Graduate Students
Jessica Jarmasz, PhD Student | Dina Johar, PhD Student | Ryan Lillico, PhD Student | Berardino Petrelli, MSc Student

Jessica Jarmasz, PhD Candidate

I am currently wrapping up my PhD which is on the topic of epigenetics and Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). My thesis work involved the study of DNA cytosine modifications as well as Histone Posttranslational Modifications (PTMs) in the developing human brain exposed to prenatal alcohol exposure (PNAE). FASD is 100% preventable, yet is the leading cause of developmental disability. Many in vivo studies in animals have established the effects of PNAE on epigenetic processes in the developing brain. However, no studies directly assess epigenetic processes such as DNA and histone PTMs in human brains. Therefore, I hypothesized that PNAE is associated with changes to epigenetic modifications in human brain cells. Based on my findings, I accepted my hypothesis. Statistically significant changes were seen among multiple epigenetics marks in the temporal lobe, including hippocampus, of human fetuses and infants. Some of them correspond with changes in a non-human primate FASD model. These epigenetic modifications might be involved in the pathogenesis of the neurodevelopmental defect in FASD, however a cause-effect relationship could not be determined.

My future Post-Doctoral interests include further conducting epigenetic studies in the developing human brain or possibly in the aging human brain. Concussion is also a research interest.  

Dina Johar, PhD    

My epigenetic research project focuses on new approach to differentiate primary from latent toxoplasma gondii abortion through immunoglobulin and DNA interpretation.



 Ryan Lillico, PhD Student

I am currently working on the molecular pathology of mixed lineage leukemia and how histone lysine methyltransferase and demethylase inhibitors can be used as treatment. We are investigating the genome wide effects of these inhibitors with respect to histone modifications using an LC-MS/MS assay developed in our lab. We also follow changes in gene expression of other epigenetic enzymes upon treatment with certain inhibitors, finding that genome wide inhibition of one epigenetic enzyme can lead to changing the expression of other epigenetic enzymes, resulting in cascading, off-target changes in gene expression. We aim to develop bio-conjugates of epigenetic enzyme inhibitors as a means of gene-specific drug targeting in order to overcome these off-target effects.


Berardino Petrelli, MSc Student

My epigenetic research interest focuses on studying DNA methylation signatures in prenatal alcohol exposed (PAE) embryos during early gestations. I will be comparing the changes in DNA methylation changes between PAE early gestation embryos and compare the results to gestation day matched non-PAE controls and Gsc:Cyp26A1 embryos, our transgenic mouse model I am currently characterizing. This research will give use insight into early developmental repercussions due to prenatal alcohol exposure and in the mechanism FASD.