Pictured left to right: John A. (Al) Copland, III, Ph.D., Sharon Collins, Timothy Kellett and Drs. Alak Manna and Aneel Paulus.

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. Tim is now a Ph.D. graduate student at the University of Colorado. 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 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 at Mayo Clinic's campus in Florida include:

Researcher Name Lab Name Description
Samuel O. Antwi, Ph.D. Investigates genetic, molecular and nongenetic risk factors associated with liver and pancreatic cancers.
Panagiotis (Panos) Z. Anastasiadis, Ph.D. Cell Adhesion and Metastasis Lab Explores cancer biology with a goal to develop new therapies that can control the progression and spread of tumors.
Veronique Belzil, Ph.D., M.S. Translational and Integrative Omics for Neurodegeneration Lab Examines genomic, epigenomic and transcriptomic mediators of neurodegeneration to evaluate their potential as biomarkers and therapeutic targets.
Santanu Bhattacharya, Ph.D. Implements nanomaterials to impact cancer biology for assessment of disease processes and improved detection in pancreatic cancer.
Thomas Caulfield, Ph.D. Drug Discovery, Design and Optimization for Novel Therapeutics Lab Studies targets with clinical potential for future "drugability," especially at the atomic level of detail that governs the interactions of the cellular components.
Eduardo N. Chini, M.D., Ph.D. Focuses on enzymatic pathways for drug targeting to treat obesity and metabolic diseases. Also, exploring the role of metabolism and nutrition in kidney disease.
John A. Copland III, Ph.D., and Nathaniel E. Wiest, M.D., Ph.D. Cancer Biology and Translational Oncogenomics Lab Researches renal, thyroid and breast cancer with a focus on molecular signaling pathways and molecular-targeted therapeutics.
DeLisa Fairweather, Ph.D. Translational Cardiovascular Disease Research Lab Investigates the pathogenesis of disease to discover novel therapies for patients with myocarditis and other cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.
Baoan Ji, M.D., Ph.D. Explores novel therapeutic and preventative strategies for pancreatic inflammation and cancer.
Verline Justilien, Ph.D. Molecular Mechanisms of Tumorigenesis Lab Examines the role members of the protein kinase C (PKC) family of protein kinases play in the initiation, promotion and metastasis of colon and lung cancer.
Takahisa Kanekiyo, M.D., Ph.D.,and James F. Meschia, M.D. Investigates the pathogenesis of vascular cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease with a specific focus on contributions of cellular senescence and genetic factors.
Adi Narayana Kunamneni, Ph.D. Therapeutic Antibody Discovery Lab Develops novel antibody therapeutics and diagnostics for infectious diseases, cancer, chronic pain and ischemic stroke.
Keith L. Knutson, Ph.D. Looks at basic, translational, and clinical applications of immunotherapy for the treatment and prevention of breast and ovarian cancers.
Debabrata (Dev) Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D.,Ramcharan Singh Angom, Ph.D., and Tanmay A. Kulkarni, Ph.D. Tumor Angiogenesis and Vascular Biology Lab Studies how new blood vessels develop in tumor formation and cardiovascular diseases. Formats targeted drug delivery and translational nanomedicine for cancer and other diseases.
Krishnendu Pal, Ph.D. Focuses on targeted drug delivery. Studies cancer biology to understand the signaling pathways that trigger resistance to chemotherapy and discover the means to override them.
Tushar C. Patel, M.B., Ch.B. Molecular Hepatology Lab Investigates the cellular and molecular mechanisms that contribute to the development of liver and biliary tract cancers.
Tushar C. Patel, M.B., Ch.B., and Christine Mehner, M.D., Ph.D. Space medicine: Studying human cells in space (video) and Real versus simulated galactic cosmic radiation for investigating cancer risk in the hematopoietic system — are we comparing apples to apples? Builds and tests miniaturized automated devices to assess human cells in outer space. Encompasses, cell culture, protein assessment, 3D modeling, prototyping and engineering out of plastics and metal, coding (C++, Python) of embedded systems for motor and camera control.
Asher A. Chanan-Khan, M.B.B.S., M.D. Researches biomolecular and immunologic mechanisms associated with drug resistance in B-cell cancers.
Hong Qin, M.D., Ph.D., and Alak Manna, Ph.D. Develops antibody-based therapeutics to treat cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. Specializes in translating research finding to workable clinical applications.
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D. Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab Studies cancer cell invasiveness and migration to better understand tumor progression and identify new treatments for brain tumors.
Owen A. Ross, Ph.D. Parkinson's Disease Lab and Stroke and Vascular Disease Lab

Examines the genetics of aging, age-related disorders and related movement disorders.

Peter Storz, Ph.D., and Alicia K. Fleming Martinez, Ph.D. Tumor Development, Immunology and Progression Lab Investigates the cellular signaling and cross-talk mechanisms that contribute to the tumorigenesis and aggressiveness of pancreatic cancer and invasive breast cancer
Marka M. Van Blitterswijk, M.D., Ph.D. Genomics of ALS and Integrative Analytics Lab Engages in patient-oriented research to discover new genes, biomarkers, disease modifiers and therapeutic targets for neurodegenerative diseases using state-of-the-art technologies and analyses, including long-read sequencing, single-cell RNA sequencing, cerebral organoid culture, bioinformatics and machine learning.
Yongjie Zhang, Ph.D. Pathomechanisms of Neurodegeneration in the Frontotemporal Dementia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Lab Identifies and designs target-specific therapies to treat frontotemporal dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.