Team Bios

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.

Basic Neurosurgery Research Team

Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's Basic Neurosurgery Team performs clinically relevant translational experiments in the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Laboratory, using tissues directly obtained from patients in the operating room.

Clinical Neurosurgery Team

Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's Clinical Neurosurgery Team is responsible for all aspects of patient care, including but not limited to treating patients, evaluating outcomes, performing clinical trials and collaborating closely with the Basic Neurosurgery Research Team to develop new and effective therapies for devastating cancers of the brain and spine.

Team Bios

  • Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D.

    • Principal Investigator
    • Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab
    • Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa — known to his patients as Dr. Q — is the William J. and Charles H. Mayo Professor and Chair of Neurologic Surgery at Mayo Clinic's campus in Jacksonville, Florida. His research interest is in discovering new methods of delivering effective treatments for brain tumors in diverse populations and predicting prognoses for patients with brain tumors.

      Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa received his undergraduate from the University of California, Berkeley and earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, with honors. He did his neurosurgery residency at the University of California, San Francisco, where he also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in developmental and stem cell biology. His career began at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he served as professor of neurosurgery and oncology, neurology, and cellular and molecular medicine and as director of the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory.

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

    • Assistant Professor
    • 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
    • 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.

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

  • Sara Ganaha, M.D.

    • Postdoctoral Fellow
    • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team
    • Dr. Ganaha's research focuses on the use of human mesenchymal stem cells for the local therapy of brain tumors and on elucidating the role of brachyury in promoting cancer progression in glioblastoma, chordoma and other metastatic brain cancers.

      Dr. Ganaha hails from both Toronto, Canada, and Okinawa, Japan. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in biology and biochemistry in 2006 at Carleton College in Minnesota, and conducted translational research at the University of Minnesota until 2007. As a medical student, she trained under Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa as a subintern in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2014. After graduating from Kanazawa Medical University in Japan in 2015, Dr. Ganaha continued as a postdoctoral fellow under Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa in the neurosurgery team at Johns Hopkins University. She joined Mayo Clinic in 2016.

      Dr. Ganaha is passionate about learning new cultures and languages and about working with kids and youth globally, and looks forward to engaging in international surgical missions in developing countries as a pediatric neurosurgeon during her training.

  • Sujan K. Mondal, Ph.D.

    • Postdoctoral Fellow
    • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team
    • Dr. Mondal conducted his doctoral research from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), India, on the development of progesterone-based chemotherapeutics and receptor-targeted liposomal delivery systems. After his doctoral study, he joined with Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's team as a postdoctoral fellow at the beginning of 2017.

      Dr. Mondal was a research trainee at Mayo Clinic's campus in Rochester, Minnesota, under Debabrata (Dev) Mukhopadhyay, Ph.D., as part of a partnership program between Mayo Clinic and India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). Dr. Mondal has research experience in organic synthesis, characterizations of organic molecules, small molecule cancer drug development, liposomal drugs, and gene delivery in vivo and in vitro.

  • 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 nearby 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.

  • Maarten Rotman, Ph.D.

    • Postdoctoral Fellow
    • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team
    • Dr. Rotman's research is focused on using the human fat (adipose) tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cell to battle brain tumor initiating cells.

      From 2003 until 2010, Dr. Rotman attended the life science and technology program at the oldest university of the Netherlands, Leiden University of Science and Technology. His Bachelor of Science was focused on oncology and his Master of Science included an additional track, science-based business.

      He then went on to the doctoral program at Leiden University Medical Center, where he focused on Alzheimer's disease, investigating the use of camelid-derived heavy chain-only antibody fragments, called VHH (nanobodies), to diagnose and treat the disorder in a preclinical setting. He applied a wide array of imaging modalities and biochemical tools, focusing particularly on crossing the highly regulated blood-brain barrier.

      In 2015 Dr. Rotman moved from the Netherlands to join Mayo Clinic's campus in Jacksonville, Florida, to study the role of the neuronal sorting protein family of Sortilin in neurodegeneration in general. At the beginning of 2017, he joined Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab.

      When not in the lab, Dr. Rotman enjoys riding his motorcycle and dreams of picking up scuba diving once more.

  • Sagar Shah, Ph.D.

    • Postdoctoral Fellow
    • Basic Neurosurgery Research Team
    • Dr. Shah's research focuses on identifying key diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic targets through elucidation of novel YAP-driven and mediated networks in brain cancer.

      Dr. Shah completed his Bachelor of Science in biological sciences with a minor in mathematical sciences at Clemson University in 2006. He graduated with general and departmental honors in both disciplines and was bestowed the Norris Medal. He completed his Master of Science in bioengineering at Clemson University in 2007.

      As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, Dr. Shah completed his doctorate in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, focusing on delineating novel YAP-driven networks that control aggressive behavior in cancer.

  • 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 assisting in the development of the neurosurgical textbook "Comprehensive Multimedia Video Atlas of Skull Base Surgery and Tumors."

      Dr. Vivas-Buitrago first joined Dr. Quinones' 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 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.

  • Beatriz I. Fernandez Gil

    • Special Project Associate II
    • Beatriz Fernandez Gil's research focuses on evaluating the effects of melatonin on glioblastoma cells and the implication of melatonin in the mitochondrial metabolism as a synergetic drug to improve glioblastoma treatments.

      Beatriz is a biologist holding a master's degree in genetics and evolution. She is finishing 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, Beatriz 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.

  • 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 the departments of Neurosurgery and International Services 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.

  • Haydee Lopez

    • Research Administrator
    • Haydee Lopez is the administrative assistant for research in the Mayo Clinic Department of Neurosurgery. She is responsible for handling all administrative aspects of the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Research Lab.

      Haydee has more than 22 years of experience in the health care industry, mainly at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where she coordinated cancer center research and facilitated successful collaborations with a wide range of directors, researchers, patients and clinical colleagues.

  • Tasha E. Leak

    • Medical Administrator
    • Tasha Leak serves as the medical office coordinator for Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa at Mayo Clinic's campus in Jacksonville, Florida. Her major responsibilities include greeting patients, scheduling patient appointments, scheduling operation dates and times, handling scheduling questions from physicians and patients, and assisting the medical staff in other ways. She is a dedicated member of Dr. Quinones-Hinojosa's medical team.

      Tasha obtained her Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies at the University of Maryland and is now pursuing her master's in health services administration.