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Research is the foundation of every division of this department.  Our basic scientists, working with others in the university, support each section's program with special expertise in biochemistry, neuroimmunology, molecular biology and cellular and lipid studies.  It is the dialogue between clinician scientists and basic scientists which stimulates a deeper understanding of the pathophysiology of the diseases we treat and the questions we must ask of a scientific investigation for the future of the surgical treatment of the central nervous system. 

Reid Alisch, PhDReid Alisch Lab

Reid's lab extensively utilizes rodent and non-human primate models to study the temporal and spatial changes of DNA methylation (both 5-methylcytosine [5mC] and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine [5hmC]) throughout neurodevelopment toward neurodegeneration, and due to prenatal/early life stimulus (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and Alzheimer’s disease). It is likely that most adult brain disorders emerge early in life but are commonly unrecognized and untreated. Despite the prevalence of these illnesses, the field lacks a clear understanding of their etiologies and pathophysiology. As a result, current treatments are not optimal, resulting in a failure to effectively treat childhood symptoms and leading to a greater functional disability because of cumulative damage. Our approach employs an interdisciplinary combination of basic and translational strategies to identify the molecular mechanisms affecting human behavior and cognition.

Ulas Cikla, MDMustafa Baskaya Lab

Ulas Cikla was born in Yalova, Turkey. He received his MD degree from Istanbul University School of Medicine (Istanbul, Turkey).  He then compited his neurological surgery residency in  Izmir Tepecik Teaching and Research Hospital (Izmir, Turkey) and thereafter served as an attending neurosurgeon in Gumushane State Hospital (Gumushane, Turkey) for 2 years. In June 2012, he became a research fellow in the Baskaya laboratory at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).  In August of 2012 he was invited and then began work in the Cengiz and Ferrazzano Laboratories (Department of Pediatrics) concurrently with the Baskaya Laboratory. He was appointed as a Research Specialist in 2013 and then as an Assistant Scientist in 2016.  Dr. Cikla has an extensive background in animal models of brain injury, including middle cerebral artery occlusion and hypoxia ischemia models. He has been a member of Society of Neuroscience since 2016, and has published more than 70 scientific manuscripts and book chapters. He has a deep commitment to education, including  hands-on teaching, lecturing, mentoring and serving as a faculty instructor in more than 20 national and international neuroanatomy and neurosurgery courses.
He has served as the Laboratory Manager for the Baskaya Lab since 2016. His neuroanatomy research focuses on characterizing variations in human cerebrovascular and CNS anatomy, as well as on identifying safer and more efficient surgical access routes to deep brain regions.

For manuscripts click on his profile.


Paul Clark, PhDBrain Tumor Lab

Paul works as an Associate Scientist in the Brain Tumor Research laboratory of Dr. John S. Kuo.  The laboratory is actively involved in developing better treatments for brain tumors, in particular the highly malignant glioblastoma (GBM) that is the most common and deadliest. We focus on the biological and molecular characterization of the GBM cancer stem-like cell (GSC) sub-population that is hypothesized to drive GBM growth, treatment resistance, and recurrence. GSC-specific biomarkers are analyzed in clinical samples using a clinically-annotated tissue microarray containing ≈200 patient GBM samples, and GSC-specific treatments are tested in multiple animal models of brain cancer. Current specific projects include analysis of the GBM-specific targeting and therapeutic ability of alkylphosphocholine (APC) compounds (in collaboration with Radiology), identification and testing of GSC-specific human antibodies discovered using yeast biopanning of a libarary of ≈500 million antibody fragments (in collaboration with Chemical and Biological Engineering), and developing novel immunotherapeutic vaccines against brain metastases and GBM by combination of tumor-targeting immunocytokine, radiation, and checkpoint inhibition (in collaboration with Human Oncology). Hopefully, this research will result in therapies and treatments that significantly improve the survival and quality-of-life of patients afflicted with the devastating disease of GBM and other brain tumors.

Funding: The Brain Tumor Research Laboratory is funded through research grant through the Falk Foundation (in collaboration with Chemical and Biological Engineering), and has also obtained grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA), and UW-Carbone Cancer Center.

Nithya Harihan, MDBermans Iskandar Lab

Nicky is the Researcher and Laboratory Manager in Dr. Iskandar’s Central Nervous System Regeneration Laboratory. She received a medical degree at Dharbangha Medical College, Dharbangha, India followed by a diploma in Pediatrics at Ranchi Medical College, Ranchi, India, and an Associate Degree in Biotechnology at MATC in Madison, WI.

The role of folic acid supplementation has proven to be extremely effective in preventing the occurrence of neural tube defects and other congenital abnormalities in humans. Because this suggests that folic acid can modulate or enhance key mechanisms for growth and differentiation in the CNS, our laboratory has been instrumental in hypothesizing and proving a significant role for folic acid in regeneration and repair of the adult CNS after injury, with inherent implications on healing from stroke and cancer, degenerative diseases, congenital illness, as well as brain and spinal cord trauma. As part of an effort to study the mechanism of such a pro-regenerative response, we have shown that folate-mediated CNS regeneration depends on injury-related induction of folate receptor FOLR1 expression, intact intracellular folate activation, and a functional methylation cycle. The effect of folate on the regeneration of afferent spinal neurons is biphasic and dose-dependent, and correlates closely over its dose range with global and gene-specific DNA methylation, and with expression of both the folate receptor FOLR1 as well as the de novo DNA methyltransferases. Most recently, we’ve demonstrated that such methylation-mediated phenotypic changes are transmitted through multiple generations. Accordingly, we hypothesize an epigenetic mechanism in CNS repair, and through our laboratory efforts, we seek to understand the underpinnings of this mechanism and its implications. This work, funded by the NIH, the March of Dimes, and the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, provides a more profound understanding of tissue healing and repair, with possible avenues for new dietary and pharmacologic approaches to treating brain and spinal cord injuries, and is likely to enhance our understanding of how behavior, habits, diet, and therapy interact to affect our children and their progeny.

Dan Hellenbrand, MSAmgad Hanna Lab

Dan works as an Assistant Researcher in Dr. Amgad Hanna’s Spinal Cord and Nerve Lab. He received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical engineering Technology from Miami University in 2008 and a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 2010. Dan’s primary research interests involve treatments to improve functional recovery after spinal cord injury. Dan, himself, sustained a C5-C6 spinal cord injury in 2003 and understand the hardships that result from the loss of motor and sensory function below the level of injury.

In the lab, they are working on developing novel drug delivery methods to treat different aspects of spinal cord injury. The drug delivery platform is a mineral coating on surgical sutures or microparticles that binds specific therapeutic molecules of interest and releases them in a sustained manner. They are currently investigating the capabilities of interleukin-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine, to reduce inflammation after spinal cord injury and the use of neurotrophin-3, a growth factor, to promote axon growth after spinal cord injury.

For more information on our work and to view recent publications, visit Dr. Amgad Hanna’s page.

Kip Ludwig, PhD – Kip Ludwig Lab

Dr. Ludwig leads the Bioelectronic Medicines Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, with the goal of developing next-generation neuromodulation therapies that use minimally invasive strategies to highjack the nervous system to treat circuit dysfunction and deliver biomolecules to target areas with unprecedented precision. 

Prior to Wisconsin Dr. Ludwig served as the Program Director for Neural Engineering at the National Institutes of Health. He co-led the Translational Devices Program at NINDS, led the NIH BRAIN Initiative programs to catalyze implantable academic and clinical devices to stimulate and/or record from the central nervous system, and led a trans-NIH planning team in developing the ~250 million dollar S.P.A.R.C. Program to stimulate advances in neuromodulation therapies for organ systems. 

Dr. Ludwig also worked in Industry as a research scientist, where his team conceived, developed and demonstrated the chronic efficacy of a next-generation neural stimulation electrode for reducing blood pressure in both pre-clinical studies and clinical trials. Through his industry work he oversaw Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) and non-GLP studies enabling clinical trials in Europe and the United States, as well as participated in the protocol development and execution of those trials, leading to approval for sale in seven countries and a U.S. Pivotal trial.


Suresh Mehta, PhDRaghu Vemuganti Lab


Gurwattan Miranpuri, PhD – Azam Ahmed Lab

Gurwattan Miranpuri, PhD, is a Senior Scientist working with Azam Ahmed, MD. Their work focuses on improving our understanding of stroke, both ischemic and hemorrhagic. In addition, Dr. Miranpuri is working on a research study, “Defining the epigenetic signatures of glioblastoma tumors and margins” in collaboration with Dr. Reid Alisch, PhD, Assistant Professor, Neurosurgery. This work is important in that it attempts to understand individual heterogeneity in the behavior of these aggressive tumors and may potentially lead to the development of important biomarkers.  Together, and through this study, the research team has an extraordinary opportunity to characterize comprehensively, for the first time, glioblastoma tumors, as well as primary margins, to define molecular signatures of glioblastoma aggressiveness and margins. This study between basic scientists (Drs. Miranpuri and Alisch), neurosurgeons (Dr. Azam Ahmed) exemplifies collaboration within the department.

Aaron Suminski, PhD – Wendell Lake Lab

A fundamental problem in neural engineering and neuroscience is to understand how the activation of large populations of neurons gives rise to behavior at the level of the whole organism. For example, we often take the ability to move for granted because the complexities of interacting with our environment are masked by the reliability of motor behavior. This behavioral consistency is remarkable given the many factors that must be taken into consideration when moving the limb and manipulating objects, like the fidelity of sensory feedback, the goals of the task and the state of the limb. Our group aims to understand how neural activity at the ensemble and system levels produces the seemingly effortless dexterous control of the upper-limb despite the contextual complexity it involves using multiple methodologies including computational modeling, electrophysiology and functional brain imaging. Ultimately, we aim to translate our findings into the development of optimally effective therapies and technologies to improve the quality of life of patients with motor system dysfunction.

Uma Wesley, PhD - Robert Dempsey Lab

The major goal of our research is to identify the therapeutic targets, and to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of post-stroke brain repair, tumor and stem cell survival, migration, and angiogenesis. We are particularly interested in the role of cell surface proteases and cytokines in regulating these physiological events that drive the post-stroke brain repair, and development and progression of cancers including glioblastoma/brain tumor. The soluble growth factors, cytokines, and extracellular matrix components (ECM) in the microenvironment contribute significantly to the stem cell dynamics, development of neuronal tumors, and brain injury repair following stroke. As a part of collaborative efforts with Dr. Dempsey our studies are expected to bridge tumor cell studies to stem cell regulated repair of cerebro-vascular diseases, particularly ischemic stroke. Projects include (1) Understanding the biochemical and molecular mechanisms of protease and chemokine regulated cellular functions; (2) Regulation of cytokine/chemokine signaling pathways during tumor development and brain injury repair; (3) Identifying and targeting molecules involved in progression of atherosclerotic plaques associated with ischemic stroke. Our research utilizes interdisciplinary approaches that include in vitro cell culture, and in vivo rodent models; Biochemical, cellular and molecular biology approaches, immune-fluorescence microscopy, protein analysis/proteomics/protein array screening.

Funding: Dr. Wesley has successfully obtained research/grant funding as a principal investigator from National Institute of Health (NIH), American Heart Association (AHA), and Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), and UW-Carbone Cancer Center.

Justin Williams, PhD – Justin Williams Lab


Last updated: Tue, 09/04/2018 - 15:46
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