News & Announcements

IDGP Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Statement

The Interdepartmental Graduate Programs in Life Sciences (IDGPs) believe that a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is critical to all that we do.  We recognize that systemic racism exists in our society and we pledge to educate ourselves so that we can change our ingrained habits and beliefs. We are committed to make our programs accessible to all and to increase the success of all our members. We dedicate our time, effort and financial resources to these activities. We work with Institutional leaders, faculty, staff and students to achieve these goals. We are providing this pdf link so that you are able to view a working document of our activities. 

We are proud of our amazing students and post docs who have worked tirelessly for the betterment of our community. Our students have fostered a tight-knit, progressive community and their recent efforts have resulted in this petition for systematic change.  We stand with them in recognizing that change is required in order to make progress toward a more equitable, just, diverse and inclusive environment. 

The University has established an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and their website provides links to many resources. We encourage you to make use of these tools, including links to videos, books and podcasts as well as programing, as we embark together on our journey to improve our community for all our members.  

Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena Memorial Fund

photo of Dr. Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena

Dr. Juan Guillermo (Guillo) Cadena

Guillo was born in Chicago, IL. on November 22, 1969, and grew up in Tampa, Florida. Guillo was a graduate of Jesuit High School in Tampa where he excelled in athletics and was a member of the state champion soccer team. He moved to New England in the mid-1990s and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2000. After a brief return to Florida, Guillo moved back to Amherst in 2002 to join the Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) graduate program as a Ph.D. candidate. Guillo received his Ph.D. in 2009 under the mentorship of Dr. Larry Schwartz. Dr. Cadena’s research focused on understanding why a certain population of cells called dopaminergic neurons are uniquely vulnerable to degeneration in individuals with autosomal juvenile parkinsonism (ARJP).

Guillo was extremely dedicated to his research and had always credited the successful completion of his Ph.D. to the strong support of his advisor Dr. Schwartz, as well as many distinguished faculty members in the MCB program who guided him throughout the process. Guillo also conducted research at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute in Springfield, MA.

In his teenage years, Guillo was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and sought a suitable bone marrow donor for nearly 30 years. In 2010, Guillo was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and within a few months had succumbed to complications from chemotherapy treatment. At the time of his passing in July, 2010 Guillo was survived by his wife, 2-year old twins (Amaya and Gabriel), parents, siblings, and many close friends.

The Cadena Travel and Training Fund

The Cadena Travel and Training Fund was established in 2020, 10 years after Guillo’s passing. In memory of his dedication to science and teaching, Guillo’s close friends Nasser and Susanne Rusan, with help and support from Guillo’s family, believed it was only fitting to keep Guillo’s memory alive by giving back to the MCB program, a program that Guillo deeply cherished. Read more

MCB Students Awarded CBI Traineeships

CBI logo

Berent Aldikacti (Chien lab), Kevin Guay (Hebert lab) and Bao Nguyen (Stratton lab) were recently awarded prestigious Chemistry-Biology Interface Traineeships! In addition, Kiserian Jackson (Siegrist lab), Rebecca Gordon (Siegrist lab) and Josh Foster (Chen lab) will be renewed on CBI funding for another year! The goal of the CBI Program is to train students with diverse scientific backgrounds for productive research at the interface between chemistry and biology in order to instill a strong foundation for future interdisciplinary research success. Trainee selection criteria include past performance (undergraduate institution and GPA), progress in the PhD program (grades and research productivity), and commitment to the CBI Program. Due to the limited number of available traineeships, selection is highly competitive. Congratulations to Berent, Kevin, Bao, Kiserian, Rebecca and Josh on their awards! Read more

Dilay Hazal Ayhan PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Dilay Hazal Ayhan

Friday, July 16, 2021
9:00 AM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  Discovering mechanisms driving adaptive evolution in the cross-kingdom fungal pathogen Fusarium oxysporum
Advisor:  Li-Jun Ma

Shu Zhao PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Shu Zhao

Tuesday, August 3, 2021
10:00 AM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  Applying genome-wide association in the fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus to identify the genetic contributors of antifungal sensitivity and thermotolerance
Advisor:  John Gibbons

Alam García-Heredia PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Alam Garcia-Heredia

Thursday, August 19, 2021
10:00 AM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  TBA
Advisor:  Sloan Siegrist

Ana Torres-Ocampo PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Ana P. Torres-Ocampo

Thursday, August 19, 2021
2:00 PM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  TBA
Advisor:  Meg Stratton

Timme-Laragy Presents to Massachusetts State Task Force on PFAS Chemicals

photo of Alicia Timme-Laragy

Alicia Timme-Laragy, associate professor of environmental health sciences, made a presentation on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to the Massachusetts PFAS Interagency Task Force at a public hearing held on June 15.

Sometimes known as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals found in everything from firefighting foams to carpets that can build up and contaminate drinking water. The new 19-member state task force, co-chaired by state senator Julian Cyr and state representative Kate Hogan, was formed in response to their presence in community water systems statewide. It aims to provide legislators, agencies, experts and stakeholders with information on the best approach to prevent and mitigate contamination statewide, including educating the public, researching alternatives to things that contain these substances, and the cost effectiveness of different approaches, among other objectives. The task force must present a report to state legislators by the end of the year.

An expert on developmental toxicology, Timme-Laragy began working with state legislators on the potential health risks posed by PFAS chemicals through her work as a UMass Public Engagement Faculty Fellow in 2019. The task force invited her to speak on the potential ways people could encounter PFAS chemicals that could pose an exposure risk and the potential human health outcomes associated with those exposures.

The hearing can be viewed here. Timme-Laragy's presentation begins at the 31:00 mark. Read more

Congratulations to the MCB Byron Prize Winners!

Nils Pilotte, Archit Rastogi and Rilee Zeinert have been selected as the 2021 Byron Prize winners! The Byron Prize was established in 1994 in honor of Dr. Fred Byron, Vice Chancellor for Research at UMass Amherst. Dissertation advisors may nominate students who received PhD degrees in the previous year for this competitive award, and selection criteria include:  originality and creativity of the research, impact, scope of the project and techniques, quality of writing and contributions to the MCB program. Award winners present talks at the MCB Retreat and receive cash prizes. Hearty congrats to our alumni on this achievement!

Nils Pilotte (Williams Lab)
Assistant Professor of Biology, Quinnipiac University
Archit Rastogi (Timme-Laragy Lab)
Toxicologist, Gradient Corporation
Rilee Zeinert (Chien Lab)
Postdoctoral Associate, Storz Lab, NIH


Cameron Butova PhD Dissertation Defense

photo of Cameron Butova

Monday, June 28, 2021
10:00 AM
Zoom link:  Please contact to be included on the email list for this announcement
Dissertation Title:  Engineering a monomeric form of human alpha-galactosidase A as a proposed next-generation treatment for Fabry disease
Advisor:  Scott Garman