Postdoctoral Scholars

Maren Pein, Ph.D

Postdoctoral scholar

Maren received her Ph.D. in Biology from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and University of Heidelberg, Germany, where she studied the role of metastasis-associated fibroblasts in metastatic breast cancer. Her postdoctoral research is focused on the molecular interactions between lung-resident bacteria and the pulmonary immune microenvironment, and how these interactions contribute to breast cancer metastasis to the lungs.

Jacob Insua Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral scholar

Jacob received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He carried out his Ph.D. research in the Metastatic Niches lab, led by Dr. Thordur Oskarsson, at the Heidelberg Institute of Stem Cell Technology and Experimental Medicine (HI-STEM) and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ).  Jacob’s Ph.D. work was focused on the role of extracellular matrix components in breast cancer metastasis and chemoresistance. He joined our lab as a postdoctoral scholar to investigate molecular mechanisms of therapy resistance in breast cancer metastasis using single cell genomic approaches.

Hannah Louise Savage, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral scholar

Hannah received her BS in Biology from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois and her PhD in Cancer Biology from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. During her doctoral studies she elucidated how aerobic exercise remodels tumor microenvironments, with particular focus on the vascular and immune compartments. Under Dr. Lawson’s mentorship she aims to understand how metabolism dictates cellular function and interaction within the primary breast tumor microenvironment and throughout the metastatic cascade.

Graduate Students

Tatyana Lev

Ph.D. student

Tatyana’s project focuses on tumor heterogeneity at the genetic level, and its contribution to metastasis. Tatyana combines genomics and transcriptomics, both bulk and single cell, in hopes of teasing apart the role of somatic mutations from non-genetic or epigenetic changes that drive the subclonal tumor evolution and metastatic initiation. For this goal, she uses patient derived xenograft models of breast cancer with bioinformatics and computational methods.

Paige Halas

Ph.D. student

Paige Halas graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Willamette University in Salem, OR. At Willamette, Paige worked with Dr. Scott Meyer to generate a split-protein biosensor that could detect DNA damage caused by the chemotherapy drug, cisplatin. After getting her Bachelor’s degree, Paige continued her education at the University of California, Irvine where she got her Masters in Science in Biotechnology. While in her Master’s degree, Paige worked in the lab of Dr. Anthony James. Her research project was focused on finding hidden genomic features of malaria carrying mosquitoes as well as generating effector molecules that when expressed in a mosquito prevent it from carrying the malaria parasite. Currently a PhD student in the Lawson Lab, Paige‘s research focuses on determining the metabolic mediators that drive metastatic progression in breast cancer models.

Lincy Antony

Ph.D. student

Lincy was born and raised in India, received her BS in Industrial Biotechnology from Anna
University, Chennai. She earned her master’s degree in Medical Biotechnology from University
of Illinois, Chicago where she studied the therapeutic effects of natural compounds on prostate
cancer. She subsequently worked as a research associate for Editas Medicine in Boston, a
CRISPR based biotech. At Editas, her role was to investigate the metabolism and effector
functions of gene edited NK cells in solid tumor settings. Currently, her PhD research focusses
on the spatial characterization of immune tumor microenvironment of BRCA1 mutated breast
cancers and to delineate the role of immune system in the transformation from pre-malignant
state to malignant tumors.

Isam Adam

Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD)

Isam graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a BS in Biology in 2019. He then spent two years as a research technician in the Agudo Lab at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute working on projects to investigate immune evasive stem cells in breast cancer and engineering immune evasive pancreatic islets to treat patients with type 1 diabetes. Isam is now enrolled in the MD/PhD program at UCI and has joined the Lawson lab to investigate the role of regulatory T cells in breast cancer brain metastasis and in normal mammary gland homeostasis.

Timothy McMullen

Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD)

Tim graduated from the University of Virginia in 2018 with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics & Biology. As an undergraduate, Tim pursued research in medical physics and radiation oncology under Prof. Nilanga Liyanage and Prof. Krishni Wijesooriya. This work examined radiation-induced lymphocyte depletion in patients receiving Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy for lung cancer and involved the construction of a computational simulation of a particle detector. At UCI, Tim is a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD). His research in the Lawson Lab examines the anti-metastatic function of Natural Killer (NK) cells in the context of brain metastasis.

Research Staff

Jessica Gonzalez

Staff Research Associate I/ Lab Manager

Jessica Gonzalez received her Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Immunology and Microbiology from UC Merced in 2020. While at Merced, she was part of Dr. Mike Cleary’s lab where they studied how complex tissues develop from relatively small populations in stem cells. After graduating, she went on to work at the VA Medical Center in Loma Linda, and was part of Dr. Hongzhe Li’s lab. Her research project focused on the drug-induced ototoxicity within the drug Furosemide. As one of two lab managers of the Lawson Lab, Jessica maintains the mouse colony for both Lawson and Kessenbrock labs, and helps assist grad students/ Post Docs with their experiments.

Sharmila Mallya 

Staff Research Associate III/ Lab Manager

Sharmila has a master’s in Biology with extensive research experience in hematological malignancies. As a lab manager for both the Lawson and Kessenbrock Labs, her research projects focus on the organization and execution of the Human Breast Cell Atlas Project.


Ayisha Bushra

Undergraduate Researcher

Ayisha is an undergraduate student at UC Irvine pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. She is a work study student under Jessica Gonzalez, and a Bio 199 student researching the effect of type 2 innate lymphoid cells on the tumor microenvironment of breast cancer cells under Pascal Naef. Ayisha plans to earn her OD and become an optometrist.

Connie Chan

Undergraduate Researcher

Connie is an undergraduate student pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC Irvine. She is a work study and a Bio 199 student researching drivers of breast cancer metastasis alongside Ph.D. student, Paige Halas. In the future, Connie hopes to attend pharmacy school and become a clinical pharmacist.

Victoria Mai

Undergraduate Researcher

Victoria Mai is a current undergraduate student at UC Irvine, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences and a minor in Bioinformatics. She is a Bio 199 student, working with Ph.D. student, Lincy Antony, researching epithelial cells in BRCA1 mutated cancers. In the future, Victoria plans to attend graduate school, and hopes to work in research and development for biotech.

Vivian Tran

Undergraduate Researcher

Vivian is currently an undergraduate majoring in Biological Sciences at UC Irvine. She is a Bio 199 student working with MD/PhD student, Isam Adam, to study T-regulatory cells and their significance in mammary gland development and homeostasis. Vivian plans to pursue graduate studies to further research and contribute to the field of cancer treatment.

Cassandra Sweet

Undergraduate Researcher

Cassandra is a Biological Sciences major and is working under Jacob Insua-Rodríguez to study the metastatic niche of breast cancer in the brain. After graduation, Cassandra plans to go into life science consulting or the biotech industry for a few years before continuing onto grad school.


Aaron Longworth

Ph.D. student

Aaron Longworth is a graduate student researcher in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the UC Irvine School of Medicine.  Aaron received his B.S in Physiology and Neuroscience from UC San Diego and is presently a Ph. D. Student under Dr Lawson. His research aims to evaluate the clonality and function of resident T cells found in the human breast ductal and lobular regions through single cell sequencing and identify their role in cancer initiation and barrier immunity.

Julie Cao

Undergraduate Researcher

My name is Julie Cao. I am a Biological Sciences major and I am working with Tatyana on bioinformatics. I am hoping to become a software engineer, so a change of major is more than likely 🙂

Sevilla Hennessey

Undergraduate Researcher

Sevilla is a fourth-year Biological Sciences major at UC Irvine. She is planning on attending physician assistant school and becoming a PA. She is researching immune cell infiltration in metastatic niches with Postdoctoral scholar, Jacob Insua-Rodriguez.

Sharon Kwon

Undergraduate Researcher

Sharon is a current fourth year undergraduate researcher double majoring in Biological Sciences and Education at the University of California, Irvine. She is planning on attending dental school and also studying cancer by further diving into research in the future. She is working with Postdoctoral scholar, Jacob Insua Rodriguez.

Katrina Taylor Evans

Ph.D. student

Katrina Evans earned her Bachelors degree at California State University, Fullerton where she worked in Dr. Cuajungco’s lab studying transient receptor potential channels involved in lysosomal storage disease.  After graduating, she earned her high school teaching credential at University of California, Irvine, and taught high school biology in Orange County for four years. Currently, a PhD student in the Lawson Lab, her research is focused on breast cancer brain metastasis (BCBM). The brain poses a challenge for both metastastatic seeding and treatment because it is protected by the blood brain barrier.  Using experimental models of metastasis and the unique RNA expression signature of BCBM, she aims target specific pathways to prevent metastatic progression.  Katrina is also interested in interactions between the immune cells and breast cancer metastasis. As an immune privileged organ, the the brain presents a unique environment to study these interactions.

Ryan Davis

Ph.D. student

Ryan Davis received his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of California, Irvine, where here worked in Dr. Yongsheng Shi’s lab studying mechanisms of RNA processing. Currently a PhD student in the Lawson lab, his research focuses on understanding tumor cell heterogeneity from the perspective of single cell transcriptomics. Using patient derived xenograft (PDX) models of breast cancer, he hopes to define the unique RNA expression patterns found in the metastatic niche of the primary tumor and use this knowledge to identify novel pathways driving metastatic progression. His project combines classical molecular biology techniques with cutting edge computational analysis to develop an understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms of metastatic initiation and progression.

Kerrigan Blake

Ph.D. student

Kerrigan Blake received her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Kansas where she worked in Dr. Eric Deeds’ lab modeling tumor growth with ordinary differential equations. Currently, a PhD student in the Mathematical, Computational, and Systems Biology program in the Lawson lab, her research focuses on characterizing tumor heterogeneity and metastasis at the genetic level. By combining bulk and single cell DNA sequencing from patient derived xenograft models of breast cancer, she hopes to computationally reconstruct the mutational progression from initial tumor to metastasis and identify novel signatures of metastatic potential.

Anh Thien Phung

Research technician and Lab manager

Anh received his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine. As an undergraduate he joined Dr. Devon Lawson’s lab to investigate breast cancer metastasis. After graduating, Anh has continued his work as the lab manager. He is primarily interested in identifying gene expression patterns that signify metastasis initiation. Through the application of modern single cell techniques on human patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models, he hopes to understand the basis of metastasis initiation on the molecular and cellular level to ultimately improve methods of early detection and breast cancer treatment.

Regis Lee

Undergraduate researcher

Regis Lee is studying towards his Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Currently a undergraduate researcher in the Lawson lab, his research focuses on investigating what type of tumor cells cause the initiation of metastasis in the luminal subtype of breast cancer. Using immunofluorescence (IF) staining, he has been investigating protein expression in luminal-like breast cancer PDX models and comparing early metastatic lesions to primary tumors to investigate the type of tumor cells that metastases arises from. Regis’ was inspired to join the lab and do undergraduate research because of innovative science is and how it is constantly advancing. Once discoveries in a laboratory are made, they can be applied on a much larger scale and can help millions of people. Regis’ future career goal is to attend medical school and become a pediatrician.

Grace Hernandez

Undergraduate researcher

Grace Hernandez is an undergraduate Bio 199 student, working with Ryan Davis using emerging single-cell technologies to investigate the cellular and molecular basis of breast cancer metastasis initiation. She is a third year Biological Sciences major at UC Irvine and hopes to go on to earn a PhD or MD in the future.

Sharis Ghazeri

Undergraduate researcher

Sharis Ghazeri is studying towards her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences. She is working as an undergraduate researcher alongside Ph.D. student, Katrina Taylor Evans. Their research focuses on the role of microglia in breast cancer brain metastasis.

Madona Yacoub

Undergraduate researcher

Madona is an undergraduate researcher studying towards her Bachelor degree in Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. She is planning on obtaining a PhD in the future. She is also interested in studying cancer and stem cells. She is working with PhD student, Ryan Davis, in studying the mRNA expression in the early and late stages of metastasis.

Helen Song

High school student, UCI Cancer research institute youth fellows science program

Helen Song is a high school student at Northwood High School in Irvine. She is currently working under the mentorship of Katrina Taylor to explore the use of medication targeting specific anti-apoptotic factors in the prevention of metastasis stemming from breast cancer. Helen became interested in pursuing a career in the biomedical sciences through hospital volunteering and participation in Science Olympiad. She hopes to become a physician in the future.