Current Trainees

  • Carmen Villalobos, Ph.D.
  • Jemema Rajan, M.D.
  • Sivaram Neppala, M.D.
  • Janette Vazquez, Ph.D.
  • Elizabeth Ochoa, Ph.D.
  • Somayyeh Nasiripour, Ph.D.

Carmen Villalobos, Ph.D.                       (Mentor: Y. Gupta)                    02/01/2022-present

Dr. Villalobos is a proud New Mexican, having received her PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of New Mexico. Her thesis work focused on host-pathogen interactions at the cell surface where she specialized using stochastic optical resolution microscopy to investigate glucan structures on the surface of Candida albicans and lipid rafts on Giardia lamblia. Her training and experience have been diverse and range from the fabrication of microfluidic devices to determining gene rearrangements in pediatric cancers. Upon the completion of her graduate studies, Dr. Villalobos worked for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency as a biological scientist who deployed instrumentation to characterize aerosols during various types of field testing.

After moving to Texas with her family, Dr. Villalobos joined Dr. Yogesh Gupta’s laboratory as a postdoctoral research fellow. Her current research focuses on the BAF complex which plays a role in the organization of chromatin and associated factors so that regulatory DNA regions are accessible to transcription factors. In cancer cells, the assembly and recruitment of this complex is disrupted by deletions, mutations, and overexpression of subunits, resulting in aberrant BAF complexes. Studying the structure, mechanism, and specificity of critical activity factors will elucidate better approaches to stopping tumor-promoting functions of the aberrant BAF complex.


Sivaram Neppala, M.D.                       (Mentor: R. DeFronzo)                    09/01/2022-present

Dr. Neppala graduated medical school from Katuri Medical College & Hospital in 2015 and completed his Internal Medicine residency at Texas Institute of Graduate Medical education & Research in June 2022.  His prior work mainly focused on Insulin resistance and Metabolic syndrome using the insulin clamp techniques with Radioisotopes which, to this day, remain the gold standard for measuring insulin resistance and insulin secretion. He also worked on Inhibition of Liver specific 11Beta-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenase Type 1 enzyme lower liver fat in NAFLD/NASH patients by using the same techniques. Dr. Neppala, participated in many projects and wrote several abstracts & manuscripts for medical journals, also participated in national and international conferences including American College of Physicians, Digestive Disease Week and European Society of Intensive Care Medicine and American College of Gastroenterology which enhancing my interest in this field further.

After moving to San Antonio, Dr. Neppala joined Dr. DeFronzo and Dr. Anderson group as a postdoctoral fellow. His current research focuses on the ketones, skeletal/cardiac muscle metabolism, and SGLT2 inhibitors. His clinical research protocol involves assessment of myocardial glucose and ketone metabolism and how they relate to cardiac function using the MRI and PET facilities at UT Heath Research Imaging Institute (RII).


Jemema Rajan, M.D.                      (Mentor: R. Defronzo)                    07/01/2023-present

Dr. Jemema Rajan,MD got her undergraduate degree (BS) in Biological Sciences and Nutritional Sciences from RUTGERS University (NJ), when she first developed her passion for metabolic aspects of cardiac disease and community outreach through research. She then earned her MD degree (2019) and completed her Internal Medicine at Texas Institute of Graduate Medical education & Research in 2023. During her Medical education she focused on pathology and endocrinal effects on cardiovascular disease, presenting at American College of Cardiology.

Currently, she joined the Postdoctoral program under the mentorship of Drs. Defronzo and Anderson, to further research the metabolic effects on cardiac disease. Her projects focuses on heart failure studies with ketones, ketones, skeletal/cardiac muscle metabolism, SGLT2 inhibitors and pioglitazone. The research dives into ketone and glucose metabolism, myocardial glucose/fat metabolism, with relation to the cardiac function as represented by clamps and imaging with MRI and PET facilities at  UT Heath Research Imaging Institute (RII).


Janette Vazquez, Ph.D.                       (Mentor: C. Satizabal)                    11/01/2022-present


Dr. Vazquez earned her PhD in Biomedical Informatics from the University of Utah. During her time there, her work focused on the use of machine learning methods towards the analysis of medical science datasets. This included implementing various machine learning algorithms towards a diverse set of datasets ranging from self-reported social determinants for the analysis of clinical trial participation, the analysis of better predictions of engagement based on objective biometric measures, and the analysis of the effects of air pollution on COPD exacerbations utilizing mortality data and environmental air pollution data. She also worked on utilizing conformal prediction to assess the uncertainty of predictions in the machine learning analysis of the likelihood of an individual to participate in a clinical trial.

Upon finishing her thesis work, she joined Dr. Satizabal’s lab as a postdoctoral research fellow where she will be working on analyzing data from the San Antonio Heart and Mind Study to identify midlife and late-life cardiovascular risk factors that contribute to disparities in cognitive aging, and how these modify genetic susceptibility to cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.



Elizabeth Ochoa, Ph.D.                       (Mentor: K. Bieniek)                    04/01/2023-present

Dr. Ochoa earned her PhD in Integrated Biomedical Sciences from UT Health San Antonio in 2022. During her predoctoral training, Dr. Ochoa forged an interest in uncovering the mechanisms leading to neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration in dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease and Frontotemporal Dementia. She completed her predoctoral training in the lab of Dr. Bess Frost, where she discovered that the activation of retrotransposons by pathological species of tau protein cause the formation of neuroinflammatory double stranded RNA. In her dissertation work, Dr. Ochoa employed a multisystem approach where she identified elevated double stranded RNA in astrocytes of the brains of tau transgenic Drosophila, tau transgenic mice and in postmortem human brains from tau-affected patients. As a group of diseases that affects over 6 million people in the United States, the increased risk of developing dementia is associated with poor cardiovascular health. Considering that cardiovascular health and dementia are an active focus of studies amongst Hispanic patients in South Texas, Dr. Ochoa was motivated to join the lab of Dr. Carie Boychuk at UT Health San Antonio. The C. Boychuk lab has identified factors that alter cardiovascular autonomic networks, such as neuroendocrine signaling and energy dyshomeostasis. In her current role Dr. Ochoa investigates the intersection of neurodegeneration and cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction, where she seeks to determine if loss of cardiac vagal neurons and related physiological function precedes or follows the accumulation of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.


Somayyeh Nasiripour, Ph.D.                       (Mentor: J. Bopassa)                    02/01/2024-present

Dr. Nasiripour graduated from Azad university of medical sciences in 2006 with doctorate degree in pharmacy with the thesis title  ’Gastric healing effect of melatonin against different gastroinvasive agents in cholestatic rats’  published in pathophysiology journal in 2010. Then she completed her clinical pharmacy PhD at Tehran University of medical Sciences(TUMS) in  May 2013  with the thesis title ”Comparison of the Effects of Enoxaparin and Heparin on Inflammatory Biomarkers in Patients with ST-segment Elevated Myocardial Infarction: A prospective Open Label Pilot Clinical Trial” ,published in Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research (IJPR) in 2014.

Also, she has some experience in teaching medical students and running some clinical trials since she was assistant professor of clinical pharmacy at Iran university of medical Sciences (IUMS) from 2014 to 2023. She did some clinical trials in the field of cardiology in the journal with high impact factor.

After moving to San Antonio, Dr. Nasiripour joined Dr. Bopassa as a postdoctoral fellow.