Current Members

Mandë Holford, PhD, Principal Investigator

Mandë Holford is an Associate Professor in Chemistry at CUNY-Hunter College and Graduate Center, with scientific appointments at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medical College. Her appointments reflect her traditional training in synthetic peptide chemistry and her subsequent interest in evolution of venomous marine organisms and characterization of venom peptides. Dr. Holford’s research is at the forefront of Chemical and Biological Diversity – pioneering an evolutionarily integrated approach to the discovery of novel venom peptides for therapeutic development in pain and cancer.  


Prachi Anand, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow

Prachi Anand received her Doctorate degree in Biomedical Sciences in March 2010 and Masters in Biomedical Science in June 2004 from Dr. B.R Ambedkar Center for Biomedical Research, University of Delhi, Delhi, India. Her PhD studies were focused on therapeutics of diabetes from natural products. She has qualified for the combined National Eligibility Test (NET) conducted by Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and University Grants Commission, Government of India in 2004 and received the CSIR-UGC Junior and Senior Research Fellowship.


Prachi joined Dr. Holford’s group in May 2010 as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry, CUNY-York College. In Dr. Holford’s lab she is working on the synthesis and characterization of novel teretoxins to identify specific ligands for ion channels and receptors. The other project she works on, is the delivery of therapeutic peptides across the blood brain barrier using viral nanocontainers. She is also studying the anticancer activity of novel teretoxins in various cell lines.

Giulia Fassio, PhD, Visiting Scientist

Giulia received her PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology in 2017 from the University La Sapienza of Rome with a thesis on Antarctic mollusc larval ecology and genetic connectivity. She received a grant from her home country of Italy to visit the Holford laboratory for five months. During this period, she is learning to analyze NGS data using bioinformatic tools and she has joined the ongoing project on Terebridae diet identification and correlation with venom diversity.

Juliette Gorson, Graduate Student

Juliette received her BS from Colby College, majoring in Biology and Animal Ethics, and received her MS from Hofstra University, majoring in Biology. Juliette is currently a PhD student working on venom variation and population genetics of the neogastropod clade. To complete this work, she uses next generation sequencing and bio-informatics. She has also had the privilege of joining Dr. Holford in the field for two expeditions to Papua New Guinea in the hopes of increasing the pool of available Terebridae toxins. Additionally, she spent the summer in Paris working on Terebridae taxonomy and the classification of potentially new species.

Patrick Kelly, Graduate Student

Patrick holds a B.A. from San Francisco State University and an M.A. from Columbia University, both in English literature. After working as a writer and editor, he trained for several years full-time in a Zen Buddhist monastery. He entered the CUNY Biochemistry Ph.D. program in 2013 and is currently investigating in vivo delivery mechanisms for small peptide therapeutics.

Aida Verdes, Graduate Student

Born in Spain, Aida received her Masters in Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology in 2011 and her BS in Biology in 2009, from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. During her undergraduate and graduate studies, she worked on diverse marine biodiversity and conservation projects, ranging from the captive rearing and reintroduction of endangered seahorses in the Spanish coasts, to the systematics and evolution of polychaete worms. She is broadly interested in marine invertebrate evolution, including the evolutionarily convergence of striking traits such as bioluminescence or venom production. Aida moved to New York and joined CUNY’s PhD program in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior in the fall of 2012. She joined the Holford Lab in June 2013 where she is applying transcriptomics, biochemical tools and phylogenetic methodologies to characterize and study the evolution of biofluorescence and bioluminescence in polychaete annelids and other marine organisms. She is also interested in venom evolution, and she is currently investigating putative toxins and venom protein homologs of several species of venomous marine worms. 

Tanya Napolitano, Graduate Student

Tanya received a BS in forensic toxicology in 2015 from John Jay College. She then worked as a research chemist for the Research Foundation of CUNY, synthesizing mitomycin interstrand cross-linked DNA adducts and studying their effects on cancer cells. Tanya entered the CUNY Biochemistry Ph.D. Program in fall 2016 and joined the Holford lab in spring 2017, investigating in vivo delivery methods for bioactive peptides.

Carolina Santamaria, Undergraduate Research Intern

Carolina is a senior majoring in Biochemistry with a minor in Psychology. She  joined the lab in 2015. she is currently studying the chemical effects of various peptides synthesized in the lab on neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells. These cells adopt a neuronal phenotype upon addition of nerve growth factor and thus are commonly used as a model for neurotoxicological studies. Carolina is interested in cancer research and its relationship with viral infections and stem cell research.

Emily Lau, Undergraduate Research Intern

Emily is currently an undergraduate student majoring in Biochemistry and Anthropology at Hunter College, The City University of New York. Emily joined the Holford Laboratory research group in 2015. She is applying metabarcoding methodologies to identify the diet of terebrids, which will be used to determine the ecological drivers of terebrid venom variation. Emily would like to pursue a PhD in Integrative and Comparative Biology post undergraduate graduation. She is interested in evolutionary biology, ecology, primatology, and scientific journalism.  

Nicolette Somogyi, Undergraduate Research Intern

Born and raised in Queens. An undergraduate currently pursuing an degree in biotechnology at Hunter College. Joined the Holford lab in Fall 2015. Working along-side mentor Stephen Jannetti in synthesizing peptides using Fmoc solid phase peptide synthesis and analyzing and purifying peptide products using HPLC and Mass spectrometry. Interested in studying the pharmacological potentials of bioactive peptides from conotoxins.

Corina Grijuc, Undergraduate Research Intern

Corina Grijuc is an undergraduate senior at Hunter College, CUNY. She is majoring in biochemistry and minoring in psychology. In the lab, Corina synthesizes and folds various novel peptides. Additionally, she analyzes and purifies these peptide products using techniques such as mass spectrometry, and high performance liquid chromatography. Corina has also briefly conducted research in identifying two pigment proteins, biliverdin and protoporphyrin in various bird species' eggs, including Prinias and Cuckoo Finches, and their link to the evolution of the species. Her ultimate goals consist of studying to become an MD. She believes biochemical research is important for understanding and treating the human body.

Justin Ho, Laboratory Manager

Justin is currently an undergraduate student majoring in mathematics and chemistry, and minoring in physics at Hunter College CUNY. Justin joined the research group in 2017 in order to help with the day to day administrative tasks and keep the lab running safely and efficiently. His study/research interest consists of organometallic chemistry, material science, polymers, spectroscopy, and radiochemistry.

Former Members

PhD Graduate Students

Abba Leffler, PhD, (Staff Scientist, Schrödinger)

Elizabeth Mary Wright, PhD, (Lecturer, Princeton University)

Masters Graduate Students

Danny Simpson, MS, (Bioinformatics Specialist, New York Genome Center)

Raj Musunuri, MS, (Bioinformatics Specialist, New York Genome Center)

Emily Lin, MS, (PhD candidate, CUNY Graduate Center)

R. S. Ramakrishnan, MS, (Bioinformatics Specialist, Mount Sinai Hospital)

Undergraduate Students

Henry Yelkin (Medical School Bound)

Marouf Hossain (MD candidate, SUNY Downstate)

Manjeet Kaur (Masters candidate, CUNY Graduate Center)

Peter Filipenko (Bioinformatics Consultant)

Girish Ramrattan (Bioinformatics Facility Manager, Weill Cornell Medical College)

Michelle Yun (MS candidate in Pharmacology,  Boston University)

Magid Mohamed (MD/PhD candidate, UT South Western)

John Moon (MD candidate, University of Chicago)

Saama Salim (Nursing candidate)

Kelly Huang (Nursing candidate)

Michael Lyudmer (Medical School Bound)