Faculty

Richard Smith

Richard Smith, MD
Director, MORL

I direct the MORL and every day I have to pinch myself.  Is this Heaven?  No, it's Iowa, and even more specifically, it's the MORL.  If you build it, they will come -- and come they have.  Here at the MORL we have the best and most dedicated group of scientists focused on genetic hearing loss and ultra-rare complement mediated renal diseases in the world.  The result?  Outstanding basic science research and outstanding translational clinical medicine supported by visionary informatics and dedicated staff.... The impact?  Unprecedented care for persons with hearing loss and renal disease.

Carla Nester

Carla Nester, MD
Associate Director, MORL

I am Associate Director of the MORL and it rocks!  BTW I am also an adult and pediatric nephrologist, so I function as the clinical specialist for the Renal Division in the MORL and provide both physician and family consultation.  My research team manages the surface plasmon resonance assays for the Renal Research Division.  My clinical home is in the University of Iowa's Pediatric Nephrology and Adult Nephrology Divisions where I am the Director of the Pediatric Glomerular Disease Clinic and Director of the Rare Renal Disease Clinic, respectively.  In the Rare Renal Disease Clinic, we see patients from all over the world.


Administrative Staff

Carla Nishimura

Carla Nishimura
Lab Manager

My work includes performing testing, developing protocols as we add new genes to our services and maintaining performance specifications to insure accuracy in testing as well as CLIA and JACHO certification. My duties also include those of laboratory manager for the MORL.

Amy Weaver

Amy Weaver
Project Assistant/Administrative Services Coordinator

I have a wonderful craft room at home -- it's quiet and peaceful and I can get lost in knitting and crochet.  I love it.  At work, I have a great office with an incredible view -- it's hectic and noisy and I can get lost in all the things that are happening.  But I love it.  I am the glue that holds the MORL together.  I support both arms of MORL: Clinical Diagnostics Services and the Research Division.  I organize weekly Renal Group and Hearing Group Meetings where every patient is discussed and all email inquiries are reviewed.  Oh, I also maintain the website, develop databases, and create organizational infrastructure. I help with grants, IRBs, ACURFs and other regulatory needs.  But to the people outside the MORL, I am the “voice” of the MORL, here to help you.

Jori Hendon

Jori Hendon
Accounts Receivable/Administrative Services Coordinator

I love working in the MORL and for Dr. Smith and company....of course I'd rather be one of Doctor Who's companions.  Clara Oswald has nothing on me.  Meanwhile, while I wait for the TARDIS to land, I am an administrative assistant for the Clinical Diagnostics Services arm of MORL. I am also responsible accounts receivable and laboratory supply purchasing.  I would be pleased to do research on time travel.


Personnel

Hela Azaiez

Hela Azaiez, PhD
Associate Research Scientist (Hearing)

My research focuses on the identification of novel genes responsible for Autosomal Dominant Non-Syndromic Hearing Loss (ADNSHL) using next generation sequencing. ADNSHL accounts for approximately 20% of non-syndromic cases of deafness with thirty genes identified to date.  We have developed an efficient strategy to increase the power of variant detection by combing OtoSCOPE to rule out genes known to cause ADNSHL, followed by novel gene discovery achieved by coupling segregation analysis with whole exome sequencing.  The identification of genes associated with deafness is an important step towards a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of hearing.  The short term benefits this knowledge provides are being realized in clinical medicine, where the use of genetic screening for deafness has changed the evaluation of the deaf person.  In the long term, this knowledge will result in the development of novel treatment options for deafness.

Ann Black-Ziegelbein

Ann Black-Ziegelbein
Senior Application Developer (Hearing/Renal)

I am a part-time software developer for MORL. I develop, support, and integrate various technologies in support of research and clinical Next Generation Sequencing analysis. Additionally I assist with and develop various technologies, such as web based applications, for research studies.

Kevin Booth

Kevin Booth
Research Assistant (Hearing Team)

Smart, energetic, young scientist, who does research in the molecular genetics of hearing loss field.  I like plotting audiograms, fishing for variants in the human genome, long meetings discussing patient data, spending time with my bacteria, writing manuscripts and working out (mostly my thumbs).  Turn ons: variant segregation with the hearing loss phenotype; novel gene discovery; experiments working; dissecting pathogenic mechanisms related to the hearing process.  Turn offs: poor experiment design; poor data; inappropriate conclusions about data.  Dream vacation; going to Kings College in London England.  If you are interested in a collaboration with the best genetic hearing loss research lab and team in the world e-mail me at kevin-booth@uiowa.edu (please, only serious inquiries).

Nicolo Ghiringhelli Borsa

Nicolo Ghiringhelli Borsa 
Research Specialist (CDS-Renal)

Ciao.  I used to live in Italy and moved here to be part of the MORL team.  I miss really good mozzarella cheese but I think I'll stay.  I am the Genetic Renal Team Leader in the Clinical Diagnostics Division of the MORL.  We perform Next Generation Sequencing using a custom Genetic Renal Panel to identify genetic contributions to disease in patients with complement-related kidney diseases such as atypical Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (aHUS) and C3 Glomerulopathies (C3G).  And Iowa City? Bellissimo....a dopo.

Fenxiao Bu

Fenxiao Bu
Post Doctoral Associate (Renal)

I am involved in genetic researches of aHUS, a complement-coagulation related ultra-rare renal disorder. A targeted massively parallel sequencing panel called “CasCADE” is used to screen 85 genes in the complement and coagulation pathways to identify new genetic contributions to aHUS. Several assays are also used to test the complement and coagulation function in patients to investigate the disease mechanism.

Bradley Crone
Application Developer (Hearing)

My work focuses on development, implementation, and maintenance of various bioinformatics software tools and resources for the lab. This includes assisting in production of the Deafness Variation Database, as well as tool and workflow development and implementation on the Galaxy bioinformatics platform.

Alexis Divincenzo
Student Programmer (Hearing)

I'm an undergraduate Computer Engineering student at the University of Iowa. I am a student programmer for the lab and I aide Ann Black-Ziegelbein on her project, which involves the extraction of Haplotypes from human sequencing data. My work includes writing Python tools to summarize and extract genetic data, and I also utilize genetics related open source tools.

Sean Ephraim

Sean Ephraim 
Application Developer (Hearing)
 
I develop, test, and implement bioinformatics software solutions for MORL research. I currently manage and maintain the Deafness Variation Database website (deafnessvariationdatabase.org) as well as collect and help curate its data. I am the lead developer for Cordova, an open source framework to help other researchers set up their own variation database website.

Kathy Frees 
Research Associate (CDS-Hearing)

I am the Genetic Hearing Loss Team Leader in the Molecular Otolaryngology Research Laboratory Clinical Diagnostics. I am currently doing next generation sequencing on OtoSCOPE samples for hearing loss.

Renee Goodfellow 
Research Associate (CDS-Functional Renal)

My primary focus as a member of the Clinical Diagnostic Service Functional Team is to look at the activity of autoantibodies in renal diseases.

Alexander Goodwin

Alexander Goodwin 
Research Assistant (Hearing Research)

I am currently involved in research directed towards the mechanisms of genetic hearing loss. I specialize in single auditory hair cell isolations and RNA-sequencing of those cells in order to better our understanding of the genetic blueprint that underlies our delicate ability to hear things from the outside environment.

Jill Hauer

Jill Hauer 
Student Researcher (Renal)

I am an Undergraduate Biomedical Engineering student from Story City, IA. I work as a research assistant with the Renal Team to learn about the biophysical and thermodynamic changes in proteins of the complement system affected in C3 Glomerulopathy. I am interested in using protein simulation to predict phenotypic severity of disease.

Michael Jones

Michael Jones
Research Associate(CDS-Renal)

I currently work on Mulitple Ligation Probe Amplification (MLPA) to detect deletions, duplications and rearrangements in the complement Factor H related region in patients with kidney diseases as well as data analysis for the Genetic Renal Panel next-generation sequencing pipeline.

Iman Kashmola 
Genetic Counseling Research Intern (CDS-Hearing)

I assist with clinical preparation for the MORL’s weekly Hearing Group Meetings, as well as in the letter making process for clinical and research testing conducted by the MORL Hearing Team. In addition, I help answer questions physician’s and genetic counselors have regarding variant interpretation and genotype-phenotype correlation. I am also working on developing educational materials to help medical personal better inform their patients about their diagnosis.

Jin-Young Koh 
Graduate Student Researcher (CDS-Hearing)

I am a graduate student in the Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program. My research interest in the MORL is single cell RNA-seq with auditory hair cells using animal models and microRNA-based therapeutic approach for hearing loss.

Diana Kolbe, PhD 
Associate Research Scientist (Hearing/Renal)

I am a computational specialist working with our teams on genetic diagnosis and research. Once the DNA from a sample has been sequenced, I transform that data into lists of genetic changes that each person has, and then I help our team sort through those lists and narrow down to the ones that could cause the symptoms.

Alexandria Leonhardt

Alexandria Leonhardt 
Research Assistant (Renal)

I am a Research Assistant working in the Molecular Otolaryngology Renal Research Laboratory Clinical Diagnostics. I aide Dr. Carla Nester in her research to determine cause of disease in patients suffering from complement-mediated renal disease. I have specialized in Biacore assays, which illustrates protein/protein interactions. Our research is currently focusing on c3 nephritic factors and their impact on C3 convertase stability.

Bertha Martin

Bertha Martin 
Graduate Student Researcher (Renal)

I am currently a graduate student in the Anatomy and Cell Biology Department at the University of Iowa. My project is to characterize biomarkers in complement mediated renal diseases including Dense Deposit Disease and C3 Glomerulonephritis.

Nic Meyer

Nic Meyer
Research Associate (CDS-Functional Renal)

I hold the title PWHWFRL (Person who has Worked for Richard Longest) and have just crossed the 15th year mark.  As a member of the Clinical Diagnostic Functional Renal Division I have become part vampire and like to bathe in sheep red blood cells as I determine which patients have autoantibodies that stabilize convertase.  With my two trusty 12 channel multi-pipetors in hand, and two water baths at my sides, I am a force to be reckoned with. In my free time I enjoy designing assays to determine copy number variation of genes that could contribute to renal disease, bringing order to chaos, battling frosty -80C's and awarding My Little Pony stickers to labbies who go above and beyond and do something really great. My favorite lab memory was melting the inside of a freezer with my husband's work lamp.

Paul Ranum

Paul Ranum
Graduate Student Researcher (Hearing)

I am a graduate student researcher in the interdisciplinary graduate program in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Iowa.  My research in the MORL is focused on the identification and characterization of non-coding genetic elements contributing to deafness.  Additionally, I am working on the development of gene therapy approaches to treat dominant progressive forms of deafness.

Sarah Roberts
Research Assistant (CDS-Functional Renal)

I am a Research Assistant here at the MORL on the Renal Function Team. I run many assays (and learning more) to measure the function and biomarkers of complement for patients with complement-mediated diseases such as DDD, C3G, and aHUS. I also assist with various research projects to study these biomarkers, as well as thier autoantibodies, to better understand these diseases.

Dingwu Shao

Dingwu Shao
Research Associate (CDS-Functional Renal)

I am a Research Assistant working in the Molecular Otolaryngology Research Laboratory Clinical Diagnostics. I am currently doing several functional assays for serum complement activity of patients with C3 Glomerulopathies and atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Maysam Takapoo

Maysam Takapoo
Research Assistant (CDS-Functional Renal)

My responsibilities at the Molecular Otolaryngology Renal Research Laboratory Clinical Diagnostics as a Research Assistant are running tests like C5b9 and CH50 activity on renal patient’s samples. I am also currently learning other techniques and tests which I am hoping my 14 years background in research would help me to learn them as quick as possible so I could help the lab in a more efficient way.

Amanda Bierer

Amanda Taylor
Research Assistant (CDS-Renal)

Hello!  I am a Research Assistant working in the Molecular Otolaryngology Renal Research Laboratory Clinical Diagnostics. I perform next generation sequencing for Genetic Renal Panel tests using Zephyr and MiSeq.  I also work on genetic screening on CFH, CFI, and MCP kidney genes. In addition, I extract DNA from whole blood samples that we receive in the lab.

Mallory Tollefson

Mallory Tollefson
Graduate Research Assistant (Hearing)

I am a Biomedical Engineering student on the BS/MS fast track program through the College of Engineering here at the University of Iowa. My interest is in helping predict and identify disease-causing variants implicated in hearing loss via development of molecular biophysics software. For the Molecular Otolaryngology Renal Research Laboratory Clinical Diagnostics I assess the effects of genetic variants through simulation and analysis of protein crystal structures.

William (Daniel)Walls
Application Developer (Renal)

I develop and maintain the Renal Complementopathy (ReCom) Database, a website that allows physicians to submit patients with complement-mediated renal diseases for consultation or possible enrollment in research studies. I enjoy using and contributing to free and open source software in my work.

Donghong Wang

Donghong (Maggie) Wang 
Research Assistant (CDS-Hearing/Renal)

I joined the MORL in December of 2013 and have over 17 years of molecular biology experience at the University of Iowa. My work in the Clinical Diagnostics Division focuses on the OtoScope panel to detect mutations related with hearing loss. Along with my colleagues, I prepare patient samples for next generation sequencing (NGS) and perform confirmation testing by Sanger sequencing.

Xue Xiao

Xue Xiao
Graduate Research Assistant

My research is focused on discovery of novel genetic cause of DDD and C3GN and focused on how to rescue the disease. I am now trying to explain how CFHRs genes rearrangement would cause disease in familial cases. I am also working on gene therapy through delivering complement regulator genes to correct the pathology of DDD and C3GN murine model.

Hidekane Yoshimura

Hidekane Yoshimura, MD, PhD
Post Doctoral Associate

My research in the MORL is focused on the functional analysis of identified novel genes responsible for hereditary hearing loss using massively parallel DNA sequencing. In addition, I am working on the development of viral-mediated RNA interference gene therapy for the treatment of autosomal dominant progressive hearing loss.

Yuzhou Zhang

Yuzhou Zhang, PhD
Senior Research Scientist (Functional Renal)

I am the team lead of the functional diagnostic group in the Molecular Otolaryngology and Renal Research Laboratories. The lab offers unique complement tests to help clinicians / patients to understand complement-mediated renal diseases. My team performs routinely many lab-developed tests and reports results within a short turnaround time.

 My area of research interest includes identifying novel biomarkers for two closely related diseases, Dense Deposit Disease (DDD) and C3 Glomerulonephritis (C3GN). And use new biomarkers to understand disease pathology and to followup disease course during therapeutic trials. Another area of research interest is to study acquired drivers of disease - autoantibodies to complement proteins - to define how they cause DDD, C3GN and atypical Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (aHUS), and to which complement proteins they develop. My third area of interest is, through national and international collaborations, to create and test new therapeutics for complement-mediated renal diseases using our extensive biorepository and also our murine models.

Undergraduate Staff

Blake Anderson 
Laboratory Assistant (Hearing Team)

I am an undergraduate student who helps with general lab maintenance and assists the hearing research team.

Paige Carlson 
Laboratory Assistant (Administrative Team)

I am an undergraduate student who assists the administrative team with various office duties.

John Henrich

John Henrich 
Laboratory Assistant (Functional Renal Team)

I am a student at The University of Iowa as well as a member of the functional team. I am responsible for aliquoting samples, maintaining order in the -80 freezers which are named after Frozen characters.

Virgil Jackson

Virgil Jackson 
Laboratory Assistant (Hearing/Renal Teams)

I am an undergraduate student who assists the genetic renal team with DNA extraction from whole blood, DNA quality and quantity determinations, PCR and Sanger Sequencing and assists the genetic hearing team with animal care and ABRs.

Alec James

Alec James
Laboratory Assistant (General)

I am an undergraduate student who helps with general lab maintenance.

Adam Keenan

Adam Keenan 
Laboratory Assistant (Renal Research Team)

I am a student at the University of Iowa and a member of the Renal Research team. I assist Yuzhou Zhang in his research endeavors by running novel assays he has designed and assist in determining normal reference ranges of biomarkers.

Gaby Pitcher

Gaby Pitcher 
Laboratory Assistant (Functional Renal Team)

I am a student at The University of Iowa as well as a member of the functional team. I am responsible for aliquoting samples, maintaining order in the -80 freezers which are named after Frozen characters, and am the commissioner of our fantasy football team.

Erika Renkes
Laboratory Assistant (General)

I am an undergraduate student who helps with general lab maintenance.

Lorenzo Tomasiello

Lorenzo Tomasiello
Laboratory Assistant (General)

I am an undergraduate student who helps with general lab maintenance.

Jenifer Valdez
Laboratory Assistant (General)

I am an undergraduate student who helps with general lab maintenance.