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Principal Investigator

Elma Zaganjor

Assistant Professor, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

My research interests are in the role of mitochondrial metabolism in disease. My lab focuses on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which mitochondrial sirtuins protect from age-related disease, cancer, and diabetes.

I performed graduate training at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the laboratory of Dr. Melanie Cobb, studying the mechanisms of cancer metastasis. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Marcia Haigis at Harvard Medical School I studied the role of mitochondrial metabolism in cell fate decisions in the context of cancer biology and normal development.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Woo Yong Park

Postdoctoral Fellow, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

In February 2022, I obtained my Ph.D. from Kyung Hee University, where I studied the role of mitochondria dynamics in adipocyte beiging, as well as the molecular mechanisms that regulate this process. My recent research interests include establishing the significance of mitochondrial metabolisms, specifically the role of a one-carbon cycle, in deciding the fate/development of adipose-derived stem cells (ASCs).

Graduate Students

Alex Eddie

Graduate Student, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville then received my master’s degree from Lipscomb University. In the Zaganjor lab I am studying the role of the immune system in normal adipose function and in obesity.

Julia Pinette

Graduate Student, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics

Epidemiological studies have shown that diabetic patients have increased plasma branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). Adipose tissue is a known regulator of systemic metabolism, and disruption of this process causes chronic low-grade inflammation resulting in obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. The Zaganjor lab has linked BCAA catabolism in adipocytes with changes in insulin sensitivity via the mitochondrial enzyme SIRT4. Adipose tissue-specific knockout of SIRT4 leads to insulin resistance and adipose tissue hypertrophy according to my preliminary data. I am investigating the molecular mechanism by which SIRT4 regulates adipose tissue homeostasis.  

  • Previously supported by the Vanderbilt Hypertension and Blood Pressure Regulation Program (HBPRP T32 HL144446-02) 
  • Currently funded by the American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship

Undergraduate Students

Grace Brosnan

I am a second-year undergraduate student from Winchester, Massachusetts. I am pursuing a major in Medicine, Health, and Society and a minor in Business. I am passionate about research and I aspire to take these interests to the clinical setting and work in healthcare.

Heather Bryant

I am a second-year undergraduate student from Albany, New York majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology with a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. I am passionate about health as well as ongoing environmental issues and plan to work in a healthcare setting in the future.

Mila Lazarević

I am a second-year undergraduate student from Serbia. I am majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society, and hoping to minor in Chemistry. I am passionate about health equity and molecular biology. After I graduate, I hope to pursue an M.D.

Claudia Montufar Leon

I am a graduate of the Biomedical Engineering program at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. I did my undergraduate training at UPCH in the Reproductive Biology and Fertility Preservation Laboratory of Dr. Sergio Romero, where I studied novel techniques for in vitro maturation of oocytes for patients who cannot undergo hormonal treatment. My research interests include cell fate decisions, developmental biology and stem cell research. In the future I intend to pursue a PhD.

Jacob Myers

I am a second-year undergraduate from Franklin, TN pursuing a double major in Biochemistry and Mathematics with a minor in Data Science at Vanderbilt. I am interested in the molecular mechanisms that underpin insulin resistance and diabetes. I’m passionate about health, biostatistics, and scientific literacy, and have aspirations to pursue my Ph.D. in the future.

Awarded: 2024 Aida Nureddin Outstanding Junior Research , 2024 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Fair poster award and the Levy Fellowship.


Zayedali Shaikh

I am a second-year undergraduate from Queens, NY, pursuing a major in Cellular and Molecular Biology. I am passionate about molecular biology as well as medicine and aspire to work in healthcare in the future.