Members

Jaime Fornetti, PhD

Jaime Fornetti, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

After completing my graduate training at the University of Colorado, I joined Alana Welm’s lab in 2014 as a postdoctoral fellow. My project is focused on understanding the role of macrophage-stimulating protein (MSP) and its receptor, Ron tyrosine kinase, in breast cancer metastasis to the bone. Currently, I am investigating MSP/Ron signaling in bone destruction by osteoclasts and evaluating Ron inhibition as a therapeutic target for breast cancer bone metastases. When I’m not in the lab, I like to be outside on my mountain bike or camping.

Maihi Fujita

Maihi Fujita

Lab Technician

Harika Gundlapalli

Harika Gundlapalli

Graduate Student

Receptor tyrosine kinase RON, besides being expressed on tumor cells is also expressed on host macrophages and epithelial cells. My project is focused on deciphering the role of Ron (receptor tyrosine kinase) expressing resident peritoneal macrophages in breast cancer metastasis. I am using immune competent in vivo mouse models to address this question.  I am also interested in delineating the developmental origin of Ron expressing resident peritoneal macrophages. Contrary to the previously well-established dogma that all macrophages originate from bone marrow derived monocytes recent studies has shown embryonic origins of certain tissue resident macrophages. I am using in vivo lineage tracing models to address this question.  And outside of the lab, I love kayaking.

Alicia Lai, PhD

Alicia Lai, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

I grew up in Taiwan and travelled to Australia for my Ph.D. I joined Alana’s lab in 2015 as a postdoctoral fellow and moved to the US. My project is to look at the potential of Ron receptor tyrosine kinase inhibition to treat breast cancer metastasis based on the concept of immunotherapy. I love, animals, travel, photography and good vegetarian food!

Ling Zhao

Ling Zhao

Senior Lab Specialist
ling.zhao@hci.utah.edu

I conduct pre-clinical testing of possible compounds designed to block receptor tyrosine kinase signaling in breast cancer models.

Sandra Scherer, PhD

Sandra Scherer, PhD

Research Associate
sandra.scherer@hci.utah.edu

“I joined Alana Welm’s lab in July 2017, after completing my PhD at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. The two main focuses of my postdoctoral research humanization of the immune system in breast cancer patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models, and establishment of organoid models derived from breast cancer patients as a tool for co-clinical studies and precision medicine. Outside of the lab, I like to mountain bike, ski, snowboard, and drink coffee.”

Brock Johnson

Brock Johnson

Lab Technician
brock.johnson@hci.utah.edu

“Born and raised in West Jordan (south of Salt Lake City), I graduated from Utah Valley University with my bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in December 2018. I wanted to learn more about fields I haven’t had so much practice in before committing to grad school, so I joined the A. Welm lab as a technician and manager in April 2019. In my spare time, you can usually find me playing video games or pen-and-paper games such as Dungeons and Dragons with my family and friends.”

Pavitra Viswanath

Pavitra Viswanath

Graduate Research Assistant
pavitra.viswanath@hci.utah.edu

"I grew up in Bangalore, India, and moved to the United States in 2016 to pursue my master’s degree in biomedical science in Dr. Faye Johnson’s lab at MD Anderson Cancer Center. With an ardent interest to study metastasis and the tumor microenvironment, I joined Alana Welm’s lab in 2019 as a PhD student. My research is focused on studying the vicious cycle of bone metastasis and characterizing the pro-metastatic components of the bone microenvironment that drive breast cancer metastasis. When I am not in the lab, I love hiking, exploring, and taking pictures of the scenic spots in the mountains.”

Jennifer Toner

Jennifer Toner

Lab Technician
Jennifer.Toner@hci.utah.edu

“Before working in Alana Welm’s lab, I lived in Burlington, Vermont. As a recent post-undergrad, I worked as a medical scribe in the Emergency Department at the University of Vermont. My ultimate goal is to attend medical school, but first I want to have more laboratory experience, preferably in a lab with an oncology focus, as that is where I’d like to focus my medical career. Instead of doing this back home in New Jersey, I decided to join Alana Welm’s lab at HCI to have even more new experiences – such as moving west! I couldn’t be happier!”

Jason (Chieh-Hsiang) Yang, PhD

Jason (Chieh-Hsiang) Yang, PhD

Research Associate
Chieh-Hsiang.Yang@hci.utah.edu

"I joined Alana Welm’s lab in 2018 as a postdoctoral fellow. My research goal is to develop personalized precision medicine for breast cancer patients. I am using a panel of breast cancer patient-derived organoid models to perform drug screening in a high-throughput manner, which allows prediction of cancer patient treatment response and identification of effective therapeutic compounds to improve patient care."

Helen Akushie

Helen Akushie

Graduate Research Assistant
Helen.Akushie@hci.utah.edu

Helen received her bachelor's degree in Biochemistry from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. As a graduate research assistant in the Alana Welm lab, she's focused on exploring second mitochondria-derived activator of caspase (SMAC) mimetics-based combination therapies and their mechanisms in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) patient-derived xenograft organoids. These efforts aim for improved selection of more personalized treatments for patients. Outside research, Helen is into everything sporty, literally!

Mary Beckerle
Alana L. Welm, PhD
Principal Investigator
alana.welm@hci.utah.edu
Cancer Center Bio