Image showing a Mayo Clinic SPARK Research Mentorship Program scholar with researchers.

SPARK scholar Timothy Kellett (2017), a Florida State University student, joined Mayo Clinic as a technician and employee. During the summer of 2019, Tim worked in the same research laboratory where he trained as a SPARK scholar under the mentorship of Aneel Paulus, M.D., M.S., and Alak Manna, Ph.D. Left to right: John A. Copland III, Ph.D., SPARK faculty director; Sharon R. Collins, former SPARK program director; Tim; Dr. Manna; and Dr. Paulus.

Our Research Mentors

The ultimate aim of SPARK's distinctive mentor-based model is to nurture enthusiasm for research among talented high schoolers. Physician-scientists at Mayo Clinic in Florida who act as mentors and role models are dedicated to ensuring that SPARK student scholars have hands-on experience in their research labs investigating a range of topics, including novel therapeutic targets, cancer metastasis, nanomedicine, neuroscience, immunology and much more.

Laboratories and scientists who participate in the SPARK Research Mentorship Program are:

Panagiotis (Panos) Z. Anastasiadis, Ph.D.

In his Cell Adhesion and Metastasis Laboratory, Dr. Anastasiadis studies cancer biology, with an ultimate goal of developing new therapies that can control the progression and spread of tumors. Read more about Dr. Anastasiadis.

Veronique Belzil, Ph.D., M.S.

Dr. Belzil investigates neurodegenerative diseases. In particular, she works on developing individualized approaches to treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia and other related neurodegenerative diseases. Read more about Dr. Belzil.

Santanu Bhattacharya, Ph.D.

Dr. Bhattacharya works on nanotechnology applications. He investigates use of nanomaterials to impact cancer biology for assessment of disease processes and improved detection in pancreatic cancer. Read more about Dr. Bhattacharya.

Thomas Caulfield, Ph.D.

Dr. Caulfield studies targets in neurological disease and cancer biology. He investigates targets with clinical potential for future drugability, especially at the atomic level of detail that governs the interactions of the cellular components. Read more about Dr. Caulfield.

Kaisorn L. Chaichana, M.D.

In his Metastatic Brain Cancer Laboratory, Dr. Chaichana explores the causes of metastasis in brain cancer to advance leading-edge treatment strategies. Read more about Dr. Chaichana.

John A. Copland III, Ph.D.

In his Cancer Biology and Translational Research Laboratory, Dr. Copland investigates renal cancer, thyroid cancer, liver cancer and breast cancer, including novel cancer genes, molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis and tumor progression, and molecular-targeted therapeutics. Read more about Dr. Copland.

Nilufer Ertekin-Taner, M.D., Ph.D.

In her Genetics of Alzheimer's Disease and Endophenotypes Laboratory, Dr. Ertekin-Taner works to elucidate the complex genetics of Alzheimer's disease through discovery and characterization of genetic factors that influence risk and modulate biological quantitative phenotypes (endophenotypes), such as gene expression levels and cognition. Read more about Dr. Ertekin-Taner.

DeLisa Fairweather, Ph.D.; Katelyn A. Bruno, Ph.D.

In her Translational Cardiovascular Disease Research Laboratory, Dr. Fairweather, in collaboration with Dr. Bruno, studies the identification of biomarkers that can be used as diagnostic and therapeutic targets for cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. Read more about Dr. Fairweather and Dr. Bruno.

Hugo Guerrero Cazares, M.D., Ph.D.

In his Neurogenesis and Brain Tumors Laboratory, Dr. Guerrero Cazares focuses on understanding the interaction of the human neurogenic niche and brain tumors. Specifically, Dr. Guerrero Cazares' research team conducts in vitro, in vivo and ex vivo studies on glioblastoma multiforme and on the migration of neural progenitor cells. Read more about Dr. Guerrero Cazares.

Baoan Ji, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Ji's work focuses on pancreatic diseases and conditions. In particular, he studies novel therapeutic and prevention strategies for pancreatic inflammation and cancer, including Ras signaling and Aurora kinase A. Read more about Dr. Ji.

Verline Justilien, Ph.D.

Dr. Justilien investigates the genetics, biochemistry and cell biology of lung cancer. She is particularly interested in identifying the genetic and epigenetic alterations and associated molecular signaling mechanisms that occur in lung cancer cells of origin and that drive tumor initiation, progression, maintenance, metastasis and chemoresistance. She also works on gastrointestinal cancer research with Alan P. Fields, Ph.D. Read more about Dr. Justilien.

Takahisa Kanekiyo, M.D., Ph.D.; James F. Meschia, M.D.

Dr. Kanekiyo and co-mentor Dr. Meschia study neurodegenerative diseases and neurovascular diseases, including aging, ischemic stroke, vascular cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease, and apolipoprotein E (APOE) and APOE receptors. Read more about Dr. Kanekiyo and Dr. Meschia.

Keith L. Knutson, Ph.D.

Dr. Knutson studies immunology and immunotherapy of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, with a focus on basic, translational and clinical application of vaccines for treatment and prevention. Read more about Dr. Knutson.

Sunil Krishnan, M.B.B.S., M.D.

Research in Dr. Krishnan's Nanotechnology and Radiation Biology Laboratory includes strategies to sensitize tumors to radiation therapy using nanoparticles, chemotherapy, botanicals, immunotherapy and novel radiation techniques, such as particle therapy, minibeams and boron neutron capture therapy. He also evaluates approaches to protect normal tissues from radiation injury using novel agents. Read more about Dr. Krishnan.

Debabrata (Dev) Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D.

In his Tumor Angiogenesis and Vascular Biology Laboratory, Dr. Mukhopadhyay investigates the role of angiogenesis-related factors in tumor formation and development of cardiovascular diseases, with a goal of improving early detection of cancer and developing better treatment options for patients with cancer or cardiovascular disease. Read more about Dr. Mukhopadhyay.

Tushar C. Patel, M.B., Ch.B.

Dr. Patel's Molecular Hepatology Laboratory focuses on liver epithelial cell biology, with an emphasis on the role and regulation of noncoding RNA genes in the pathogenesis of liver and biliary tract cancers. He also investigates the role of extracellular vesicles in liver function, cancer growth and response to treatment. Read more about Dr. Patel.

Aneel Paulus, M.D., M.S.

As a translational scientist, Dr. Paulus conducts scientific investigations that address the clinical challenges faced by patients with hematologic cancers. His research focuses on the biomolecular and immunological mechanisms associated with drug resistance in B cell cancers. Read more about Dr. Paulus.

Leonard Petrucelli, Ph.D.

Dr. Petrucelli's Neurodegenerative Diseases Laboratory investigates the cellular mechanisms that cause neurodegeneration in diseases characterized by abnormal protein aggregation, with a goal of developing new therapeutic strategies. His research encompasses Alzheimer's disease, frontotemporal dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Read more about Dr. Petrucelli.

Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D.

In his Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa focuses on elucidating molecular and cellular pathways involved in the progression of tumors arising in the central nervous system, in particular glioblastoma. Read more about Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa.

Rachel Sarabia Estrada, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Dr. Sarabia Estrada studies spine tumors and regeneration, with a focus on developing experimental models of metastatic and uncommon tumors of the spine and brain. She's interested in targeting tumor sites using cell therapy in combination with chemotherapy and focal radiation, and studying how tumors affect motor and sensorial behavior in disease models. Read more about Dr. Sarabia Estrada.

Peter Storz, Ph.D.

In his Tumor Development, Immunology and Progression Laboratory, Dr. Storz investigates the cellular signaling and cross-talk mechanisms that contribute to the tumorigenesis and aggressiveness of pancreatic cancer and invasive breast cancer. Read more about Dr. Storz.

Marka M. Van Blitterswijk, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Van Blitterswijk's Genomics of ALS and Integrative Analytics Laboratory investigates novel genes, biomarkers, disease modifiers and therapeutic targets in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal dementia and related disorders by using innovative patient-oriented approaches. Read more about Dr. Van Blitterswijk.