Meet Our Team

As principal investigator in the Skeletal Development and Regeneration Research Lab, Dr. Westendorf leads a team that is advancing research on osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and bone cancers, along with the development of related novel therapeutics.

Learn more about the members of Dr. Westendorf's research team.

Samantha R. Weaver Kodet, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow

Sam, originally from Northfield, Minnesota, completed her bachelor's degree in Spanish and women's studies and her Ph.D. in endocrine and reproductive physiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the lab, she studies how Phlpp phosphatases contribute to cartilage regeneration. She hopes to build an independent research career examining the intersection of maternal health and musculoskeletal health. When she's not working, Sam enjoys hanging out with her daughter, Cora, husband, Josh, and dog, Mike.

Dongwook Yeo, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow

Dongwook joined Dr. Westendorf's laboratory as a postdoctoral research fellow in August 2019. His two research focus areas are: 1) the role of histone deacetylase 3 in bone loss and marrow adiposity formation; and 2) protein phosphatase Phlpp1/2 in skeletal muscle development and mitochondrial function under pathophysiological conditions such as injury, disuse, degeneration and aging. Dongwook received a bachelor of science degree and a master of science degree in physical education from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. He moved to Minnesota to study in 2012. He completed his doctoral studies with Li Li Ji, Ph.D., at the University of Minnesota, where he investigated the impact of mitochondrial dysfunction on disuse and age-related muscle atrophy animal models. Dongwook spends lots of time on weekends playing tennis at local clubs and camping in northern Minnesota.

Earnest L. Taylor, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow

Earnest, who hails from Tifton, Georgia, completed his bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from Georgia Southwestern State University and his Ph.D. in pharmaceutical science from Mercer University College of Pharmacy. In the lab, Earnest focuses on pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics studies of Phlpp inhibitors, and on the G protein-gated inwardly rectifying potassium (GIRK) channel effect on chondrocytes and osteoblasts. In his free time, Earnest enjoys spending time with friends and family, working out, and playing video games.

Elizabeth L. Zars, senior research technologist

Elizabeth grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, but has always had family in Rochester, Minnesota. She received her bachelor's degree in animal sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is currently working on a master's degree in translational pharmacology with an emphasis in safety pharmacology and toxicology from The Ohio State University. Elizabeth runs the mouse colony for Dr. Westendorf's lab and has a hand in everything animal related. When she is not in the lab or doing schoolwork, Elizabeth relaxes with her significant other and two dogs, Lola and Ruby. They enjoy playing disc sports with Lola while Ruby does sprints around the backyard.

Xiaodong Li, senior research technologist

Xiaodong graduated from St. Cloud State University with a master of science degree in 1998. His research interests are bone-related diseases, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and primary and secondary bone tumors. His passion is pursuing a better understanding of the cause of bone-related diseases at the molecular level. In the lab, Xiaodong's research projects include histone deacetylases (HDACs) in bone and cartilage formation; the role of RUNX family proteins in Ewing's sarcoma; Akt pathway regulation in cartilage biology; and osteoarthritis progression. Working in the research field for more than 20 years, Xiaodong continues his journey to find a cure for numerous diseases. He enjoys traveling, hiking and biking with his family and friends during leisure time.

Katherine M. Arnold, Ph.D. graduate student

Katherine is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in the Biomedical Engineering and Physiology track. She is originally from the United Kingdom, where she completed both her bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical/biomedical engineering at the University of Southampton. During her undergraduate studies, Katherine worked on cartilage tissue engineering at the Institute of Developmental Sciences, University Hospital Southampton. She continues her studies while working in Dr. Westendorf's lab. Katherine's thesis project focuses on cartilage tissue quality in existing and emerging treatments for osteoarthritis, and she is investigating the use of engineering principles to evaluate the effects of disease and subsequent treatment. Outside the lab, Katherine enjoys hiking with her dog, skiing and drinking tea.