I was born in Sri Lanka and attended high school at Royal College in Colombo. In 1982, I left Sri Lanka to attend Vassar College in New York. After graduating in 1986 with a major in Biology, I joined the PhD program in the Department of Cell Biology at the Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut. At Yale, I did my doctoral work with Ari Helenius on the folding, assembly, and sorting of viral membrane proteins. After doing postdoctoral work at the University of Rochester and Yale University, I joined the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1998. I am interested in vector-borne infectious diseases and mainly studied how ticks transmit Lyme disease spirochetes for the first part of my career. Currently my group works on dengue virus. I am interested in many aspects of dengue that include population based epidemiological studies, viral pathogenesis, human immunology, and vaccine research. I enjoy working with scientists and students from developing countries to promote a culture of science and scientific independence in all countries.
I am married to Amy Weil who is a physician and an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. We have two sons, Priyan and Sunimal. In my spare time I play tennis, watch birds, and travel with my family.
Premkumar Lakshmanane, PhD
Sandra Henein received her B.Sc in 2010 in Pharmacy and Biotechnology from the German University in Cairo, Egypt. After graduating she joined the Molecular Medicine master’s program at Ulm University, Germany. She did a rotation at Prof. Dr. Peter Gierschik’s lab working on Phospholipase C, which gave her the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. T. Kendall Harden’s lab at UNC. This is where she completed her master’s thesis on PLC. In 2012, Sandra received her M.Sc in Molecular Medicine. She joined Dr. Aravinda de Silva’s lab in 2013 as a research associate, working closely with vaccine companies to help characterize and understand the immune response to vaccines vs. natural infection. She is also currently working on getting her Pharmacy license here in the US. In her free time, Sandra likes to volunteer at church, hang out with friends, and do crafts.
I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, where I got my bachelors degree in Cell Biology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, and where my interest for studying viruses and vaccines started. My early research work involved virologic and serologic characterizations of samples from children participating in clinical trials of a candidate rotavirus vaccine in Caracas. To further my training I went to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston TX, where I got my Ph.D. in Molecular Virology under the mentorship of Dr. Mary Estes. There I studied caliciviruses and characterized viral proteins that self-assemble into virus-like particles with vaccine potential. I moved to Chapel Hill to do my post-doctoral training in the Microbiology and Immunology Department at UNC, under the mentorship of Robert Johnston. Here I studied alphavirus pathogenesis, specifically the molecular mechanisms by which a vaccine-associated mutation in Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus attenuated the virus. As Research Assistant Professor in the Microbiology Department, I used alphavirus replicon-based technologies to develop and test vaccine candidates against dengue in mice and nonhuman primates. In the last 5 years I worked as leader of the dengue vaccine research group at Global Vaccines Inc., a non-profit vaccine company in RTP, where I continued to design and test second-generation vaccine strategies for dengue fever and other viral infections. I joined the De Silva laboratory in July 2016 to participate in the studies of the human immune responses to leading candidate dengue vaccines. Outside the lab I like to read books, go for long walks in nature, cook and travel to see family and friends.
Ramesh Jadi received his Masters in Biochemistry in 1990 from Karnataka University in Dharawad, India. He then joined the National Institute of Virology, Pune and worked for 15 years on different human pathogenic BSL-2 and BSL-3 viruses. At NIV, Ramesh worked on the investigation of viral epidemics in India, virus characterization using classical virological methods, animal model development for viral diseases, diagnostic kit development, developing mouse monoclonal antibodies for viral proteins, and viral growth kinetics in different host models. He also worked as head of the Measles department at NIV, participating in national programs such as Measles eradication in India and aerosol vaccine clinical trials with WHO in Geneva. Ramesh completed his PhD in Biotechnology in 2010 from Pune University. He then began his post-doctoral work at the National University of Singapore in 2011, working on epitope mapping of SARS virus. In 2012, he joined Virginia State Polytechnic University researching laser-based vaccine delivery in mouse models. He now works in the de Silva lab, adding to his extensive background in virology to focus on dengue and Zika virus research.
Lindsay Dahora received her B.S. in Biochemistry in 2016 from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA where she was born and raised. She then obtained her Ph.D. in Immunology and a doctoral certificate in Global Health from Duke University in 2020. During her Ph.D, she studied under the supervision of Dr. Georgia Tomaras in the Center for Human Systems Immunology where her dissertation focused on understanding the impact of antibody biophysical properties on antigen recognition and antibody Fc effector Function. She also worked on identifying vaccine-induced immune correlates of protection against Typhoid Fever using a controlled human infection model of Salmonella Typhi infection. She joined Dr. Aravinda de Silva’s laboratory at UNC Chapel Hill as a postdoctoral research associate in January of 2021 where her projects include characterization of antibody responses to dengue infection and vaccination as well as discovering mechanisms of dengue-specific antibody protection vs enhancement of disease. In her spare time, she likes to travel or go hiking with her fiancé Aaron and her dog Archie, cook new recipes, and read books.
Master’s and MD/PhD Degrees: Albert Einstein College of Medicine
Internal Medicine Residency: The Mount Sinai Health System
Alena’s research background focused on protein biochemistry and crystallography. Her PhD work identified structural and chemical differences in the antigen-binding sites of antibodies that were driven by differences in their Fc regions. She has previously worked with HIV proteins as well as with antibodies against the fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans.
Alena is currently a Research Track Infectious Diseases Fellow and post-doctoral fellow at UNC, working in the laboratory of Aravinda de Silva. Alena Markmann’s research interests are in defining the molecular properties of human antibodies and B cells that develop after RNA virus infections such as Zika, Dengue and SARS-CoV-2. The goal of her research is to understand the longevity of antibody and B cell responses, and to identify viral targets of the human adaptive immune response that can be used to improve vaccine and therapeutic antibody design.
Cameron Adams received his B.S. in 2013 from University of Washington in Seattle, WA. At UW, Cameron participated in undergraduate research under Dr. James Mullins, focusing on defining HIV reservoirs and compartments. After graduating from the University of Washington, Cameron participated in the NIH Post-baccalaureate program in the lab of Dr. Mario Roederer. In Roederer’s lab, his work focused on developing single cell sequencing technology and defining the antibody response during a SIV vaccination trial. In fall of 2015, Cameron matriculated at University of North Carolina medical school as part of the UNC MD/PhD program. After completing two years of medical school, Cameron joined the lab of Dr. Aravinda de Silva. His graduate work will be focused in structural biology and protein design with the aim of constructing new methods of epitope presentation for Dengue and Zika. Outside of the lab, Cameron enjoys powerlifting, football, and participating at UNC Student Health Action Coalition.
After finishing high school in Cambodia, Usaphea came to the United States in 2016 to attend Elon University, where she graduated with a degree in Chemistry in 2020. During her four years at Elon, she had been conducting undergraduate research on the analysis of adonitol and xylitol (five-carbon sugar) as a sustainable replacement for crude oil. Her research focused on the structural change of sugar and she was able to change the structure of the five-carbon sugar into a ring structure using tris(pentafluorophenyl)borane B(C6F5)3 and allyltrimethylsilane as co-catalysts. In the de Silva Lab, she is assisting Dr. Alena Markmann to conduct research in seroprevalence of SARS-Cov-2 in remnant blood samples from individual visiting UNC clinical facilities. Outside of lab, she likes baking, cooking, and spending time with friends.
Emily Freeman received her B.S. in Biology in 2019 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Emily worked as a research assistant in the Mack Lab where she studied the epigenetic mechanisms regulating blood pressure in hypertensive phenotypes. She utilized mouse models to better understand the intracellular signaling pathways by which environmental cues regulate smooth muscle cell contractility. After graduation, Emily worked as a certified nursing assistant and EKG technician at Duke Regional Hospital. In her current position in the de Silva lab, Emily assists Dr. Laura White with studying the human immune responses to candidate dengue vaccines. Outside of the lab, Emily enjoys cross-stitching and spending time with her ball python, Omar.
Ryan graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2020 with a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology. There he conducted research in the Sidhaye Lab, under the mentorship of Dr. Baishakhi Ghosh, on the effects of cigarette smoke on E-cadherin expression in lung epithelial cells. In the de Silva lab, he currently assists Dr. Alena Markmann in conducting SARS-CoV-2 antibody studies to better understand immunity to COVID-19 in different populations. Ryan grew up in Lilburn, Georgia with his brother and parents. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, exploring nature, and reading about the latest developments in science.
Demetri graduated from Colorado State University in 2019 with a B.S. in Microbiology. At CSU Demetri was an undergraduate research assistant in the Ebel lab where he primarily focused on the development of Zika, dengue, and West Nile Virus NS1 chimeras under the mentorship of Dr. Claudia Rückert and Dr. James Weger. In the de Silva lab, Demetri assists Dr. Usha Nivarthi with studying the antibody response to dengue vaccines. Demetri grew up in Pueblo, Colorado and likes to spend his free time with friends, reading, and listening to music.