and LDL levels in elementary school-aged children influences obesity. After studying at UNC Charlotte, Tangi pursued her MS in Biology at the University of Central Florida where she worked on a project using P-elements to map genetic loci involved in Rho signaling during Drosophila development. She identified a novel Rho GEF that interacts with the Rho GTPase signaling pathway during both embryonic and larval development in Drosophila melanogaster. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Genetics and Molecular Biology at UNC Chapel Hill. Tangi is interested in genetic determinants of disease susceptibility and the interplay of genetics and environmental risk factors for complex disease. Her current research is focused on using diversity outbred mice to identify genetic risk factors associated with atherosclerosis.


Joe Squires : <h4>Accounting Technician</h4>

Joe Squires

Accounting Technician

Joseph Squires joined the NRI in May 2013 as an Accounting Technician. Prior to joining NRI, he served as the Director of Restore Operations for Habitat for Humanity Cabarrus County. Joseph is a 21-year Air Force veteran and holds a B.S. in Accounting. A native of New Bern N.C., Joseph and his family relocated to Concord in 2007.

Julie Stegall : <h4>Lab Manager, May Lab</h4>

Julie Stegall

Lab Manager, May Lab

Julie earned a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications and a Masters in Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work with children and families spans a variety of locations and settings. She works directly on research studies with children and adults, as well as managing other lab responsibilities. She enjoys all aspects of her work - educating potential participants, administering cognitive tests, working wit helectrophysiology, and problem solving the daily challenges involved in research studies. Julie is a native of Kannapolis.

Natalia Surzenko, Ph.D. : <h4>Research Scientist, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Natalia Surzenko, Ph.D.

Research Scientist, Zeisel Lab

Natalia Surzenko, PhD, joined the NRI in August of 2013 as a Research Scientist. Dr. Surzenko’s studies focus on understanding how nutrient availability affects brain and eye development. Dr. Surzenko received her PhD in Neurobiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010. Her graduate research work was focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms of neural progenitor cell maintenance. During her postdoctoral studies at the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Surzenko worked towards understanding the strategies employed by neural progenitor cells of the retina to generate neuronal cell diversity. At the NRI, Dr. Surzenko combines mouse genetic tools with a variety of cellular assays to assess the roles of distinct nutrient molecules in the regulation of neurogenesis in the developing and adult central nervous system.

Christa Thomas : <h4>Recruiter, Cheatham Lab</h4>

Christa Thomas

Recruiter, Cheatham Lab

Christa Thomas joined the Cheatham Nutrition and Cognition Lab as an intern in December of 2013. In May of 2014, she transitioned to a research assistant in the lab. Christa is currently working towards a second Bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion from Appalachian State University. She earned a BA in Journalism from the University of Montana in 2007 and has worked as a sports photographer for the past six years. Through her interaction with athletes, she developed an interest in the many ways foods interact with the body and mind.

Itzel Vazquez-Vidal, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Researcher, Voruganti Lab</h4>

Itzel Vazquez-Vidal, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher, Voruganti Lab

Itzel received her Ph.D. in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in June 2014. Her doctoral research focused on the impact of Fatty Acid Desaturase (FADS) genotypes on the relationship between serum lipids and dietary fat intake in young Mexican college students. In Voruganti's lab her primary research work focus is investigating the gene-by-nutrient interactions on the risk of chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease in minority populations.

Melissa VerHague, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoc, Bennett Lab</h4>

Melissa VerHague, Ph.D.

Postdoc, Bennett Lab

Melissa VerHague earned her Ph.D. in molecular pathology from Wake Forest University. Her dissertation investigated the impact of apolipoprotein A-IV on triglyceride secretion and lipoprotein particle expansion asssociated with hepatic steatosis. A native of Buffalo, NY, she joined the NRI as a postdoctoral research associate in September of 2014. Her primary research focus is understanding the role of CD44 in atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.

Yanyan Wang, M.D., Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Yanyan Wang, M.D., Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Zeisel Lab

Dr. Wang joined the NRI in January 2013. She obtained her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Third Military Medical University, China in 2001 and 2008 respectively. The goal of her postdoctoral research is to determine the mechanisms that underlie the choline-related effects on fetal brain development.

Jing Xue, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ideraabdullah Lab</h4>

Jing Xue, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Ideraabdullah Lab

Jing Xue earned her Ph.D. in Molecular Nutrition at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.  She joined Folami Ideraabdullah's lab at the NRI in May 2014 as a postdoctoral research associate to investigate the effects of maternal nutrition in epigenetic reprogramming in germ cells, as well as the heritability and difference in susceptibility for the effects using the collaborative cross mouse models.

Longying Zha, Ph.D. : <h4>Postdoctoral Research Associate, Cao Lab</h4>

Longying Zha, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Cao Lab

Dr. Zha obtained his Ph.D. in animal molecular nutrition from Zhejiang University, China in 2007. Before joining Dr. Cao’s lab in NRI in February 2013 as a visiting scholar/postdoctoral research associate, he was an associate professor at Southern Medical University, China. At the NRI, Dr. Zha combines a gene knockout mouse model with a series of molecular and cellular techniques (iTRAQ, co-immunoprecipitation, RNAi, FQ-PCR, and Western-blot) to identify phytochemicals with anti-inflammation and insulin resistance-enhancing bioactivities that have potential to prevent chronic non-communicable diseases like type II diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, non-alcohol fatty liver diseases and some cancers.

Heather (Xueqing) Zhao : <h4>Research Technician, Zeisel Lab</h4>

Heather (Xueqing) Zhao

Research Technician, Zeisel Lab

Heather received a B.S. in biotechnology from Beijing Normal University and an M.S. in nutrition from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Her master’s thesis project used metabolomic methods to identify breast cancer biomarkers. Heather recently joined Dr. Zeisel’s lab as a research technician, where her work focuses on metabolite analysis.