Kirill Afonin

Principal Investigator

I was born in Leningrad, U.S.S.R. but grew up in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation. I graduated from Saint Petersburg State University with a M.S. in Chemistry, followed by a Ph.D. in Photochemistry earned from Bowling Green State University, Ohio.  In addition to my doctoral degree, received in 2008, I also obtained a Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics, Proteomics/Genomics from a joint program between Bowling Green State University, Medical University of Ohio, and University of Toledo, Ohio.  In the following three years, I completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Chemistry and Biochemistry in Luc Jaeger’s lab at the University of California Santa Barbara.  In 2011, I was invited as a Research Fellow to join the group of Bruce Shapiro at the National Cancer Institute, NIH where I established and managed an experimental branch within the Computational RNA Structure Group. I started my tenure-track appointment as an Assistant Professor at UNC Charlotte in 2015 and was promoted to the Associate Professor in 2019.

 

Starting with my doctoral research, under supervision of Neocles Leontis, I focused my efforts on studying RNA biology and nanotechnology with potential diagnostic and therapeutic applications to biomedicine. My interdisciplinary research experience includes extensive use of both computational and experimental techniques for modeling, prediction, engineering, and characterization in vitro and in vivo of natural and artificial nucleic acid-based structures.

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Doctoral Researchers

Dr. Martin Panigaj

Visiting Scientist from P. J. Safarik University Institute of Biology and Ecology

Postdoctoral ORISE Fellow | U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Ph.D., Molecular and Cellular Biology | Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic)

M.S., Molecular Biology and Genetics | P.J. Safarik University (Kosice, Slovak Republic)

Dr. Caryn D. Striplin

Lecturer and Lab Coordinator

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Molecular Pharmacology | UNC Chapel Hill

Ph.D., Neuroscience | Washington State University

B.S., Biology and Chemical Science | California State University, Chico

Dr. Brittany Johnson

Research Assistant Professor

My name is Brittany Johnson, and I am originally from Marion, Va. In 2008, I earned my B.S. in Biology with Honors from the College of William and Mary. I graduated from the University of Virginia in 2014 with a Ph.D. from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology. My dissertation work investigated mechanisms used by the bacterial pathogen, Neisseria gonorrhoeae to evade neutrophil clearance. I have continued my career as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina Charlotte working with Dr. Ian Marriott and Dr. Kirill Afonin. Currently, I am investigating glial cell immune receptors required for identification and stimulation of an immune response to bacterial pathogens and therapeutic nucleic acids.  

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Graduate Students

Weina Ke

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

I’m Weina Ke. I’m originally from Shanghai, China where I received my bachelor degree of engineering. I worked as a software engineer at COSCO Container lines Co.,LTD. I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Nanoscale Science Program at UNC Charlotte studying RNA nanotechnology and drug delivery.

Damian Beasock

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

I’m Damian Beasock from Syracuse, New York. At Syracuse University I earned a BS in Bio-Med Physics. I was a part of the Forstner biophysics research group studying active matter. I’m currently working on my PhD in Nanoscale Science here at UNC Charlotte.

Morgan Chandler

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

My name is Morgan Chandler and I'm a local product from Charlotte, NC. I earned my B.S. in Biology with Honors from UNC Charlotte in 2017. 

Yelixza Avila

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

Hello, my name is Yelixza. I am from the El Paso, TX area and graduated from Sul Ross State University with a double major in Biology and Chemistry. Currently, I am a Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student studying nucleic acid nanotechnology.

Alex Lewis Rolband

Nanoscale Science Ph.D. Student

I am Lewis Rolband, though I go by Alex in most company. I took the scenic route to my B.S. Chemistry with Biochemistry from UNC-Charlotte. While working towards my undergraduate degree, I served in the NC Army National Guard (NCARNG) as an artillery observer and a Bradley Fighting Vehicle commander. After eight years in the NCARNG, I decided to end my service and pursue a PhD at UNC-Charlotte in order to further my scientific career.

Oleg Shevchenko

M.S. Chemistry

My name is Oleg Shevchenko. I was born in Artemovsk in the former USSR, but now it is Bakhmut in Ukraine. My family moved to the US and has lived in the Charlotte area since 2001, a place I can call home. I earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Chemistry with a Minor in Mathematics, and now I am pursuing a Master’s degree in Chemistry at UNC Charlotte while studying RNA nanotechnology. I also have interest in genetic genealogy.

Jessica McMillan

Biology Masters Student

​Hello! I am from Creedmoor, NC. In 2018, I graduated from UNC Charlotte with a B.S. in Psychology and minors in Biology and Chemistry. Before attending medical school, I'll be enhancing my knowledge on the inter-workings of human physiology and optimal drug delivery by studying RNA nanotechnology. My goal is to one day use nanodesign to diagnose patients experiencing chemical and psychological deviances and alleviate the symptoms with minimal drug side effects.

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Undergraduate Students

Allison Tran

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Allison (Ally) Tran. I was born in Ho Chi Minh City and came to the U.S. when I was five years old. Since then, my family has lived in many different states, but I finally ended up in Charlotte the summer of 2016. I'm currently a sophomore at UNC Charlotte pursuing a degree in Biology (B.S.) with minors in Biotechnology and Criminal Justice. Working in Dr. Afonin's lab helped me realize my strong passion for research and how excited I am about the idea of exploring new, break-through science. After I graduate, I plan to attend medical school and then complete my PhD in order to continue with clinical research.

Melina Richardson

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Melina Richardson. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri and moved to Charlotte during the summer of  in 2015. After graduating South Mecklenburg High School, I began pursuing a B.S. in Biology with minors in statistics and bioinformatics. After graduation, I hope to enter a PhD program in Microbiology and Virology.

Nguyen Truong

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Nguyen (Rosalie) Truong. I was born in Vietnam and moved to the U.S. in the summer of 2012. I graduated from Leonardtown High School in Hollywood, MD and moved to NC to pursue a B.S. in Biology, B.A. in Chemistry, and a minor in Biotechnology at UNC Charlotte. After I graduate, I hope to attend dental school and become an orthodontist. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to work in Dr. Afonin’s lab. His research will surely prove to be an excellent platform for me to establish my research skills and knowledge in RNA nanoscience.

Lizzie Stassenko

Undergraduate Biology and Sociology Majors

My name is Lizzie Stassenko, and I have lived most of my life here, in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am currently a sophomore student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Biology (BS) and Sociology (BA) with a minor in Chemistry. Eager to gain research experience, I joined Dr. Afonin’s lab the summer before my freshman year at UNC, where I ended up developing a passion for nanoscale science that I plan to apply to my future career as a physician. Researching RNA therapeutics in the Afonin Lab has inspired me to pursue an MD/PhD degree after graduating, as I plan to continue clinical research after medical school.

Dana Elasmar

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Dana Elasmar. I was born in Amman, Jordan, and moved to North Carolina at a young age and have lived here ever since. As a junior, pursuing a BA in biology at UNCC, my goal is to attend PA school and enter the medical field to use my knowledge as a way to help people. Being given the opportunity to work in Dr. Afonin’s lab increased my level of interest and appreciation to the field of research, as well as assisting me in expanding my knowledge and understanding the importance of RNA Nanotechnology.

Sandra Arroyo-Becker

Undergraduate Chemistry and French Literature and Language Majors

Hey there! My name is Sandra Arroyo-Becker and I grew up in Miami, FL. I initially began my undergraduate career at the University of South Carolina and transferred to UNC Charlotte in order to pursue a B.S. in Chemistry (Biochemistry concentration) as well as a B.A. in French Literature and Language. While working on my undergraduate degrees, I have had the opportunity to conduct research at institutions both abroad (Institut Pasteur, Paris, France) and local (UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, NC). Throughout my experiences, I have ameliorated my capabilities as a researcher and have acquired newfound interests (i.e. RNA nanotechnology). By working in the Afonin lab, it is my goal to continue this development to better prepare myself for future graduate studies. 

Doaha Awad

Undergraduate Biology Major

My name is Doaha Awad. I am a junior majoring in Biology (B.S.) and minoring in Chemistry and Psychology and I aspire to attend medical school in the future. I am originally from the Bronx, NY, but moved to Charlotte, NC, a couple of years ago. I joined Dr. Afonin’s lab because I was interested in research, specifically in the field of Biochemistry, but also because his work with RNA nanotechnology was very fascinating and I wanted to learn more. Through my experience in Dr. Afonin’s lab, I have developed more of an interest and appreciation in research and am excited to continue research in the lab. 

Amir Hamraz

Undergraduate Biochemistry Major

Amir is a 4-year student of biochemistry and world traveler who is originally from Mashhad in the Khorasan-e-Razavi Province of Iran. 

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