Department News, Spring 2019

Message from the Chair
Department Spotlights
Department Announcements
Alumni Updates/Class Notes
Donor Recognition
Support the Department
Stay Connected

Message From the Chair


John Lill





I want to extend a warm welcome to our alumni, students, faculty and friends as we share with you our newly formatted GW Biology Department Newsletter!  In this issue, you will find updates from departmental alumni alongside exciting stories of new discoveries, publications and funding successes  from the dedicated team of investigators comprising the Biology Department in 2019.

Biology remains the most popular undergraduate science major at GW and we are offering an increasingly diverse set of undergraduate courses that provides our students with both the conceptual understanding and practical skills required to succeed in a variety of careers in the life sciences. In this past year, the department broke a number of significant records, including the number of scientific papers published, the number of grant applications submitted, the amount of grant money spent on research, the number of postdoctoral researchers employed and the number of undergraduate students taught. Needless to say, we have been busy! Please read on to get a glimpse into some of the exciting happenings in the department.


Dr. John Lill
Chair, Department of Biological Sciences

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Department Spotlights

Postdoctoral Fellow Sneh Harsh and Ph.D. Candidate Yaprak Ozakman Recognized in the Journal of Immunology for Research on the Zika Virus

Dr. Sneh Harsh (left) with Dr. Eleftherianos (right)
Dr. Sneh Harsh (left) with Dr. Eleftherianos (right)

George Washington University researchers are laying the groundwork for biologists to one day develop a way to stop the Zika virus in its tracks. There is currently no vaccine or medicine for Zika, which is spread primarily through mosquito bites and can cause birth defects.

A team of university researchers recently published a paper on the interactions between Drosophila, a genus of flies more commonly known as fruit flies, and Zika virus in the Journal of Immunology. It is one of the first studies that simulates the innate immune system of the Drosophila model organism to Zika virus infection.

The study was led by Dr. Sneh Harsh, a former GW postdoctoral fellow. Co-authors include Dr. Ioannis Eleftherianos, associate professor of molecular biology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and Yaprak Ozakman, a PhD candidate, working closely with  collaborators from the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. This research was funded through a nearly $350,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Eleftherianos was profiled in the CCAS Spotlight newsmagazine and spoke to GW Today about the new paper and why this is an important step in developing treatment for Zika.

Q: Your research focuses on Zika virus and its interaction with the immune system. What was the most important finding in your recent paper?
A: The most important finding in our paper was that we were able to identify the molecular immune events that take place in a host when responding to Zika virus infection. Also, we were able to identify and characterize the functional changes that accompany the virus (e.g., changes in gut homeostasis, lipid metabolism, locomotion) in flies following infection with Zika virus.

Q: Your lab has been looking at biological pathways activated by the Zika virus. What do these pathways tell us?

A: These innate immunity pathways have evolved in animals to recognize and respond to specific viral infections. One of those pathways is the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway that is triggered in response to RNA viruses (viruses that store genetic information in the form of RNA). Here we have shown for the first time that RNAi is strongly activated by Zika virus infection in Drosophila and mutating specific components of this pathway renders flies sensitive to Zika virus.

Q: Fruit flies and mosquitos are closely related. Why is that important to your research?

A: Our results illustrate the efficacy of Drosophila as a model for understanding host–Zika virus interactions. Our findings are important because identifying the genetic basis of the interplay between Drosophila and Zika virus will potentially contribute toward developing efficient strategies for blocking the transmission of Zika virus and possibly other similar viruses by mosquito vectors.

Q: We don’t hear as much about the Zika virus in the news today compared to two years ago. Why is it important that scientists continue to do this work?

A: Zika virus outbreaks have occurred recently in many areas of Southeast Asia and local spreads are reported frequently in many parts of Brazil and other countries of South America. Therefore, it is critical to continue to investigate the molecular mechanisms of Zika virus pathogenicity and their interaction with host innate immune functions. Information gained from this research will advance greatly our understanding of the genetic and physiological processes that determine the outcome of this disease.

Q: What is the next step for your lab?

A: Our next step is to identify other host innate immune pathways and their specific key players that are directed against Zika virus infection. Also, we will use the genetic toolbox available in Drosophila to determine the exact molecular components that contribute to Zika virus pathogenesis.

PhD Student Justus Jobe Recipient of 2018-2019 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation

Justus Jobe working in the field
PhD student Justus Jobe in the field

Justus Jobe, a PhD student who just started at GW this fall, is a recipient of  a 2018-2019 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Graduate Research Fellowships are prestigious national awards offered by the NSF to outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

When asked about his current work in the Gedan Lab for an article in the CCAS Spotlight newsmagazine, Justus said: “One of the focuses of the Gedan Lab is marsh migration, however I was also interested in how ungulates can shape plant communities. This led to my main research interest—better understanding the role that ungulates play in either facilitating or inhibiting marsh migration and how the landscape in which marsh migration is occurring can impact this role. Most of my work in the lab revolves around fieldwork; if I could spend every day doing fieldwork I probably would! When anyone in the lab is doing fieldwork I am usually the first person signing up to help, no matter what the task is at hand.”

Assistant Professor of Biology Leon Grayfer Awarded CAREER Grant for Amphibian Study

Assistant Professor of Biology Leon Grayfer
Leon Grayfer, Assistant Professor of Biology

Dr. Leon Grayfer, an assistant professor in GW’s Department of Biological Sciences, recently received a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his work on amphibian immune responses to a virus that is killing amphibians around the world.

The CAREER award supports promising early career scientists. Grayfer will receive more than $770,000 from NSF over the next five years to continue his work and incorporate a new lab component into his virology class for undergraduate and graduate students.

Grayfer and his research group are studying the ramifications of the differences between the tadpole and the adult frog immune cell development on the ability of these animals to overcome infections by a viral contributor to amphibian decline, the Frog Virus 3 (FV3) ranavirus. Researchers are focusing on the cells of the innate immune system, which is the first line of defense in fighting infectious agents. They have documented several differences between the tadpole and adult frog immune responses to the FV3 pathogen, possibly accounting for the differences in the susceptibility of these two developmental stages. Using a number of molecular approaches, Grayfer’s lab is currently exploring ways to skew the tadpole and adult frog immune responses toward immunological resistance against this deadly viral pathogen.

Grayfer and his research were the subject of an article in GW Today

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Department Announcements

Faculty Kudos

Professor Diana Lipscomb, a long-time member of the department faculty, is retiring this spring. During her time at GW, she served as department chair, associate dean for faculty and research, and interim dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. As a world-class researcher investigating the biology and evolution of Protists, Lipscomb was a leader and founder of the Weintraub Program in Systematics and Evolution which has trained scores of graduate students. She will be sorely missed.

Associate Professor Amy Zanne was recognized as a world-class researcher. Zanne was selected for her exceptional research performance, demonstrated by production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year in Web of Science over the last decade.

We would like to welcome Dr. Jimmy Saw, our newest assistant professor, to the department. Saw will be teaching a course on microbiology to undergraduate students. Saw, who will be joining the faculty in Bell Hall, is launching a new laboratory studying microbial divergence in extreme environments.

Current Students

This spring semester, 1,552 undergraduates are enrolled in biology courses, an all-time high for the department.

Department Achievements

 A recently published article by alumnus Karly Cohen, BS ’17, MS ’18, describing a novel feeding mechanism utilized by invasive silver carp, was selected for inclusion in the Journal of Experimental Biology shortlist of the most outstanding papers of the year.

Department Events

Our annual Research Days, where undergraduate and graduate biology students will be presenting their findings, is coming up soon! Research Days 2019 will be held on Tuesday, April 9, and Wednesday, April 10.

Planning for our annual Earth Day Symposium on May 3 is underway and will feature talks focusing on the global amphibian decline crisis.

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Alumni Updates/Class Notes

George Chang, BS ’82, is a urologist at Medstar Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C.

Thomas Clark, BS ’70, MD ’74, graduated from GW School of Medicine in 1974, and trained first in surgery at OSU, and then in internal medicine at GW and WVAH. He practiced emergency medicine in D.C., and then in Northern Virginia for the past 40 years.

Anna Crosby, BS ’16, is based in Yosemite National Park as a biological science technician. She is currently working on a reintroduction of the Western Pond Turtle to Yosemite Valley, and monitors populations of turtles throughout the Sierra Nevada backcountry.

Timothy Decker, BA ’75, has been a family physician in Alabama for 36 years.

Henry Fooks, BS ’77, MD, FACS, is an associate professor of urology at West Virginia University School of Medicine. He is a member of the department's promotion and tenure committee, the medical school's admissions committee and academy of advisors.

Kim Furtado, BS ’94, is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in Lewes, Delaware, since 2001. She specializing in women's health care, herbal medicine, chronic illness, endocrinology and gastroenterology. Two of her five daughters attend or have graduated from GW.

Maria Gergoudis, BS ’19, is working full time as an orthopedic scribe post-graduation. She remains active on the GW Triathlon Team and is studying for the MCAT.

Jason Goldberg, BA ’06, is studying the contribution of chemotherapy towards cardiac dysfunction in children at St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Justin Greco, BS ’12, graduated from medical school at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is now thriving as an Intern in general surgery at Yale-New Haven Health.

Kylee Grenis, BS ’10, graduated with her PhD in ecology, evolution and biodiversity from the University of Denver in 2016.  She studied the impact of light pollution on invertebrate communities and species interactions for her dissertation.

Christopher Hsu, BA ’07, is celebrating his three-year anniversary at GlaxoSmithKline, serving as the global program management lead for the company's Neisseria Meningitidis vaccine franchise.

Jay Katzen, BA ’67, MD '72, interned at the Washington Hospital Center and did his residency at the University Hospital (Baltimore) in ophthalmology. He previously served on GW’s Board of Trustees and currently serves on the board of the Katzen Cancer Center and GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences Dean's Advisory Council.

Christina Lee, BS ’09, continued to pursue her passion for research in cancer and is currently at Stanford University as a post-doctoral fellow.

Sahira Long, BA ’95, obtained her doctorate of medicine from the GW School of Medicine, after minoring in biology. She is currently the medical director of the Children's Health Center Anacostia location and is an associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics.

Nyaradzai Mahachi, BS ’98, is an entrepreneur running a successful fashion design business. Her clothing label, Nyaradzai, showcased at Africa Fashion Week, iconic Runway in Lagos last year. She is based in Lagos, Nigeria.

Jeff Mattero, BA ’76, never got into med school, and switched careers to become an options trader on the floor of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange. He is now a semi-retired real estate investor. You can find him on Facebook.

Michele Meltzer, BS ’71, is a rheumatologist who is  president of Rheumatology for All, a nonprofit whose mission is to increase access to rheumatology care in resource limited areas. Ethiopia is currently the area of focus.

Angela Molina, BS ’86, is working as an anesthesiologist in the Monterey Bay. She is staying curious, still learning and growing.

Sarah Murad, BS ’18, is now a medical student at one of the world's top 100 medical schools. She also conducts research at Dasman Diabetes Institute in Kuwait.

Hannah Perry, BA ’17, is currently a science assistant at the National Science Foundation, advising funding decisions and addressing broadening participation of underrepresented groups in the Biology Directorate.

Lauren Peterson, BS ’06, began working as a patent attorney after graduating from GW Law. She later shifted her focus to international trade litigation and was recently promoted to counsel at Adduci Mastriani & Schaumberg in Washington, D.C.

Phillip Proctor, BA ’81, attended Tulane University Medical School after graduation. He subsequently completed a residency in urology at Howard University Hospital and currently is practicing urology in the D.C.-metro area for the past 25 years.

Randdie-Joyce Rameau, BS ’12, received both her BS and MPH at GW. She moved from Washington, D.C.,  to pursue her medical degree in osteopathic medicine. She  aspires to return to Haïti to promote improved population health outcomes.

James Randall, BS ’16, completed his biology degree from GW in 2016 and went on to earn his MPH from the Yale School of Public Health. He has authored papers related to surgery, gender equity in medicine and precision health. He now works at the Milken Institute.

Jennifer Romanello, BS ’17, graduated from GW in 2017 with a BS in biological sciences. She currently works at Shady Grove Fertility, doing research and serving on the practice's ethics committee. She will be attending medical school in the fall.

Heath Schmidt, BS ’99 was promoted to associate professor with tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. Heath leads a NIH-funded research program focused on the neuroscience of substance use disorders. 

Karen Akosua Schooler, M.D., BS ’95, has been elected to president of the Greensboro Medical Society and chair of its foundation. She is an internal medicine physician with Novant Health Medical Group-Strategic Growth Division and is a member of Novant Health Equity Council.

Alicia (Rice) Schueler, BA ’01, moved, with her husband and son, to a new farm that she and her husband planned from the ground up. She will continue to manage the organic farm raising vegetables, cattle, sheep, chickens and training a variety of equines.

Shabnam Shahabadi, BA ’99, attended GW school of medicine and received her MD in 2003 after completing her BA from GW. She is a practicing dermatologist in Fairfax , Va.  She is a consultant dermatologist at INOVA Fairfax Hospital.

Andrew Stancioff, MS ’64, pursued a career in marine geology, remote sensing, mineral exploration and international development. He worked in Canada, Latin America and Asia as well as 40 years in support of international development programs in Africa.

Dedeene Thompson-Montgomery, BA ’92, is a research associate at the American Red Cross Jerome Holland Laboratory. She assists in conducting research studies on blood and blood components, and credits her time and classes at GWU in helping her in where she is today.

Terrence Turpen, BS ’72, is a physician assistant in surgery and geriatric medicine. Terry and his wife live on a farm in Herald, Calif., and have a walnut orchard to carry them through retirement. They have five children and 10 grandchildren.

Althea Tyndall-Smith, BA ’91, received her MD degree and practiced in York, Penn., for eight years before transferring to University of Florida College of Medicine as an assistant professor until June 2018. In Sept 2018, she opened her own medical practice, Gainesville Direct Primary Care Physicians.

Paul Upman, BA ’70, served in the Navy for four years as a hospital corpsman, prior to attending GW. Paul worked 41 years in research, specializing in biocompatibility testing of medical devices. He retired in 2006 as director of science affairs, NAmSA, Northwood, Ohio.

Leonard Wartofsky, BS ’59, MA ’61, ’95, MD ’64, was honored with the award of doctoral degree 'Honoris Doctor Causa' from the University of Poznan, Poland, in May 2018 and from the University of Athens, Greece, in June 2018.

Simon Wentworth, BS ’17, spent a year scribing in a number of departments in numerous D.C. hospitals following his graduation from GW. He was then accepted and has matriculated into a MD/PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where he is currently in good standing.

Jordan Werner, BA ’10, began residency in orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital after attending GW Medical School. He is currently a senior resident and is interviewing for a fellowship in adult reconstruction/hip and knee arthroplasty.

Mitchell Zeitler, BS ’76, went on to a MS in physiology at GT Graduate School for A and S and then back to GW for a degree in medicine at the School for Health and Medical Sciences. Mitchell Presently practicing anesthesiology in Naples, Fla.

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Donor Recognition

The Department of Biological Sciences would like to gratefully acknowledge the generous donors who made a gift to the department from January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018. 

+ Faculty/Staff | # Parent | ~ Student | * Friend | ^ Deceased


Reem Q. Al Shabeeb, BS ’17

Dr. Steven Robert Bergmann, BA ’72

Paula M. Cortes, BS ’18

Joseph A. Favorito #

Laura M. Favorito #

Jason Marc Frieder, BA ’91

Stephen F. Gordon, M.D., BS ’62, AA ’60

Jeffrey R. Guertin, BS ’05

Tina V. Halley, M.D., BS ’00, MD ’06

Gary A. Hovsepian, BS ’18

Christopher Su-Hwa Hsu, BA ’07

Tyler A. Katz ~

Meghana H. Keswani, BS ’18

Dr. Emily K. Kleczko, BS ’07

Meena Lakdawala-Flynn, BA ’99

Kenneth Brian Leonard, BS ’80

Sigmund J. Lilian, BS ’17

Dean Antonio B. Magat, BS ’18

Nola Masterson, MS ’71

Veronika Rumenova Petrova, BS ’03

Ruby Poirel *

Merlyn T. Raiford #

Dr. Armond A. Rossi #

Jane M. Rossi #

David Rothenberg #

Sarah Rothenberg ~

Dr. Amal S. Rubai, Sr. #

Summer L. Rudish, BS ’18 ~

Alexander A. Ruebenstahl, BS ’18

Robin M. Sadja, BS ’85

Alecia C. Scheuermann, BS ’18

Katherine J. Scott-Mejia, BS ’88, MS ’93

Jennifer Seirafi, M.D., BS ’92, Resident ’00

Vishakha Sharma, Ph.D., BS ’08, PhD ’13 

Sophia Y. Shea, BS ’15

Barbara G. Shipes, Ph.D., PhD ’88

Ira J. Singer, M.D., MS ’78, BS ’74 

Cathy S. Singer, MS ’78, BS ’74 

Lane S. Srochi, BA ’77,

George R. Washington *

Frances C. Weintraub, MA ’37 ^

George W. Wellde, Jr., MBA ’76

Emily S. Wendel, BS ’18

Sean M. Wesp, BS ’18

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Support the Department

Gifts to the Department of Biology allow us to provide support for faculty and student research and travel, graduate student fellowships, and academic enrichment activities including guest speakers, visiting faculty, and symposia. Each gift, no matter how large or small, makes a positive impact on our educational mission and furthers our standing as one of the nation's preeminent liberal arts colleges at one of the world's preeminent universities.

You can make your gift to the department in a number of ways:

  • Securely online.
  • By mailing your check, made out to The George Washington University and with the name of the department in the memo line, to:

The George Washington University

PO Box 98131

Washington, DC 20077-9756

  • By phone by calling the GW Division of Development and Alumni Relations at 1-800-789-2611.

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Stay Connected

GW Alumbi Virtual Book Club


Connect with fellow alumni from around the work and enjoy one or both of our virtual book clubs featuring professional development and/or lifelong learning topics. Sign up here.

Join GW Career Connect


Connect with undergraduate and graduate students and fellow alumni through our new online networking platform, GW Career Connect, centered around 14 industry areas of interest. 


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Volunteer in your region, mentor current students, become a social media ambassador, take on a leadership role and more.

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