Principal Investigator

Nadja Zeltner
Nadja Zeltner, PhD

Assistant Professor
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Department of Cellular Biology
Center for Molecular Medicine
325 Riverbend Road, Athens, GA 30602
Phone: 706 542 2650

Bio: Dr. Zeltner was born and raised in Switzerland and received a masters degree in Zoology from the University of Zürich. She completed her PhD in Biomedical Sciences at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, working on the use of adeno-associated virus (AAV) for gene therapy. She then was a post-doctoral fellow and later a Research Associate in Dr. Lorenz Studer’s lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where she established disease models for Familial Dysautonomia using hPSCs. Dr. Zeltner joined UGA as a junior faculty in early 2018.

Graduate Students

Jessica McAlpine
Jessica McAlpine

Bio: Jessica grew up in Daphne, AL. She got her B.S. in Biological Chemistry at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA in 2014 and spent 3.5 years working as a research technician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center where she met Dr. Zeltner. She is currently planning to apply for graduate school. For fun she loves nature, hiking, and music.

Project: Jessica is working on optimizing protocols for the generation of intermediate mesoderm and sympathoadrenal progenitors, which she will use to generate and study adrenal gland organoids.

Jennifer Art
Jennifer Art

Bio:Jennifer was born and raised in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She received a B.S. in Biochemistry from New Mexico State University in 2021. Her passion for neuroscience and biomedicine led her to join the Zeltner lab. Outside of the lab, Jennifer enjoys dancing, playing board games, and spending time with her husband and two sons.

Project: Jennifer will work on understanding how stress affects the cells of the peripheral nervous system, specifically focusing on effects of PTSD in sympathetic neurons.

Tripti Saini
Tripti Saini

Bio: Tripti was born and raised in Punjab, India. She received her bachelor’s degree from Punjab Agricultural University, India, majoring in Genetics and Biotechnology. In Spring 2020 she joined Sahoo lab at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Texas to pursue a master’s degree. At his lab, she studied autophagy mediated bacterial clearance in mammalian cells and explored stress signaling in bacteria and plants as side projects. For fun she loves to read, hike, and dance. When she is not in lab you can find her in gym, dog shelters, or watching Shark Tank.

Project: Tripti’s project is focused on understanding peripheral neuropathy and a small molecule- ‘Genipin’ mediated peripheral nerve regeneration. She is particularly interested in exploring underlying molecular mechanisms and pathways involved in neural regeneration.

Christina James
Christina James

Bio: Christina was born and raised in Georgia. She is currently a graduate student in the lab. Her primary interests include genetics, cognitive neuroscience, and cell biology. Outside of the lab, she loves to hike, cook, and learn new languages.


Project: Christina works on investigating chromaffin cells and engineering adrenal organoids

Graduate Student, Meagan Shinn
Meagan Shinn

Bio: Meagan was born and raised in Laredo, Tx. She earned her B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Neuroscience and a minor in dance from the University of Texas, San Antonio in 2021. Her hobbies include baking, dancing, going to coffee shops, and being
a dog mom!

Project: Meagan’s project is focused on the developing peripheral neural stem cell models for lysosomal storage disorders, under co-mentorship of Dr. Zeltner and Dr. Weiss.

Undergraduate Students

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Stephanie Gogita

Bio: Stephanie is currently a third-year undergraduate student from Cumming, Georgia with a major in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Nutritional Sciences. She is on the Pre-med track in hopes of becoming a doctor who can help people in underserved countries. She loves to give back to her community by being involved with the Thomas-Lay Afterschool Program, Hearts for the Homeless, and Gentiva Hospice. Outside of school, her passions include baking, reading, traveling, and exploring nature.

WIlliam Delaney

Bio: A South Carolina native, William Delaney is a third-year biology student with an emphasis on neuroscience and a minor in chemistry at the University of Georgia. Actively involved in cutting-edge research within the lab, he extends his passion for science to campus organizations like UGA HEROs and the Pre-Med club. Aspiring to become a neurologist, William plans to attend medical school. Beyond academics, he finds joy in playing the violin and hiking. Balancing rigorous studies with extracurricular pursuits, William’s holistic approach reflects his commitment to personal and professional growth. His dedication hints at a promising future in neurological science and patient care.

Previous members

Trinity Knight
Trinity Knight

Bio: Trinity is an undergraduate student from Acworth, Georgia. She is currently a third year Biology major with an emphasis in neuroscience and minor in human development and family science. Outside the lab, she works at an early childcare facility and is a member of UGA Miracle.

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Hsueh-Fu Wu

Bio: Hsueh-Fu was born in Taiwan. His research interest is in addressing neurological disorders and injuries via cutting-edge techniques and interdisciplinary approaches. During his Master’s training at Yang-Ming University, he was working on cerebellar pathogenesis of small GTPase Rab18 mutation in Warburg Micro Syndrome.

Project: Hsueh-Fu has recently established a differentiation protocol for the generation of peripheral sympathetic neurons from hPSCs. He is interested in studying how these cells are affected in Familial Dysautonomia, particularly why they are hyperactive and how stress exacerbates these phenotypes.

Vicente Kenyi
Vicente Kenyi Saito-Diaz, PhD

Phone: 706 542 4262

Bio: Kenyi was born and raised in Peru and received his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Cayetano Heredia Peruvian University (Lima, Peru). He completed his Ph.D. in Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University under the supervision of Dr. Ethan Lee where he studied the role of the tumor suppressor APC in Wnt signaling transduction.

Projects: Kenyi works on disease modeling of Familial Dysautonomia. He is particularly interested in the LAMB4 mutation and the development of a small molecule for potential treatment of FD. He also works on the establishment of a protocol to derive nociceptors, mechanoceptors and proprioceptors.

Kimata Safi Thomas
Kimata Safi Thomas

Bio: Kimata was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and grew up just south of the city in Clayton County. She is currently a second-year Biology major with a Neuroscience focus. She also is a pre-med undergraduate with a minor in Spanish. Her passion for neuroscience begun with her younger brother, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2011. She is currently a member of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and Minority Science Student Association. These clubs allow her to be a more active member of the Athens community through various service opportunities.

Courtney Grant Jr.
Courtney Grant Jr.

Bio: Courtney is a first generation Jamaican-American, born in Bridgeport, CT. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a double major in both Biology and Asian Languages and Literature. Courtney has started as a lab technician in the Zeltner lab with hopes to increase his research experience. Courtney was accepted into UGA graduate school, and he is starting grad school journey in Fall 2023.​

Archie Jayesh Patel

Bio: Archie is an undergraduate student, who was born in Burlington, North Carolina. She grew up in Gujarat, India and Savannah, Georgia. She is double majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Psychology with an intended graduate program of study in Comparative Biomedical Sciences (MS). During her free time, she loves to create new recipes in the kitchen and listen to music!

Kimani Smith
Kimani Nate Smith

Bio: I am Kimani Smith. I was born in Alpharetta, Georgia. I am a pre-med sophomore majoring in Genetics. My favorite subject is biology, and I love learning about the different chemical reactions that take place inside the body. I currently work as a phlebotomist at the Health Center as an extracurricular activity. I also spend my time peer-mentoring for an organization called Xtension. During my down time, I love to listen to music and cook new foods.

Heidi Ulrich

Bio: Heidi started as an undergraduate student majoring in Biology with a Neuroscience emphasis and Spanish minor. After her graduation, she joined the lab for one year as a technician.

Project: Heidi was working on optimizing a protocol for the generation of sympathoadrenal progenitors, which she used to generate and study adrenal gland organoids.

Heidi left to join the graduate school at Emory, GA.

Jonathan Street

Bio: Jonny received his Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Georgia and then completed his Master’s degree in biology from Georgia State University, where he focused on the effects of heme on the cell wall of Streptococcus Pyogenes.

Project: Jonny was investigating the effects and mode of action of the small molecule genipin, which we found to be able to rescue cellular phenotypes in iPSCs derived from patients with severe Familial Dysautonomia. As a side project, he was working on optimizing a protocol for the generation of sympathoadrenal progenitors, which he will use to generate and study adrenal gland organoids.

Sara Andrea Espinosa-Garcia
Sara Andrea Espinosa Garcia

Bio: Sara is an undergraduate student, who was born in Mexico and raised in Milton, Georgia. She is studying Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a pre-medical intent. Her extra-curricular time is spent serving as an active member of One Health Club as well as treasurer of GenFKD.

Project: Sara was working on the optimization of the sympathoadrenal progenitor protocol, which will later be used to generate and study adrenal gland organoids.

Undergraduate student Lukas Veltmaat
Lukas Veltmaat

Bio: Lukas is an undergraduate student originally from Germany, where he lived until he was nine years old. Lucas is now a First-year medical student at Medical College of Georgia. Outside of the classroom, he participates in UGA AMSA and volunteer at the Good Samaritan Health Center in Gwinnett. He also enjoys playing and watching soccer.

Project: Lukas was working on establishing the protocol to derive sympathetic neurons from hPSCs.