Meet the Team

Within the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Laboratory at Mayo Clinic, a basic neurosurgery research team and a clinical neurosurgery team work in tandem to achieve Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's research goals.

Team Bios

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

  • Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery

Dr. Sarabia Estrada assists in directing the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Laboratory, where she oversees and conducts preclinical studies that are leading to new treatments and methods of delivery for primary and metastatic tumors of the spine and brain. One of her main goals is to lead an integrated research team that focuses on translational and preclinical research to facilitate bench-to-bedside contributions.

Dr. Sarabia Estrada's research focuses on developing experimental models of metastatic and uncommon tumors of the spine and brain. She is interested in targeting the tumor sites using cell therapy in combination with chemotherapy and focal radiation and studying how tumors affect the motor and sensorial behavior in disease models.

Her research interests include the development of patient-derived xenograft models for the study of metastasis to the spine and brain, the identification of potential therapeutic targets for the prevention and treatment of spine and brain metastasis, and the development of animal models of nerve injury and regeneration using mesenchymal stem cells.

Paula Valentina (Paula) Schiapparelli, Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Dr. Schiapparelli's research is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which glioblastoma cells migrate and invade the human brain. Her main project is to describe the mechanisms by which NKCC1 modulates the actin cytoskeleton to regulate cell shape, spreading and migration in glioblastoma.

Dr. Schiapparelli received her Bachelor of Science in biology and biochemistry and her doctorate in cellular and molecular biology from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. Her doctoral research focused on the role of sonic hedgehog signaling alterations in pediatric tumors such as neuroblastoma and medulloblastoma.

After continuing her training as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University under the mentorship of Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa, Dr. Schiapparelli joined Mayo Clinic in 2016.

Virgínea De Araujo Farias, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

In 2004, Dr. Farias graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology from the State University of Paraíba in her hometown in Brazil. In September of 2006, she moved to Spain to complete her master's and Ph.D. in immunology at the University of Granada on molecular oncology research. Her dissertation was on the purification and characterization of the human umbilical cord stroma. Before joining Mayo Clinic, Dr. Farias worked at the Centre for Genomics and Oncological Research (GENyO) in Spain as a postdoctoral fellow, and as a postdoctoral researcher at the Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Granada. She owns several patents and has presented extensively at national and international meetings.

Dr. Farias has experience purifying and characterizing mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) populations from adult tissues and culturing and differentiating them on conventional and 3D scaffolds. During her postdoctoral training, she focused on the anti-cancer potential of umbilical cord MSCs in combination with radiotherapy in vitro and in vivo. She also studied the exosomal protein content of irradiated umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (UC-MSCs), trying to deepen understanding of the molecular mechanism underlying the anti-tumoral effect of radiation-activated UC-MSCs. Currently she participates in a project to explore the combination of UC-MSCs and radiotherapy to treat patients with rectal cancer.

Ricardo A. Domingo, M.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Clinical Neurosurgery Team

Dr. Domingo obtained his medical degree from Iberoamerican University in 2018 at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. During his medical career, he worked as a research trainee at the Dominican Gamma Knife Center and the Iberoamerican University Research Department.

Dr. Domingo first joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in early 2019 as a visiting physician and is currently a member of the clinical neurosurgery research team. His research focuses on the identification of prognostic factors as well as treatment efficacy in brain tumors, especially atypical meningiomas and glioblastoma. As a member of the clinical research team, Dr. Domingo has contributed to several book chapters and peer-reviewed papers.

Beatriz I. Fernandez Gil, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Dr. Fernandez Gil's research focuses on evaluating the effects of melatonin on glioblastoma cells and the implication of melatonin in mitochondrial metabolism as a synergetic drug to improve glioblastoma treatments.

Dr. Fernandez Gil is a biologist holding a master's degree in genetics and evolution. She completed her doctorate in biomedicine at the Biomedical Research Centre at the University of Granada in Spain under the direction of Germaine Escames, Ph.D. Her thesis is focused on the synergistic effects of high melatonin concentrations with radiotherapy and chemotherapy in head and neck cancer.

As part of her doctoral program, Dr. Fernandez Gil joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in March 2017 as a three-month visiting graduate student. Since January 2018, she has continued with this work as a special project associate with the goal of eventually translating her findings into clinical approaches.

She is also a passionate student of forensic science and evolution.

Diogo P. Garcia, M.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Clinical Neurosurgery Team

Dr. Garcia earned his medical degree from Faculdade de Medicina at the University of Porto, Portugal. As a medical student in Portugal, Dr. Garcia was involved in basic research with a particular focus on cancer and immunology. His dissertation, written on the role of the immunological and genetic context of colorectal adenoma, was selected as one of the five best abstracts submitted to the 2019 European Congress of Pathology in the digestive pathology category.

While still a medical student, Dr. Garcia first joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team during his surgery clerkship for a one-month period. Since finishing his medical training in July 2019 and returning to the team, Dr. Garcia's has focused his research primarily on awake craniotomies and pituitary tumor resections. He aspires to contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge in the field of neurosurgery and to one day become a neurosurgeon.

Karim ReFaey, M.B., B.Ch.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team
  • Clinical Neurosurgery Team

Dr. ReFaey earned his medical degree from Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt. He has made significant research contributions to the fields of neurosurgery, neuro-oncology and oncoepilepsy surgery. He conducts groundbreaking and cutting-edge research in all three of these areas.

At Mayo Clinic, Dr. ReFaey studies the effect of intraoperative high-density electrocorticography (ECoG) recording on surgical outcome after awake craniotomies.

In previous research at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. ReFaey's most notable finding was published in a leading peer-reviewed journal under the title "Awake Craniotomy vs. Craniotomy Under General Anesthesia for Perirolandic Gliomas: Evaluating Perioperative Complications and Extent of Resection."

In this article, Dr. ReFaey found that patients who had awake craniotomies for brain lesions in or near the motor cortex had better survival rates and outcomes than did patients who underwent surgery for similar lesions under general anesthesia. This was the first time that the surgeon's experience was highlighted as an indicating factor in awake brain surgeries and correlated to survival and outcome.

Dr. ReFaey's work has been recognized by the American Epilepsy Society (AES), which in 2017 awarded him a Young Investigator Award for his research, the highest recognition that the AES gives to candidates at this stage of their careers. Additionally, Dr. ReFaey has filed for a U.S. patent complementing this work, which grew from his research and collaborative efforts.

Dr. ReFaey has co-authored 12 book chapters, more than a dozen peer-reviewed papers and several patents.

Henry J. Ruiz Garcia, M.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Dr. Ruiz Garcia's research focuses on the modulation of tumor microenvironment in glioblastoma aiming to improve cellular therapy using genetically engineered stem cells. Under the mentorship of Daniel M. Trifiletti, M.D., the project was awarded a competitive grant that allows for further study into the implications of tumor microenvironment interactions in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) treatment. His clinical research interest centers around finding better ways to safely treat patients with brain tumors through brain mapping techniques, minimally invasive approaches and stereotactic radiosurgery.

Dr. Ruiz Garcia graduated from the oldest university in the Americas, National University of San Marcos (UNMSM). With almost a 500-year history, UNMSM has always led higher education in Peru. Graduating with the highest honors, he was awarded first place in the National Examination for Internship Qualification (EsSalud) and the National Examination for Medical Students. He is very motivated to learn from the experts and to understand the reality of different perspectives.

Dr. Ruiz Garcia truly believes in helping and empowering others. For example, he chose to spend his year of rural service in an underserved community in the middle of a jungle where he served as the only physician in charge. Currently, he coordinates the efforts of Mission:BRAIN for Peru.

In his free time; Dr. Ruiz Garcia enjoys running, playing the guitar and navigating 3D neuroanatomical relationships.

Paola Suarez Meade, M.D.

  • Research Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Dr. Suarez Meade earned her medical degree from Anahuac University in Mexico City. She spent her two last years of medical training at Médica Sur Hospital, a Mayo Clinic Care Network-member hospital. She first joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in 2016 and has made several research contributions to the field of neurosurgery.

In the Neuro-Immunology Laboratory at the university in Mexico, her work centered on defining the immune response to spinal cord injury and treatment with regenerative medicine. During her initial research experiences with the Brain Tumor Stem Cell team, Dr. Suarez Meade was involved in projects focused on the description of the pathophysiology and treatment of glioblastoma, as well as the development of in vivo animal models of breast, lung and melanoma metastases to the central nervous system. Her scientific merits include receiving the Trainee Professional Development Award from the Society for Neuroscience in 2018.

Currently in the lab, Dr. Suarez Meade's research focuses on preclinical studies that are leading to a better understanding of the mechanisms of glioblastoma migration. Working under the mentorship of Dr. Schiapparelli, she is studying the membrane cotransporter NKCC1 in glioma invasion. She is also working in collaborative projects for the development of a microfluidic device to better understand glioblastoma migration and response to treatment. Throughout her training, Dr. Suarez Meade has contributed to peer-reviewed papers in both basic and clinical science.

Tito G. Vivas-Buitrago, M.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team
  • Clinical Neurosurgery Team

Dr. Vivas-Buitrago's project with the lab's basic neurosurgery research team focuses on neurogenesis in the subventricular zone and the role it plays in brain cancer throughout its development and progression. He also works on emerging technology translation to the surgical and academic fields.

As part of the clinical neurosurgery team, he is helping elucidate the behavior of remnant glioblastoma cells after surgical resection in the recurrence of brain lesions and has assisted in the development of the neurosurgical textbook "Video Atlas of Neurosurgery: Contemporary Tumor and Skull Base Surgery."

Dr. Vivas-Buitrago first joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team for six months in 2014 as a medical student finishing his last subinternship rotation. He did part of his subinternship at the Naval Force Hospital in Cartagena, Colombia, and the Comuneros Hospital in Bucaramanga, Columbia. He received his medical degree from the University of Santander in Bucaramanga in 2014. He is funded by the Universidad de Santander, Colombia, and the Neurotrauma Center I.P.S., Bucaramanga, Colombia.

Rawan M. Alkharboosh

  • Doctoral Student
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Rawan Alkharboosh's research involves isolating human mesenchymal stem cells (hMSCs) derived from human fat (adipose) tissue directly from patients in the operating room and modifying the hMSCs with nanoparticles to target and combat brain cancer. She is also interested in exploring the use of ultrasound frequency using MRI to noninvasively permeabilize the blood-brain barrier for focal enhanced delivery of mesenchymal stem cells engineered with the lab's patented nanoparticles or a virus carrying cancer-killing cargo.

Rawan is currently a transfer doctoral student from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who graduated with honors with a bachelor's degree in public health. She received her master's in tumor biology from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she graduated at the top of her class.

Elizabeth Juarez Diaz

  • Regenerative Sciences Post-Baccalaureate Research Fellow
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Elizabeth Juarez Diaz's research focus is to engineer stem cells for the treatment of glioblastoma. She is interested in understanding and characterizing the properties of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) that can be harnessed for the treatment of brain tumors. She is also working to understand how the immune system interacts with MSCs.

Elizabeth is a Bachelor of Science graduate of St. Catherine University, where she studied chemistry and physics. As an undergraduate, she researched breast cancer and quantum properties of nanoparticles. After graduation, in 2018, she joined Mayo Clinic as a post-baccalaureate student in the Regenerative Sciences Training Program, where she spent a year researching chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy. In August 2019, she joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team under continued funding from Mayo Clinic's Center for Regenerative Medicine.

Outside of research, she is passionate about addressing health disparities in underserved communities and using art to heal.

Alexandra R. Bechtle

  • Graduate Research Education Program (GREP)

Alexandra Bechtle's research is focused on modifying human adipose-derived cells for glioblastoma treatment. She is specifically interested in understanding the therapeutic potential of nonvirally engineered adipose cellular components from the stromal vascular fraction (SVF) and exploring how SVF treatment affects the self-renewing capacity of the brain tumor initiating cell population in glioblastoma. She is also involved in a research project investigating the role of ion transporters in glioblastoma cell invasion and proliferation.

Alexandra, a recent graduate of the University of Florida, received her Bachelor of Science in biomedical engineering with a focus on materials engineering. Her previous research involved developing polymeric biomaterials for medical applications.

Whisper M. Grayson

  • BRINC Intern

Whisper Grayson joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in August 2019 as an eight-month intern in the Basic Research Internship in Neuroscience and Cancer (BRINC) program, where she is working with Dr. Sarabia Estrada. She is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences with a minor in chemistry at the University of North Florida and plans on attending medical school afterward.

Matea Spahiu

  • BRINC Intern

Matea Spahiu is an undergraduate student studying biology with a focus on biomedical sciences. She joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in August 2019 as an eight-month intern in the Basic Research Internship in Neuroscience and Cancer (BRINC) program where she is working with mentor Dr. Schiapparelli. Matea has a great interest in cancer and has seized the opportunity to be a part of the lab team. In her free time, Matea volunteers at a clinic for low-income individuals.

Mieu M. Brooks

  • Research Technologist
  • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Mieu Brooks joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in August 2019 as a lab manager and research technician. Her responsibilities as lab manager include lab upkeep, logistics, team management, harvest of intraoperative tissue samples and establishment of novel brain cancer cell lines. As a technician, she is involved in research characterizing primary brain tumor cells derived from patients with glioblastoma and studying how these cell lines can be used to create preclinical animal models. She is also studying how mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) can be used as treatment vehicles to combat brain cancer.

Mieu received her Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a focus in microbiology and minor in chemistry in 2010. She received much of her training during her time at UT Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Florida under the direction of Hongtao Yu, Ph.D., and Benoit I. Giasson, Ph.D., respectively, learning how to handle, maintain and conduct investigations on mouse models for various neurodegenerative diseases. In the last three years, she has furthered her training at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus under the direction of Rosa Rademakers, Ph.D., where she contributed to the study of TMEM106B as a potential protective variant against frontotemporal lobar degeneration in progranulin mutation carriers.

Apart from science, Mieu enjoys rock climbing, running and cooking.

Cesar A. Garcia

  • Special Project Associate II

Cesar Garcia joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team in June 2017 as a lab manager and research technician.

Cesar's responsibilities as lab manager include lab upkeep, logistics, team management, harvest of intraoperative tissue samples and establishment of novel brain cancer cell lines.

As a technician, he is involved in research studying how mesenchymal stem cells can be used as treatment vehicles to combat brain cancer and how metastatic cell lines can be used to create preclinical animal models. He is also interested in pursuing bioengineering approaches to construct 3D in vitro platforms that mimic microenvironments found in brain cancer.

Cesar is a recent graduate of Yale University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in molecular, cellular and developmental biology. His work as a student was focused on biomedical and nanoparticle engineering.

Apart from science, Cesar enjoys break dancing and promoting hip-hop culture.

Carla A. Vazquez Ramos

  • Special Projects Associate II

Carla Vazquez Ramos' work is focused on local and systemic therapy for glioblastoma using verteporfin-loaded microparticles and nanoparticles, and on using melatonin as an enhancer for temozolomide in glioblastoma.

She also acts as a patient liaison with International Services and the Department of Neurologic Surgery at Mayo Clinic. Additionally, she coordinates altruistic outreach trips in developing communities as a key member of Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's nonprofit organization, Mission:BRAIN.

Carla joined the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab after graduating from Dickinson College in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and pre-med. She joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's lab at Johns Hopkins University and continued to work with the team when it moved to Mayo Clinic.

During her leisure time, she enjoys running and swimming.

Danielle M. Devine

  • Research Administrative Assistant

As the clinical research and laboratory administrative assistant, Danielle is responsible for handling all administrative aspects of the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab and other miscellaneous requests to keep the research lab running at its full potential at all times.

With more than 10 years of experience in the health care industry, mainly at Mayo Clinic's campus in Florida, Danielle has coordinated and facilitated successful collaborations with a wide range of directors, researchers, patients and clinical colleagues.

After obtaining her associate degree in nursing, Danielle will be pursuing her bachelor of science in nursing in the near future.

She enjoys spending all of her free time with her family, especially her son, Rhett.

Elizabeth Delgado

  • Administrative Assistant

Elizabeth has over 20 years of experience providing administrative support. She has worked in otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; in risk management for the government of Orange County in Orlando, Florida; and at Mayo Clinic from 2004 to 2010 as medical secretary for Mary I. Connor, M.D., former chair of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

More recently, Elizabeth has worked at St. Vincent's Spine & Brain Institute as a surgical coordinator, initially maintaining all aspects of scheduling for Eric W. Nottmeier, M.D. including clinical operations and surgery schedules. She also assisted with coordinating patient schedules for all preoperative and postoperative needs as well as insurance verification and prior authorizations. Later, she became responsible for coordinating all information pertaining to surgeries for three physicians. There she developed and created workflows that became standardized as best practice.