Team Bios

Dr. Farrugia's research team

Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., third from left, and members of his research team

Gianrico Farrugia, M.D.

  • Director, Cellular and Molecular Physiology of Gastrointestinal Disorders Laboratory
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  • Dr. Farrugia's research interests include genomics, mechanosensitive ion channels and ion channel regulation in gastrointestinal smooth muscle. He also studies the role of interstitial cells of Cajal in the regulation of gastrointestinal motility in health and disease with the goal of developing better treatments for gastrointestinal motility disorders.

    Dr. Farrugia received his undergraduate training at St. Aloysius' College in Malta. In 1987 received his medical degree from the University of Malta Medical School. He is a consultant in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and the Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering and holds the academic rank of professor of medicine and physiology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science.

    He is a member of the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society, The American Society of Clinical Investigation, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Gastroenterology, the American Gastroenterological Association and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

Simon J. Gibbons, Ph.D.

  • Research Scientist
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  • Dr. Gibbons' research interests include:

  • Maintenance and fate of cells in the gastrointestinal tract in healthy aging and disease, with a particular focus on diabetic gastroenteropathy
  • Basic mechanisms by which Na+ and Ca2+ ion fluxes regulate cellular excitability and contractility
  • Development of novel cellular imaging techniques and analyses for studying ionic homeostasis in living cells and the morphology of those cells in fixed tissues
  • After earning a Bachelor of Science with honors in pharmacology in 1986 from the University of Bristol in England, Dr. Gibbons completed his doctorate in neuropharmacology at the University of Southampton, England, in 1990. Before arriving at Mayo Clinic in 1998, he held postdoctoral fellowship positions at The University of Chicago (1990-94) and at Tufts University (1995-98).

    Dr. Gibbons is a research scientist at Mayo Clinic and holds teaching and examining privileges in biomedical engineering in Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

John Malysz, Ph.D.

  • Research Associate
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  • Dr. Malysz studies how Ca2+ activated Cl- channels in gastrointestinal pacemaker interstitial cells of Cajal play a role in establishing synchronized Ca2+ dynamics and contractile activity.

    He uses both pharmacological approaches and live-tissue, high-resolution confocal microscopy, electrophysiology, and molecular biology approaches in wild-type, constitutive or conditional (Cre-LoxP) genetic knockout mice in his own hands-on research studies and in-house and external collaborations.

    Dr. Malysz received a doctorate in physiology and pharmacology in 1999 and a Bachelor of Science with honors in biology and pharmacology in 1993, both from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

    He completed postdoctoral training in smooth muscle electrophysiology from 1999 to 2000 in the joint laboratory of Drs. Farrugia, Szurszewski and Gibbons at Mayo Clinic (1999-2000) and has worked in preclinical drug discovery and academic research. Since 2014, he has focused on pacemaker interstitial cells of Cajal as a member of Dr. Farrugia's lab in the Enteric Neuroscience Program at Mayo Clinic.

    Dr. Malysz is drawn to biomedical research, understanding of physiological processes in health and disease, and development of novel therapeutics by the application and utility research findings to improve quality of life for people with gastrointestinal, urinary and neurological diseases. His hobbies include following professional hockey, soccer and football, reading fiction and adventure mysteries, and enjoying outdoor activities.

Amelia Mazzone, Ph.D.

  • Research Associate
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  • Dr. Mazzone's research is focused on the characterization and the regulation of ion channels that are important for the contractility of the gastrointestinal tract. Her research interests include:

  • Ano1, a calcium-activated chloride channel that is selectively expressed in interstitial cells of Cajal in the gastrointestinal tract. Ano1 function contributes to normal human physiology, and alteration of its expression is a key element in the pathophysiology of motility disorders such as gastroparesis.
  • NaV1.5, a mechanosensitive voltage-gated sodium channel expressed in gastrointestinal smooth muscle, where it contributes to the muscle electrical activity and its regulation by force. Regulation of NaV1.5 expression is critical for the control of human gastrointestinal smooth muscle excitability. Alterations in NaV1.5 current density by naturally occurring mutations or by reduced expression of the protein result in constipation.
  • After receiving her doctorate in 2001 from the University of Bari in Italy, Dr. Mazzone came to Mayo Clinic in 2003. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Nicholas F. LaRusso, M.D., from 2003 to 2005 and then joined Dr. Farrugia's laboratory.

    Dr. Mazzone received the Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Award from the American Liver Foundation in 2004.

Constanza A. Alcaino Ayala, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
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  • Dr. Alcaino Ayala's research focuses on the study of ion channels in the gastrointestinal tract that can be either directly activated (mechano-gated ion channels) or modulated (mechanosensitive ion channels) by mechanical forces, and their role in the study of gastrointestinal motility.

    Dr. Alcaino Ayala received her bachelor's degree in biology at the Catholic University of Chile in 2011. In 2015 she completed her doctorate in molecular pharmacology at Oxford Brookes University in England. In 2016 Dr. Alcaino Ayala joined Dr. Farrugia's laboratory and the Gastrointestinal Mechanotransduction Laboratory of Arthur Beyder, M.D., Ph.D., as a postdoctoral fellow.

    When not in the lab, she can be found training to improve her dancing skills or enjoying outdoor activities.

Gianluca Cipriani, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
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  • Dr. Cipriani's research interests include:

  • Understanding the role of muscularis macrophages on the development of pathologies affecting the gastrointestinal tract, such as diabetic gastroparesis
  • Basic phenomena leading to the alteration of muscularis macrophage phenotype in health and disease and how, besides their role in orchestrating the innate immunity, muscularis macrophages interact with cells that are important for gastrointestinal function, such as interstitial cells of Cajal and enteric neurons
  • Dr. Cipriani received his doctorate from the University of Florence in Italy in 2013 and joined the laboratory of Dr. Farrugia the same year as a postdoctoral research fellow. He was the recipient of a predoctoral fellowship award from Menarini Research in Florence, Italy, in 2012 and the Young Investigator Award from Digestive Disease Week 2015 in Washington, D.C.

Cheryl E. Bernard

  • Supervisor and Research Technologist
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  • Cheryl Bernard's research interests are focused on gastrointestinal motility and gastroparesis. After earning an associate of applied science degree from the University of Minnesota Waseca (now the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center) in 1985, Bernard joined Mayo Clinic in 1989. She has previously worked in neuroimmunology.

Seth T. Eisenman

  • Senior Research Technologist
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  • Seth Eisenman's primary research interest is the regulation and maintenance of interstitial cells of Cajal in health and disease. He joined Mayo Clinic in 2006.

Peter R. Strege

  • Senior Research Technologist
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