Jeffrey Milbrandt, M.D., Ph.D.
James S. McDonnell Professor and Head, Department of Genetics

Professor of Pathology & Immunology, Medicine and Neurology


Aldrin Kay Yuen Yim
Graduate Student

Aldrin has always maintained a dual-interest in both computer science and medical research. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Computational and System Biology Program, Washington University School of Medicine. Aldrin received his B.Sc. and M.Phil. degree in Biochemistry from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Before joining Dr. Milbrandt’s lab, his research primarily focused on Bioinformatics, which led to multiple discoveries including a novel major allergen class (designated as Group 24th Major allergen by WHO/IUIS Allergen Nomenclature subcommittee) through multi-omic approach analysis of dust mite (JACI, 2015). His current research aims to understand the heterogeneity of cell types within the peripheral nervous system, and their various roles in neurological disease formation. Apart from research work, Aldrin is also engrossed in biotech entrepreneurship.

Amber Hackett
Postdoctoral Fellow

Amber Hackett received a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011. During this time, she worked in the lab of Dr. Jeffrey Dupree studying the role of sphingolipids in central nervous system myelin development and maintenance. Amber received a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Miami in 2016. For her thesis project, she studied glial scar formation and remyelination after spinal cord injury at the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis in the lab of Dr. Jae Lee. She is now a Postdoctoral fellow in the Milbrandt lab studying how Schwann cells support axons. To do this, she is perturbing several major metabolic pathways in Schwann cells in vitro and in vivo to determine the impact on axons.

Denis Avey
Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Denis Avey received a B.S. in Biology and Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology from Florida State University. He joined the Milbrandt and Mitra labs as a postdoctoral researcher in the spring of 2016. His primary research goal is to characterize the heterogeneity of dopamine neurons, which serve a central role in diverse biological processes, including physical movement, reward and aversion, and mood/emotion. They are also dysregulated in a vast array of chronic/complex neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and drug addiction. His project is at the intersection of neuroscience, genetics, molecular biology, pharmacology and psychiatry. When he’s not in the lab, Dennis enjoy drumming (with a local band, Hellen Back), rock climbing, soccer, and roller hockey.

John Bermingham
Research Associate Professor

John Bermingham obtained a B.A. in Biology from Yale, and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he studied the homeotic gene Antennapedia in Matthew Scott’s lab.  Following a year of postdoctoral work on the Factor VIII coagulation gene in Jane Gitschier’s lab at UCSF, John moved to Geof Rosenfeld’s lab at UCSD, where he studied SR splicing factors, and generated mice that lack the transcription factor Oct-6(Pou3f1; SCIP; Tst1).  He found that these mice display specific CNS defects and a delay in peripheral myelination. In his own laboratory at the McLaughlin Research Institute in Great Falls, MT, John obtained NIH funding to study Oct6 target genes in peripheral nerve.

Caitlin Dingwall
Graduate Student

Caitlin Dingwall received a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology with Honors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. For her Honors thesis, she worked in the lab of Dr. Phillip Newmark where she pursued dual projects investigating the role of matrix metalloproteinases in stem cell homeostasis in the freshwater planarian Schmidtea mediterranea and characterizing the male germline in the parasite Schistosoma mansoni. Caitlin is in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Washington University School of Medicine where she is now beginning her PhD training in Molecular Genetics and Genomics. Her rotation project in the Milbrandt lab focuses on further elucidating the mechanisms that govern SARM1 activation in response to axonal injury.

Cassidy Menendez
Research Technician

Cassidy is a Registered Veterinary Technician. She graduated from Sanford-Brown College in 2010. Cassidy has worked at veterinary hospitals since 2008 and joined Washington University with DCM as a RVT in 2017. She joined Dr. Milbrandt’s lab in August 2018.

Tasha Crawford
Lab Assistant

Sandretta (Tasha) Crawford has worked in the Milbrandt Lab for 29 years. Tasha is a lab assistant to all. She takes care of stocking supplies, making standard lab reagents, and keeping the lab clean and straightened. Tasha is the mother of Nathan and she loves her coffee (and her coffee machine).

Kow Essuman
MD/PhD Student

Kow Essuman received a Bachelor of Science (Summa Cum Laude) in Biochemistry from Temple University in 2010, and began his studies at Washington University in 2012. In the Milbrandt lab, Kow has identified the first TIR domain (SARM1) with intrinsic enzymatic activity, and is currently extending the search of TIR enzymatic activity to other kingdoms of life. Kow is also investigating molecular pathways that underlie the axon self-destruction program in neurons. Kow was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Fellow, and a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society. He enjoys listening to select straight-ahead live jazz music

Tim Fahrner
Research Lab Supervisor

Joe Ippolito
Instructor, Radiology

Sungsu Kim

Sungsu Kim’s research goal is to understand the pathogenic mechanisms underlying metabolic complications of the nervous system. In particular, he is interested in neuropathies in human metabolic disorder such as diabetes and Alzheimer disease (AD). In addition, Sungsu’s background is in molecular and cell biology, biochemistry, and Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) and mouse genetics, with expertise in high-throughput image/data acquisition and computational analysis. As Ph.D. graduate student under the mentorship of Dr. Aaron DiAntonio, Sungsu developed image-based membrane trafficking assays, and applying Drosophila genetics tools, successfully characterized functions of the novel type 1 diabetes and autoimmune disease susceptibility gene ema/CLEC16A in the endosomal trafficking and autophagy. To study diabetic peripheral neuropathy, he has explored potential metabolic interaction between Schwann cells and neurons/axons during his postdoctoral training in Dr. Milbrandt’s lab.

Matthew Lalli
Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Matthew Lalli is a post-doc in the Milbrandt and Mitra labs interested in understanding neurological diseases using patient derived stem cells. He is trying to apply new technologies to improve disease-in-a-dish modeling by expanding the number of relevant cell types we can generate. Through Cas9-based transcriptional modulation of disease-causing genes, he hopes to discover molecular underpinnings of disease phenotypes. Altogether, these projects have the potential to identify novel targets for treating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism.

Xianrong Mao
Staff Scientist

Xianrong Mao received a B.S. from Lanzhou University in China, and a Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas for Med Science. His research background is neuroscience, in particular with genetic and metabolic approaches. Currently his focus is identifying the signaling pathways activating SARM1, the central molecule controlling axon degeneration. Mao is investigating how activity SARM1 is activated in response to axon damage.  This will also allow scientists to find tools to suppress SARM1 activity and further down the road will give them therapeutic intervention to block axon degeneration.

Mark Zaydman
Resident, PI-WUPATH

Mark studied Biomedical Engineering as an Undergraduate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to St. Louis to continue his training with MD and Ph.D. degrees at Washington University in St Louis. He is currently a second-year resident physician in the Clinical Pathology Physician  Scientist Training Program in the Department of Pathology and Immunology. Drawing from his backgrounds in engineering, medicine, and biophysics, he is investigating the structural and functional evolution of SARM1 TIR NADase activity through a combination of computational and experimental approaches. Outside of the lab, Mark enjoys cooking, yoga, and fly-fishing.

Mihir Vohra
Postdoctoral Research Scholar

Mihir received his BA in biology from the University of Chicago in 2011 and a PhD in neuroscience from UCSF in 2017. His thesis work in Kaveh Ashrafi’s lab included establishing that the tryptophan metabolite kynurenic acid is a neuromodulator indicating nutrient status to the nervous system to control learning, brain aging, and tauopathy. In the Milbrandt lab he is studying mechanisms of SARM1 activation and its role in mediating axon degeneration.

Peter Wang
Predoctoral Trainee

Rachel McClarney
Research Technician

Rachel McClarney got a B.S. in Animal Science from the University of Missouri – Columbia. Prior to her employment at Washington University, she was an assistant at House Springs Animal Clinic, where she still works on Saturdays. In September Rachel will have worked at House Springs for 12 years.

Yo Sasaki
Ph.D., Research Associate Professor

Yo Sasaki was born and raised in Japan. He attended Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology (B.S.) and Gunma University School of Medicine (Ph.D.) and decided to come to U.S. Yo is interested in the mechanism of axon degeneration. Axon degeneration is a common and early step of many neurological disorders and could be a useful therapeutic target for neurodegenerative diseases. Using injury-induced axon degeneration as a model, Yo and his colleagues discovered that overexpression of the NAD+ biosynthetic enzyme NMNAT1 can block axon degeneration. They identified other enzymes and substrates in NAD+ biosynthetic pathways that significantly delay axon degeneration. Based on these findings, Yo’s research is focused on the identification of axon survival signaling pathways that are linked to NAD+ metabolism.

Kelli Simburger
Research Technician

Kelli has worked in the Milbrandt lab for 28 years. She does much of the cloning for the lab along with a lot of general lab support. Kelli enjoys hiking, biking, travel and spending time with her family.

Amy Strickland
Research Lab Manager

Amy Strickland got a B.S. in psychobiology from University of Evansville in 1997. She received an M.S. in Criminlogy & Criminal Justice from UMSL in 1999. She is the Milbrandt lab manager. She’s been employed by Washington University Medical School since 1998 and been in the Milbrandt lab since 2002. Amy received the Dean’s Research Support Award 2016. She is the mother of three very active children and enjoys watching and coaching all kinds of sports in her “free” time, as well as working out.

Daniel Summers
Post Doctoral Research Associate

Daniel Summers’ work revolves around how protein homeostasis pathways influence axon health and susceptibility to disease.  His interest in this topic began as a graduate student in the lab of Doug Cyr at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he investigated how chaperone networks recognize unfolded proteins and regulate their disposal. As a joint postdoctoral fellow in the Milbrandt and DiAntonio labs, Daniel identified fundamental properties in the pro-degenerative factor SARM1 that promote the destruction of injured axons.  He is merging his interests in protein homeostasis and axon health to characterize novel pathways that regulate the degradation of neuron survival factors in the axon.  Daniel is currently supported by a grant from the Muscular Dystrophy Association with the hope of identifying new and potent avenues for therapeutic intervention in neurological disorders.


Debbie Peterson
Assistant to the Chair