Principal Investigators

Robin A. Felder, PhD

Grant Principal Investigator

Dr. Robin Felder is a Professor of Pathology, Associate Director of Labratory Medicine at the University of Virginia (UVA), as well as Chair of Dr. Felder received his PhD in biochemistry from Georgetown University/

He has published more than 300 papers, reviews and chapters, and has co-edited three textbooks on medical automation. He has been awarded 27 patents and has founded nine biotech companies, including two non-profit organizations – the Association for Laboratory Automation (and its journal JALA), as well as He has received numerous awards, including the Engelberger Robotics Award, UVA's First Innovator of the Year, the Annual Research Awards for the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, and National Academy for Clinical Biochemistry.

Robert M. Carey, M.D.

Project 2 Principal Investigator

Dr. Robert Carey received his medical degree from Vanderbilt University in 1965, completed his residency at Cornell Medical Center in New York Hospital, and did fellowships in endocrinology at Vanderbilt and in hypertension at what is currently called Imperial College. He served as the director of Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at UVA from 1978-86, and successfully advanced the program to no. 5 in the country. He also served as dean of UVA School of Medicine from 1986-2002.

Dr. Carey's clinical focus is on cardiovascular endocrinology, adrenal disorders, as well as hypertension. His work is critically acclaimed, receiving numerous award: the Edward H. Ahrens Jr. Distinguished Scientist Award of the Association of Patient-Oriented Research in 2012, the Research Excellence Award of AHA Council for High Blood Pressure Research in 2012, and Outstanding Leadership in Endocrinology Award from the Endocrine Society in 2015 to name a few. Dr. Carey's hobbies include fly fishing, camping, hiking, and spending time with his wife, Theodora, three kids, and five grandkids.


John Gildea

Analytical Core Director

John Gildea is Cell Pathophysiologist and Molecular Geneticist with 27 years of scientific research experience at the bench in both industrial and academic labs. A guiding principle of his work is to establish innovative optimized model systems and assays in order to robustly investigate both normal and pathological states. He has expertise in ex-vivo, primary and immortalized cell culture systems, molecular biology, antibody based and nucleic acid-based diagnostic assay development, electron and fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry.

Mr. Gildea is very excited to apply precision medicine for the identification of those individuals that need to reduce the amount of salt in their diet. He confidently believes that with a combination of genetic testing, biomarker evaluation and live cell physiology measurements including a "virtual renal biopsy", salt-sensitive hypertensive individuals can be unambiguously identified. Once identified and educated, these individuals can make simple dietary changes that have the potential to dramatically decrease a hidden, unrecognized, monumental healthcare problem. John also enjoys home life with his wife who is a high school biology teacher, his two lovely teenage daughters and playing hockey on the weekends.

Peng Xu, PhD

Lab Manager

Dr. Peng Zu is originally from China. She got her B.Sc in Biology from China Ocean University in 2002. After she got her PhD in developmental biology from Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2007, she came to the United States and finished her first postdoctoral training in heart development at the University of Notre Dame.

In 2012, she joined Dr. Yan's lab at UVA studying exercise and cardiovascular disease. In 2014, she joined Dr. Felder's lab. She is actively involved in several projects, such as the salt sensitivity study and gastro-renal axis study. She is an expert in urine cell culture and genomic SNP test. She has passion for science and is meticulous in experiments. She enjoys research tightly related and beneficial to clinical applications. In her spare time, she likes traveling and hiking in national parks.

Rana Abdel-Fattah, PhD


Dr. Abdel-Fattah is originally from Palestine, but was born and raised in Kuwait. She received her B.Sc. in Biomedical Sciences from Ulster University, N. Ireland and her PhD from the University of Newcastle's Medical School – Cancer Research Unit – in England. Dr. Abdel-Fattah received postdoctoral training at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Institutes of Heath (NIH).

She has been motivated to bridge the gap between the lab and clinic; thus in 2002 she mobed to Charlottesville to join UVa's Pathology Research team. After a three-year break to spend time with her children, she rejoined the Pathology team at Dr. Felder's Laboratory in August of 2016. Dr. Abdel-Fattah is very passionate about research and thrives to learn new things every single day. On a personal level, she enjoys cooking, painting and hiking, and loves to spend quality time with her husband and three kids.

Katherine Schiermeyer

Research Assistant

Ms. Schiermeyer graduated from East Tennessee State University. She graduated wtih a degree in mathematics and a minor in Biology. Ms. Schiermeyer's experience with research is anything but limited. Her past research includes DNA sample genotyping for Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS), pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) generation and differentiation, and the role of naturally-occurring IgM in preventing the onset of type one diabetes.

Ms. Schiermeyer's skills are utilized for the genetic component of the salt sensitivity study. She is responsible for helping with genotyping and running live cell assays in the laboratory. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, playing with her dog, cooking, teaching fitness group classes, and practicing yoga.

Nancy Howell

Laboratory Advanced Specialist

Mrs. Howell was born in Brooklyn Heights, NY and raised in Sparta, New Jersey. She received her BA degree at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va. In 1983 she started working for Dr. Carey in his research lab and has been doing Renal Hypertension research for 34 years.


Mrs. Howell has been married for 30 years and has 4 dogs and 5 cats. She enjoys horseback riding, reading, and walking 5 miles every morning with her dogs. Her nephew, niece and great nephew also live in the Charlottesville area, and she enjoys time with them as often as possible.  Mrs. Howell also has a sister and step brother who live in Texas and visits them regularly.

Brandon Ambrose

Laboratory Research Specialist

Mr. Kemp received his degree from the University of Virginia in 2005.  He started working in the research lab of Dr. Robert Carey while an undergraduate student and was hired full time as a laboratory specialist upon graduation.  He works on multiple research projects focusing on the renin angiotensin system with in the kidney and its role in monitoring homeostatic functions such as blood pressure and electrolyte excretion.  In his free time, he enjoys spending time with family and friends and playing golf.

Janet Zhang

Medical Student Summer Intern

Ms. Zhang graduated from Duke University with a B.S. in Biology and minors in Computer Science and Chemistry. She is a medical student about to start her second year at the University of Virginia. Ms. Zhang has enjoyed working in the lab as it applies basic science to clinical applications.
In her free time, she likes to tweak her own video game engine for fun, draw, travel, and spend time with her friends. ​

Ahmet Arseven

Medical Student Summer Intern

Mr. Arseven is from Turkey. He is a medical student in Dokuz Eylul University in Turkey. He has just completed his internal medicine rotation, when he learned about hypertension and helped patients with hypertension. In two years he will graduate as an MD.

He likes traveling and reading in his free time.
During the summer Mr. Arseven volunteers in Dr. Felder’s laboratory. 


Mahabuba Akhter, MBBS, MS

Research Clinical Coordinator

Dr. Akhter is originally from Bangladesh and was a practicing general physician for 11 years. She came to America shortly after and successfully completed her U.S. Medical Licensing Exam.

In the last four years, she has worked on the investigation/development of a new drug in the UVA Neurology Department. Currently she is interested in learning different aspects of clinical research and has joined Dr. Carey's study examining hypertension in August of 2016. In her free time, Dr. Akhter loves to cook, garden, and spend time with her family and friends.

Monica Mae Majillo

Research Assistant

Ms. Majillo was born in the Philippines, but raised in Virginia. Currently enrolled as a third year at the University of Virginia with the intent of a B.A. in Biology, Ms. Majillo aspires to enter the health system as a doctor. She loves to play tennis, collect records, as well as spend time with her family, friends, and cat, Kanani.

During the summer, Ms. Majillo works as a student extern for Bustos LLC at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. She also volunteers monthly as a medical assistant for the Philippine Medical Association Free Clinic in Washington, D.C. In attempt to branch out in all aspects of medicine, she joined Dr. Carey's team in the upcoming salt sensitivity and blood pressure research study in August of 2016. With a bold face on, she is not afraid to dive head first and tackle any challenges that come her way.

Jasmine Lee Thomas

Summer Research Intern

Ms. Thomas was born in Winter Park, Florida. She is going into her first year of pharmacy school at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in the fall of 2017. She plans to receive her PharmD then get her M.D. She aspires to become a cardiologist. Ms. Thomas loves to workout at the gym, reading, going to the movies, taking road trips with her family, and attending theme parks. 


Ms. Thomas volunteers with the Westside Boys and Girls Club during the summer in Sanford, Florida. She has a passion for science and volunteering. This encouraged her to apply for the Summer Research Internship Program (SRIP) at the University of Virginia where she joined Dr. Carey's team. She is working with how genetic variants have an impact on salt sensitivity affecting blood pressure. 

Nicole Thieken

Medical Student Summer Intern

Ms. Thieken is a student at here at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as an MD candidate in 2020.  She graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2016 having studied biological sciences and anthropology. 

She is joining our lab for the summer as part of the Medical Student Summer Research Program and looks forward to learning about clinical medicine.  She is most excited about the application of genetics to take on the prevalent healthcare issue of hypertension.  In her spare time, Nicole enjoys reading, hiking, and singing.

Zunair Khokhar

Research Scientist

Born and raised in Arlington, Virginia. Zunair is a B.S. Biology major who plans on a career in medicine, although he has many interests. He is very much interested in engineering and enjoys building things during his free time.


Currently, he spends time volunteering at Walk-In Medical Center in Falls Church, VA. Additionally, he is involved in research to develop an antibody drug cancer therapy.


Theresa Zanetti

Clinical Dietician

Originally Mrs. Zanetti was born in a scenic town in Pennsylvania. She earned her master of science in nutrition from Indiana university of Pennsylvania. In the year 2004 Mrs. Zanetti moved to Charlottesville; since then this incredibly beautiful city is her permanent residence. She has dedicated last 6 years as a research dietician (Renal dialysis Dietarian) with UVA. Currently she is involved with the NIH grant study IRB #11494 as a nutritionist of low and high salt research diet. 


Mrs. Zanetti loves to spend quality time with her 4 year old son, Hudson, as much as she can, and certainly with her husband Derek.

In addition, she loves to travel and go to shopping to purchase her favorite things.

Ciara Marsh 

Sous Chef 

Ciara Marsh was born in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. She graduated from IUP Culinary Arts Program with her Associate's Degree and IUP Main Campus with her Bachelor's Degree in Hospitality Management. In 2015, she started working for the UVA kitchen. She has extensive experience traveling many countries learning about many aspects of the culinary arts. Most recently, she visited Switzerland studying Swiss chocolates. In addition, she worked in one of the top resorts in America, the Boca Raton Resort & Club. 

She is passionate about her job because she wants to make people happy, especially when people are going through a hard time. She enjoys playing with her dogs and hedgehog and spending time with her family. 

Chef Denis Callinan

Executive Chef of UVA Medical Center

Denis graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY. He started his professional career in corporate dining for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY then began at The Four Seasons in Philadelphia, PA.   Denis then married and he and his wife moved to Orlando, FL where he began working at the Magic Kingdom Park at the Walt Disney World Resort.   After a few years in the parks and three children later, Denis took on the role of executive sous chef at Fulton’s Crab House located in Downtown Disney. In 2005, Denis made the move to Williamsburg, VA and became the executive chef of The College of William and Mary.  Denis grew to be one of the largest caterers in the Williamsburg area, cooking for many dignitaries, politicians, and numerous guests of the college. Events ranged from intimate dinners at the President’s house to multi course dinners for 400 plus.

Denis has continued his education with The Culinary Institute of America by completing the professional chef certification. In 2010 he completed Pro Chef level II.  In 2013 Denis set out again to complete the last and highest Certification, Pro Chef level III.