Our Team


Jose Oberholzer

Jose Oberholzer, MD, MHCM, FACS
Professor, Surgery and Biomedical Engineering
Director, Charles O. Strickler Transplant Center
Chief, Division of Transplantation
University of Virginia Health System

Adjunct Professor of Surgery
University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Jose Oberholzer is an NIH funded Professor of Surgery Biomedical Engineering and the Chief of the Division of Transplantation at the University of Virginia Health System. He has extensive experience in clinical and experimental islet transplantation, abdominal organ transplantation, as well as advanced hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery. Furthermore, Dr. Oberholzer is the founding coordinator of the Chicago Diabetes Project.

To date, he has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles specifically in the area of diabetes research. Dr. Oberholzer has been an invited speaker to over 100 national and international conferences and a looked after collaborator in the field of diabetes research.

Dr. Oberholzer trained at the University of Geneva, Switzerland as well as at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. He functioned as the Head of the Islet Transplant Program at the University of Geneva and the GRAGIL Islet Consortium from 1998 to 2002, completing a significant number of islet transplants. Dr. Oberholzer has been heading the UIC Islet and Pancreas Transplant Program since 2003.


Solomon AfelikSolomon Afelik, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Solomon Afelik, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at the Division of Transplantation of the Department of Surgery. He received a B.Sc. degree in Biochemistry from the University of Ghana, Legon and PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Goettingen in Germany. He did his postdoctoral fellowship at the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes at the University of  Colorado and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Dr. Afelik focused his research efforts during his doctoral and post-doctoral training on the developmental biology of the pancreas and has made major discoveries on the formation, growth and differentiation of pancreatic progenitor cells.

Dr. Afelik is a recipient of the prestigious American Diabetes Association Junior Faculty award. His current research involves applying his knowledge of pancreas development to generate a reliable source of glucose responsive insulin producing cells (pancreatic beta-cells) to be used in cell replacement therapy for diabetes patients. This involves applying developmental signaling factors to direct cell fate decisions towards pancreatic beta-cell fate, as well to scale up the number of beta-cells to levels that are sufficient to reverse diabetes.

Kirstie K. Danielson

Kirstie K. Danielson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
Departmental Affiliate, Division of Epidemiology & Biostatistics
University of Illinois at Chicago

Kirstie K. Danielson, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Divisions of Transplant Surgery and Epidemiology & Biostatistics. She is a recent NIH-funded BIRCWH (Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health) Scholar, a prestigious national award for junior faculty studying women’s health and sex differences.  She received her Ph.D. in Population Health with a focus in Epidemiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and subsequently completed postdoctoral training in Endocrinology at the University of Chicago and Epidemiology & Biostatistics at UIC.

Dr. Danielson’s research program focuses on the interrelationships between type 1 diabetes, bone/osteoporosis, and sex hormones, and includes investigating sex differences.  Her research has found that young women with type 1 diabetes have significantly weaker bones and alterations in their reproductive health compared to their peers without diabetes. And in light of recent evidence in mice demonstrating the reciprocal associations where a bone hormone (osteocalcin) and the sex hormone estrogen positively regulate the insulin-producing islet cells (which are damaged by type 1 diabetes), Dr. Danielson is studying whether these hormones can enhance islet cell transplant success (which replaces the damaged islets) as a functional cure for type 1 diabetes in humans.

In addition, her research has elucidated sex differences between healthy male and female islet cells, where female islets demonstrate advantages in survival and function, and may help explain why type 1 diabetes is one of the few autoimmune diseases not more common in women.  Dr. Danielson has also discovered that the success of islet cell transplantation differs by whether the islets come from male or female donors, where female islets cured type 1 diabetes at a higher rate than male islets.  Her team is also beginning to investigate why young women with type 1 diabetes die from heart disease at twice the rate compared to men with diabetes, and is hypothesizing that it may be related to their high rate of osteoporosis – calcium is moving from their bones to their heart. This will be studied in individuals living with type 1 diabetes and after receiving islet transplant to cure their diabetes, as Dr. Danielson previously demonstrated that islet transplant reverses heart disease.

Mario_SMario Spaggiari, MD
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Mario Spaggiari, MD, is a Research Assistant Professor in Organ Transplantation and Islet Transplant Fellow at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is also a Clinical Instructor for Transplant Surgery in the department of Surgery.

Dr. Spaggiari is mainly involved in research into minimally invasive transplantation technique, liver transplantation and hepatocellular carcinoma, liver surgery for cancer, pancreas and islet transplantation, with more than 40 papers published in international peer reviewed journals.

Dr. Spaggiari received his medical degree from the Universita’ degli Studi di Modena in Modena, Italy. He completed a residency in the General Surgery Residency Program at Universita’ di Modena e Reggio Emilia in Modena, Italy. Dr. Spaggiari then received a fellowship from the American Society of Transplant Surgeon in abdominal transplant surgery and hepatobiliary surgery, which he completed at Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland, OH.

Mario’s specialty interests include Liver Transplantation, Kidney Transplantation, Islet and Pancreas Transplantation, Hepatobiliary surgery, Metastatic liver cancers, Neuroendocrine tumors, Hepatocellular carcinoma, Benign liver tumors, Liver cysts, Liver transplantation, Living donor liver surgery, Pediatric liver transplant, Organ recovery and preservation, Portal hypertension.

Yong WangYong Wang, MD, MS
Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery
University of Virginia Health System

Dr. Wang is an expert in the field of beta-cell physiology and islet transplantation with nearly 20 years of research experience. With his medical training background, Dr. Wang’s research interest is to investigate and solve clinically relevant problems with novel emerging technologies. Dr. Wang has developed a set of novel microfluidic biochips (Lab-on-Chip) to study islet physiology that are applied in human islet transplantation and beta cell biology.

His research represents one of only a handful of laboratories that have applied microfluidic technology in diabetes research and treatment with seven peer-reviewed research publications, three technical reports, three reviews, and one book chapter in this area since 2009. He is also developing additional islet devices such as microfluidic array for high-content and high-resolution imaging, pumpless microfluidic perifusion, integrated optical imaging with smartphone, and beta-cell and alpha-cell separation. His research has been supported by NIH, JDRF, Pfizer, Merck and Gift of Hope. Dr. Wang also has extensive experience in islet isolation and transplantation including human, non-human primate, and rodent animal models.

Rebecca Monson, MD, MPH
Visiting Research Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Rebecca is a Visiting Research Assistant Professor within the Department of Surgery at UIC. Rebecca’s responsibilities in the Islet Transplant Program include data collection, management and analysis, scientific writing and editing, grant preparation and literature reviews among others. With Rebecca’s clinical background, her interests tend towards clinical aspects of research.

Rebecca’s background is in internal medicine, and more recently epidemiology, with her master’s project being recently published in Transplantation: “Disparities in Completion Rates of the Medical Pre-Renal Transplant Evaluation by Race/Ethnicity and Gender”.

Tolou Shokuhfar, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Bioengineering
Director, In-situ Nanomedicine Laboratory
Department of Bioengineering
University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr.Tolou Shokuhfar’s research focuses on (1) in-situ liquid electron microscopy of biomolecules and biomaterials and their biochemical activities in wet/hydrated environment; (2) smart and multifunctional nanobiomaterials that have applications in Diabetes and Islet transplantation research. She has received the prestigious 2014 NSF CAREER AWARD, to Investigate Biomineralization in Healthy and Dysfunctional Ferritin proteins.

The Faculty Early Career Development Program offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.

Dr. Shokuhfar has received the 2015 TMS Young Leader Award and the 2014 Young Scientist Award at the DSL International Conference for her work on “Multifunctional Nanostructures for Medical Implants”. She has graduated 1 Ph.D student, currently advising 1 research scholar, 5 Ph.D students, and 3 undergraduate students. She is also actively involved in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and as part of the teaching, training and outreach activities, she will be giving special attention in recruiting and mentoring female and underrepresented students to work in her research lab. As a result of her activities to promote diversity in her lab and attract female students to pursue careers in STEM fields she has received the national recognition of INSIGHT Diversity 2015 Award for Inspiring Women in STEM .

Along with her colleagues at UIC BIOE, College of Dentistry, and Rush University Medical Center, she has co-founded the Institute for Biomaterials, Tribocorrosion, and Nanomedicine (IBIN) that enable collaboration between MTU, UIC, Rush, and UNESP in Brazil.She has 2 patent applications and 46 archival publications including 2 book chapters. She has been quite active in the professional community. She has been ad hoc reviewer for more than 10 journals, presented 21 national and international invited talks, and 43 conference presentations. She is the Organizer of Advanced Materials in Dental and Orthopedic Applications Symposium at the TMS conference, and Symposium Organizer for Biomedical Implants and Devices at DSL 2015 International Conference. She currently holds 3 officer positions as Program Chair for Orthopedic Biomaterials ,and Treasurer for Nanomaterials at the Society for Biomaterials (SFB) , and Treasurer at the TMS Biomaterials Committee. She is also an active member of Orthopedic Research Society (ORS) and member at the Biomedical Engineering Society.


Leelamma George, RN, MSN

Clinical Trial Coordinator
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Leelamma  earned her BS in Nursing and her MSN from the College of Nursing, Madras University, India.  Her Master’s degree is in pediatric Nursing.  Lee has worked as a staff nurse in a variety of adult and pediatric clinical areas and as a lecturer.  Before joining the Islet Transplant Research team she served as the Administrative Nurse for the Clinical Research Center at the UIC Medical Center at Chicago.

a-molinoAndrea Molino

Clinical Research Coordinator, Islet Transplant Program
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Andrea originally worked as a summer researcher with the Chicago Diabetes Project for two years before joining the team full-time upon her graduation from Emory University in May of 2016. Andrea’s undergraduate degrees were in Biology, B.S. and Human Health, B.A. She is currently the Clinical Research Coordinator of the Islet Transplant program and oversees all clinical and regulatory aspects of the trial.


Yuan Xing Yuan Xing, Ph.D.
Department of Surgery
University of Virginia Health System

Yuan received his M.S. degree in biology and Ph.D. in bioengineering. Yuan joined the team in 2013. Under Dr. Yong Wang’s guidance, Yuan mostly focuses on applying microfluidics to solve problems in diabetes research.


Jill Dine
Fundraising & Special Events Coordinator

Jill Dine joined the Chicago Diabetes Project in September, 2017.  Jill first met with  Dr. Oberholzer and his team shortly after her son was diagnosed with Type One diabetes in 2011. Jill and her husband wanted to seek out the possibility of a cure and that led them to the CDP. She will be helping with event planning, the Chicago and New York marathons and social media campaigns. Jill has been a stay at home mom raising her two young sons for the last 8 years.

She hopes to use her knowledge of Type One and her relationships in the diabetes community to help grow the Chicago Diabetes Project. Jill holds a Bachelor’s degree from Marquette University as well as a Master’s degree from Dominican University.

news from the CDP

Celebrating the life of Dawayne Lamont Cunningham

by Chicago Diabetes Project

101 Mile Challenge

by Chicago Diabetes Project

Current status of auto- and allo-islet transplantation | Jose Oberholzer, MD

by Chicago Diabetes Project

CDP Scientific Update at the University of Virginia

by Chicago Diabetes Project