Our Team

 

 


FOUNDER/DIRECTOR

Jose Oberholzer

Jose Oberholzer, MD, MHCM, FACS
C. & B Frese and G. Moss Professor of Surgery
Bioengineering and Endocrinology
Chief, Division of Transplantation
Director, Islet and Pancreas Transplant Program
University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Jose Oberholzer is an NIH funded Professor of Surgery, Bioengineering and Endocrinology, Director of the Islet and Pancreas Transplant Program and the Chief of the Division of Transplantation at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 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.


RESEARCH PROFESSORS

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.

 

Barbara Barbaro

Barbara Barbaro, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
Leader of Certified Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Barbara Barbaro is a Research Assistant Professor of Surgery and Leader of Certified Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) working on moving the Human Islet Isolation and Transplantation program from the preclinical phase, to phase I/II clinical to a concluded phase III. Currently working with FDA to apply for licensure of the biological product of human islet isolation. This is a remarkable achievement considering that few academic institutions hold a licensure for biological product in the USA.

She actively worked in the developmental phase of the preclinical and clinical study of an innovative methodology used to evaluate and assess the potency of human islets. This methodology is predictive of clinical outcome and was requested from FDA. During her years at UIC, she has been extensively occupied in research design, account management, grants and paper writing and poster design, tutoring and training students as well as islet isolation personnel. She has a total of twenty-two publications.

 

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.

 

James McGarrigleJames McGarrigle, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery / Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

James McGarrigle, Ph.D. graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway, with a Ph.D. in Microbiology under the supervision of Dr. Conor P. O’Byrne, of the Bacterial Stress Response Group. James’s previous research centered on the effects of homocysteine on Escherichia coli and the possible implications for human pathology.

James has a supervisory role in the human islet isolation program at UIC. He has performed over 150 human islet isolations to date. His research at UIC focuses on the development of insulin producing cell sources and is also heavily involved in numerous collaborations investigating various islet cell sources transplanted in both rodent and large animal models.

 

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.

 

Ling-Jia WangLing-Jia Wang, MD, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor, Islet Transplant Program
Director, Cell Isolation Laboratory
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Ling-Jia Wang, MD, PhD, graduated from Guangzhou Medical College, Sun Yat-Sen University Medical Sciences in China, and the University of Adelaide in Australia. Ling-Jia is currently the Director of the Cell Isolation Laboratory in the Islet Transplant Program. She has more than 10 years of experience working in the field of human islet isolations and has focused on the technical improvement and quality control in the islet isolation procedures.

Ling-Jia has recently finished one multicenter study, which created a North American Islet Donor Score System for donor pancreas selection for successful islet isolations for transplantation. She also has started another multicenter study to investigate the technical parameters controlling successful islet isolation.

 

Yong WangYong Wang, MD, MS
Assistant Professor
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

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.


RESEARCH SPECIALISTS

 David EddingtonDavid Eddington, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Bioengineering
Department of Bioengineering
University of Illinois at Chicago

David T. Eddington received a B.S. degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a Ph.D. degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and did a postdoc in the Health Sciences and Technology program at MIT. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research lab focuses on developing novel solutions to current unmet experimental and clinical needs through applying simple microfabricated devices. These devices leverage beneficial phenomena (e.g. process integration, fast diffusion, or high surface to volume ratio) over multiple scales (e.g. nano, micro, and meso) to effectively leverage the power of scale without becoming overly complex.

The projects of the Eddington lab span clinical diagnostics, tools for experimental biology, and therapeutic devices. The common theme of these projects is developing simple microfabricated tools which yield unique advantages over current methods. By simplifying device design it is far easier to integrate into other research labs, which is the true test of innovativeness. Specifically, we have projects investigating chemotropic signaling in yeast, developmental biology and stem cell differentiation, oxygen and wound healing, oxygen gradients in tissue engineering constructs, dynamic oxygen profiles in standard cell cultures, oxygen sensitive substrates, microfluidic diagnostics for circulating tumor cells, microfluidic characterization of islets prior to transplantation, origins of multicellularty, and new tools for in vitro brain slice electrophysiology. Past projects include utilizing the stinging cells of jellyfish in a drug delivery device and utilizing microfluidics to sort out environmental microbes based on size. While the end applications are indeed highly variable, all these projects apply similar techniques and design philosophies making my lab a highly multidisciplinary and exciting atmosphere.

 

GIovanna LaMonicaGiovanna La Monica, Ph.D.
Research Specialist
Department of Surgery / Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Giovanna La Monica is a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular and Cell Biology, graduated from the University of Federico II in Naples, Italy.  She has joined the CPD team in 2014. She is a Research Specialist for the Human Islet Isolation and Transplantation program. She is actively involved in the process application to FDA for the Biologic License Application (BLA) of human Islet transplantation in Type 1 diabetic patients.

 

Yi Li
Research Specialist
Department of Surgery / Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Yi Li earned her BS and MS both in biology from Zhejiang University in China. She graduated with a second MS in biostatistics from UIC School of Public Health in 2010, and has continued on in pursuit of her doctorate degree in the Division of Epidemiology at UIC SPH as a Fogarty AIDS International Training and Research Program fellow. Her dissertation compares the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) among cross-border, HIV-positive female migrants to positive non-migrants in Ruili, China. Her research findings have been presented at international conferences and earned her multiple honors in the field. She plans to defend and graduate in 2016.

She joined the clinical team on the Islet Transplantation Biological License Application (BLA) project at UIC as a biostatistician in December 2014, and has since been preparing Statistical Analysis Plans and conducting data analytics for the BLA. Her primary role is to support the statistical methodology needs stemmed from the procedure of developing islet transplantation into a functional cure.

 

Enza MarcheseEnza Marchese
Senior Research Specialist
Department of Surgery / Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Enza is a Senior Research Specialist who has been contributing to UIC and CDP research team since 2007. Enza established and oversees the histology core for the UIC Islet Research Laboratories providing an archive of tissue samples related to all projects past and present and the histological assessment thereof in support of islet transplantation research.

Enza also collaborates in many aspects of ongoing research projects including encapsulated islet transplantation with particular focus on the characterization of microcapsule biocompatibility and the assessment of islet survival in encapsulated islet transplantation. Enza also mentors undergraduate students of the UIC honors program in scientific research and offers practical guidance to incoming PhD students on their individual projects.

 

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”.

 

Benjamin McCrackenBenjamin McCracken
Research Specialist, Islet Transplant Program
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Benjamin is a Research Specialist for the Islet Transplant Program. He is involved in the quality assurance of islets sent to fellow researchers in the Integrated Islet Distribution Program (IIDP). He is also a member of the histology core and the islet isolation team. Benjamin is a graduate of the University of Illinois and has been a member of the Chicago Diabetes Project since 2011.

 

Mustafa OmamiMustafa Omami, MD, MS, MRCS
Visiting Research Specialist
Department of Surgery / Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Omami received his medical degree from the AL Arab Medical University, Benghazi, Libya and completed his residency in General Surgery at AL-Jalla Hospital Benghazi, Libya. Dr. Omami received a master of science in surgery at UIC.

Mustafa is a lead member of the human islet isolation program at UIC and has participated in over 50 human islet cell isolations to date. Mustafa is involved in many fields of diabetic research, and collaborates in many ongoing research projects including encapsulated islet transplantation studies, the investigation and characterization of various islet cell sources transplanted in both rodent and large animal models. Mustafa also mentors undergraduate students from the UIC honors program in scientific research.

 

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.

 


CLINICAL STAFF


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.

 

Wesley SchrockWesley Schrock
Clinical Research Associate
Study Coordinator, Islet Transplant Program
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Wesley originally worked as a research volunteer while attending university and later joined the team full-time upon graduation from the University of Illinois at Chicago in the spring of 2013. Wesley’s undergraduate education was in Psychology with a focus in Biology and Communications. He is currently the Study Coordinator of the Islet Transplant program and oversees all clinical aspects of the trial.


GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANTS

Mohammad NourmohammadzadehMohammad Nourmohammadzadeh
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Mohammad is a Ph.D. candidate in Bioengineering and graduate research assistant in Dr. Oberholzer’s lab within the Department of Surgery at UIC. Mohammad is working on an interdisciplinary project that is focused on the design, development and verification of microfluidic platforms for fundamental and applied studies of islets and diabetes. I am also interested in controlling oxygen gradients via microfluidic devices for cells and tissues in vitro and application of 3D printing in cell and tissue engineering. Mohammad is involved in human cadaveric islet isolations, some of which are transplanted into diabetic patients.

 

Yuan Xing Yuan Xing
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Yuan received his M.S. degree in biology and is now a Ph.D. candidate 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.

 

Joshua Mendoza-EliasJoshua Mendoza-Elias
Graduate Research Assistant
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

After completing a B.S. in biology at Duke University, Joshua returned to Illinois and joined the Chicago Diabetes Project in 2009. Joshua is currently pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. at UIC in collaboration with the Division of Transplantation and the Department of Bioengineering. Joshua’s research focuses on the development of microfluidic-based technologies for pancreatic islet research, beta cells and stem cell differentiation.

Joshua hopes that his work will give new insights that will help to improve transplant outcomes in the clinic. Joshua is supported by the American Diabetes Association’s Clinical Scientist Award and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons’ Presidential Student Mentor Award.


ISLET LABORATORY ASSISTANTS

Kevin HendricksKevin Hendricks
Medical Laboratory Assistant
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Kevin is an EH-Medical Laboratory Assistant for the Islet Transplant Program within the Department of Surgery at UIC. Kevin is currently an RN-BSN student at Robert Morris College. Kevin assists the islet isolation research team at UIC in a variety of areas, from performing experiments to maintaining solutions and the upkeep of our laboratories.


EVENTS & PHILANTHROPY

Michelle Le
Development Officer
Chicago Diabetes Project, Cellmates On The Run
Department of Surgery/Division of Transplantation
University of Illinois at Chicago

Michelle joined the Chicago Diabetes Project team in July of 2015. Prior to joining the CDP, Michelle held the position of Development Manager and managed non-profit fundraisers. She also works with marketing, board and volunteer development and event planning.

Michelle is a graduate of the Business of College Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago and holds a Bachelor of Science in Finance. She hopes to use her background in non-profit to help grow the Chicago Diabetes Project and allow the organization to further its mission.

 

news from the CDP

Charity Dinner benefitting Chicago Diabetes Project

by Chicago Diabetes Project

Racing to find a cure

by Chicago Diabetes Project

Managing diabetes as a professor: Judith’s story

by Chicago Diabetes Project

Students – Apply now for UIC Summer Diabetes Research Program

by Chicago Diabetes Project