Research Team

Constanza A. Alcaino Ayala, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. 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. 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, she joined Dr. Farrugia's laboratory and the Gastrointestinal Mechanotransduction Laboratory of Arthur Beyder, M.D., Ph.D., as a postdoctoral fellow.

Cheryl E. Bernard

  • Supervisor and Research Technologist

Cheryl Bernard's research interests are focused on gastrointestinal motility and gastroparesis. After earning an associate 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.

Gianluca Cipriani, Ph.D.

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate

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. He is also studying the basic phenomena leading to the alteration of muscularis macrophage phenotype in health and disease. This research focuses on how, besides orchestrating the innate immunity, muscularis macrophages interact with cells important for gastrointestinal function, such as interstitial cells of Cajal and enteric neurons. Dr. Cipriani received a doctoral degree from the University of Florence in Italy in 2013 and joined Dr. Farrugia's lab as a postdoctoral research fellow.


  • Lin Chang Travel Award for Federation of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 2020
  • Young Investigator Award, Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society (ANMS) 2019
  • Young Investigator Award, Digestive Disease Week, 2018
  • Keystone Symposia: "Uncomplicating Diabetes: Reducing the Burden of Diabetes-Related End-Organ Injury" scholarship, 2018
  • Young Investigator Forum, ANMS, 2017
  • American Gastroenterological Association Rome Foundation Pilot Award in Functional Gastroenterology, 2017
  • Little Brain Big Brain, 2016
  • Young Investigator Award, Digestive Disease Week, 2015
  • Predoctoral fellowship award, Menarini Research in Florence, Italy, 2012

Maria (Gaby) G. Colmenares Aguilar, Ph.D.

  • Gaby Colmenares Aguilar is a postdoctoral research fellow in the May Clinic Enteric Neuroscience Program. Colmenares Aguilar is investigating a bicarbonate transporter in the pacemaker cells of the gastrointestinal tract and the interstitial cells of Cajal in other aspects of enteric neuroscience. She is working in the laboratory of Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., to further her interests in plasma membrane transporter proteins and to learn state-of-the-art techniques in cell biology.

Colmenares Aguilar's project focuses on the study of the functional role of the electrogenic sodium bicarbonate cotransporter (NBCe1) in interstitial cells of Cajal. Specifically, she determined that NBCe1 is up-regulated in pacemaker interstitial cells of Cajal in all regions of the gastrointestinal tract, which suggests a crucial role for this transporter in the mechanism of slow wave generation.

Colmenares Aguilar earned a bachelor's degree in education with a minor in chemistry from Libertador Experimental Pedagogical University (UPEL), Barquisimeto, Lara-Venezuela, and a master's degree in biochemistry from the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research (IVIC). There she learned techniques to study cell biology including ion exchange chromatography, immunoassays and spectrometry. She earned her doctoral degree studying in the laboratory of Lucimey Lima, M.D., Ph.D., specializing in membrane receptors and transporters in the central nervous system. She has also completed short-term training in the neuroimmunology lab led by Rodrigo Pacheco, Ph.D., at Andres Bello University, Santiago, Chile.

Simon J. Gibbons, Ph.D.

  • Research Scientist

Dr. Gibbons' research interests include the maintenance and fate of cells in the gastrointestinal tract in healthy aging and disease, with a particular focus on diabetic gastroenteropathy. He also studies the basic mechanisms by which Na+ and Ca2+ ion fluxes regulate cellular excitability and contractility and developing 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, Rochester, Minnesota.

Jose (Manoel) Silva

  • Research Technologist

Jose Silva joined the laboratory in September, 2018. He provides technical support for all of the research programs in the Cellular and Molecular Physiology of Gastrointestinal Disorders Lab.

Peter R. Strege

  • Senior Research Technologist

Since graduating with a master's degree from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities over 10 years ago, Peter Strege has worked with Dr. Farrugia on basic mechanisms of electrophysiology and mechanosensitivity of the gastrointestinal smooth muscle cells, interstitial cells of Cajal, and more recently epithelial enterochromaffin cells. In these cell types, he has studied a variety of ion channels — including voltage-gated and mechanosensitive sodium and calcium channels — and mechano-gated channels that include Piezo channels. He has studied both the roles of these ion channels in physiology, and how rare mutations affect their functions in diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). These studies have uncovered important mechanistic insights on the roles of ion channels in physiology and pathophysiology and discovered novel ion channel targeting approaches in human diseases.

An example of Strege's work is on the voltage-gated mechanosensitive ion channel NaV1.5 (gene SCN5A), which is expressed in gastrointestinal smooth muscle, where it contributes to the muscle electrical activity and its regulation by force. His work showed that regulation of NaV1.5 expression is critical for the control of human gastrointestinal smooth muscle excitability, and alterations in NaV1.5 voltage-dependent current density and mechanosensitivity by naturally occurring mutations or by reduced expression of the protein result in diseases called channelopathies. He helped lead the group that established for the first time that some functional gastrointestinal diseases, such as IBS and slow transit constipation, are NaV1.5 channelopathies. In this transformative study, his research group also discovered that a cardiac medication can treat a select number of these channelopathies.

To make channelopathies targetable, Strege is pursuing the molecular and submolecular mechanisms of ion channel mechanosensitivity, using single ion channel recordings on bacterial homologs of the ion channels responsible for gastrointestinal channelopathies.