THE TEAM

Rajesh C. Rao, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences; and Pathology

Principal Investigator

rajeshr@umich.edu

Rajesh is a physician-scientist and vitreoretinal surgeon. He earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his M.D. from Yale School of Medicine. He completed an internship at McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University and ophthalmology residency at Harvard Medical School. Rajesh obtained additional 2-year training in vitreoretinal surgery, uveitis, and ocular oncology at Washington University School of Medicine and The Retina Institute, St. Louis. Endlessly curious, he loves to bridge seemingly disparate fields together, from the eye and epigenetics to histones and blindness. Outside work, you can find Rajesh piecing together instant pot recipes and enjoying the outdoors with his young family.

Qiang Li, M.D., Ph.D.

Research Fellow

Email: lqiang@umich.edu

Qiang received his bachelor degree for clinical medicine from Qingdao University School of Medicine and completed Ph.D. training (immunology) under Dr. Weixin Cao in Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, both in China. As a cancer surgeon-scientist, Qiang is diligent, confident, and a leader who people go to figure out how to get things done. He fits perfectly in the culture of the Rao Lab: he is a infinitely curious, a voracious reader, quickly able to get down to the nuts and bolts of a new technique or idea, and quietly but rapidly adapt new technology to his project. His research interests focus on gene regulation and cell fate decisions in pluripotent stem cells.

Zhenhua Zou, Ph.D.

Research Fellow

zhenhuaz@umich.edu

Zhenhua earned her bachelor degree in biology at Shandong University, China. She completed her Ph.D. training in Cell Biology with Dr. Shilai Bao at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where she studied protein arginine methyltrasferases in protein traffic and leukemia. With years of experience in the epigenetics field, Zhenhua is interested in the underlying biology governing normal organismal development, and uncovering therapeutic insights for malignant and degenerative diseases. An ambitious scientist with great hands, you will find Zhenhua at the bench perfecting a CRISPR/Cas9-edited cell line, or devouring the latest RNA splicing paper. Zhenhua is an industrious, key team member whose work focuses on chromatin modifiers as biomarkers and therapeutic targets in eye cancers such as retinoblastoma. Outside the lab, her interests include movies, Chinese painting, and playing with her son.

Harkamal (Hark) Jhajj, B.S.

Graduate Student

Email: hjhajj@umich.edu

Hark Jhajj earned his bachelor degree in chemistry from University of Michigan-Dearborn. Prior to starting graduate studies, Hark worked at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School as a research technician where he developed skills in the field of in vivo molecular imaging. He is a first-year doctoral student in the biomedical engineering program at University of Michigan. He is co-advised by Dr. Peter Tessier and Dr. Rajesh Rao, and is pursuing a project focused on antibody discovery and their possible effects on enhancing lineage-specific directed differentiation from pluripotent stem cells.

Fengbiao Mao, Ph.D.

Research Fellow

Email: fmao@umich.edu

Fengbiao received his bachelor degree for Science & Technology from The Northeast Forestry University and completed Ph.D. training (genetics & bioinformatics) under Dr. Zhongsheng Sun in Beijing Institutes of Life Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, both in China. His research is focused on developing databases by large-scale data integration & deep learning, & development of bioinformatics tools to analyze the epigenetic, genetic & regulatory data of complex diseases including human cancers and neuropsychiatric disorders. He has successfully developed over 5 useful bioinformatics tools such as RBP-Var (which links variants in RNA-binding proteins to functional changes), EpiDeNovo (which connects de novo mutations to diseases & development processes), MBRidge & Bycom. Through an important collaboration with the Dou Lab, we are pleased to have Fengbiao work with us as a core member of the Rao Lab. In this era of "Big Data," Fengbiao identifies genetic targets, motifs, open/closed chromatin, and other patterns using both our stem cell-based platform, and our human eye cancer tissues.

Sean Hou

Undergraduate Researcher

Email: seanhou@umich.edu

Sean is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan double majoring in Biomolecular Science and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. He is interested in epigenetics and oncology, and is planning to attend medical school after his undergraduate studies. Sean works on reprogramming of easy-to-isolate skin cells toward retinal fates. Don't let his young age and calm demeanor fool you: he is a molecular biology whiz who is destined for great things as a physician-scientist.

Layeth Sweidan

Undergraduate Researcher

Email: layethsw@umich.edu

Layeth is a undergraduate at the University of Michigan studying Biopsychology Cognition and Neuroscience. He is interested in stem cell biology, genomics and epigenetics. Layeth recently joined the lab. He plans to attend medical school after graduation. Layeth is dutifully learning the art of clonal cell culture in 96-well plates to identify phenotypes in CRISPR-Cas9 edited retinal cells. When not studying for exams or working in the lab, Layeth can usually be found relaxing and being around his friends. We are excited to watch his lab-skills grow and welcome him to The Team!

Maria Fernanda Abalem, M.D., M.Sc.,

Retina Specialist , University of São Paulo, Brazil

Email: mfabalem@usp.br

Fernanda is an International Visiting Scholar and Foundation Fighting Blindness-funded Research Fellow at the University of Michigan. She comes to Ann Arbor as a faculty member from the University of São Paulo, Brazil. In addition to her many responsibilities at Retinal Degeneration Center at Kellogg, she spearheads many of the Rao Lab's interests in clincal retina research by identifying interesting patient phenotypes in Ann Arbor and São Paulo, Brazil. She is one of the few retina surgeons who is well versed in hereditary retinal degenerations, which will serve her well in this era of gene and stem cell-based therapies for these genetic retinal diseases. She is an uber-productive, kind, and highly intelligent retina surgeon and scientist readily who takes on all the interesting hereditary retina cases that the 16 million-strong, city of São Paulo sends her way!

Yu Cheng (Peter) Zhao, M.D.

Ophthalmology Resident

Email: zhaope@umich.edu

Peter completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, and earned his M.D. from Yale School of Medicine. While at Yale, Peter was awarded a prestigious fellowship in the HHMI Medical Research Fellows Program. He worked with Yale's Dr. Lawrence Rizzolo to evaluate a biodegradable polymer scaffold as a 3D vehicle for the directed differentiation of human embryonic stem cells into neural retina. As an ophthalmology resident at Kellogg Eye Center, he has extended these interests and works in the Rao Lab to better understanding patient attitudes regarding stem cell-based therapies for retinal diseases like age-related macular degeneration. As part of the Rao Lab's research component in the clinical retina field, Peter is currently evaluating the outcomes related to choroidal bleeding during vitreoretinal surgery, and has investigated how the stem cell disease polycythemia vera is linked to changes in the retinal circulation. Consistent with his research interests, Peter's plans after residency include dual subspecialty training in hereditary retinal degenerations and vitreoretinal surgery.

Research Opportunities

We’re always looking for motivated, curious, and creative individuals from a variety of backgrounds to join the lab. The Rao Lab is a member of the Molecular & Cellular Pathology section of the The Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) Ph.D. graduate training program at the University of Michigan, and is looking to recruit motivated and energetic graduate and medical scientist training program (MSTP) students. Graduate and MD/PhD students, and ophthalmology residents and fellows looking to join us should email to set up a time to chat. Post-doctoral candidates should include 3 letters of reference and a brief, 1 page statement summarizing their research interests and goals. If you're interested in joining our team, please send your CV to Rajesh. Contact us.