Lab Members

Marzieh "Marcy" Akhlaghpour
PhD Student

Marzieh Akhlaghpour graduated with honors from the University of California, Irvine with a degree in biological sciences. Prior to joining the graduate program for Translational Medicine and Biomedical Science at Cedars-Sinai, she studied the molecular mechanisms of how coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, rearrange host cell membranes to aid the viral life cycle. Akhlaghpour volunteered in a research laboratory in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai where she worked to identify the role of different members of the TGF-β family in trophoblast function and placentation as they relate to adverse pregnancy outcomes. Her thesis project aims to identify genetic association in patients with perianal Crohn's disease, a severe form of Crohn's disease with a poor quality of life that often requires surgeries.

Filip Benliyan
Research Associate II

Filip Benliyan joined Cedars-Sinai's inflammatory bowel disease research team in 2009 as a research associate after graduating from University of California, Riverside with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Since then, he has performed serological analysis on thousands of patients for specific projects. His role in the MIRIAD Biobank pertains to specimen pickups, blood-sample processing, database entry and assisting with tissue procurement. Additionally, Benliyan maintains stocks of reagents/supplies and places purchase orders for multiple groups. He is concurrently working toward Clinical Laboratory Scientist licensure through the clinical science program at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Tiroui "Diana" Benliyan
Research Associate II

Diana Benliyan joined the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group in 2015. Before joining Cedars-Sinai, she earned her bachelor's degree in biology science from the State University of Armenia with a major in physiology. Benliyan completed the University of Southern California's continuing education program and received her Pulmonary Physiology and Technology Certificate. She joined Cedars-Sinai's Respiratory Department's Pulmonary Physiology Lab in 1992. In 1995, she transferred to the Medical Genetics Institute and subsequently the Translational Genomics Group.

Gregory "Greg" Botwin
Research Operations Associate

Greg Botwin joined Cedars-Sinai in 2016 as a research operations associate splitting his time between the McGovern Lab/Translational Genomics Group and Precision Health (both directed by Dermot McGovern, MD, at Cedars-Sinai). Botwin has a bachelor’s of science from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in human biology. At UCSD, he conducted research on the inflammatory bowel disease related protein NOD2. He subsequently worked at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System in a clinical research group focusing on liver disease and then the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in a clinical research group concentrating on precision wellness.

Emy Decalos
Clinical Research Assistant I

Emy Dacalos became a clinical research associate with the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute in 2017. She received her bachelor of science in physiology in 2016. She has previous experience working at an early phase clinical research unit that explores drug safety in healthy human subjects. Currently, Dacalos is part of the tissue procurement team that collects tissue samples to be used for research.

Jennifer Davis
Clinical Research Coordinator II

Jennifer Davis earned her bachelor's degree in health promotion from Weber State University, Ogden, Utah in 2016. She obtained public health experience working for the Utah State Health department. Davis was involved in an epidemiological study to better understand a steep increase in STD cases among intercity high-risk groups. She has worked previously as a phlebotomist where she enjoyed patient interaction. Davis joined the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute in January 2019. She currently works as part of the clinical research team for the McGovern Lab.

Shishir Dube, PhD
Research Bioinformatician III

Shishir Dube, PhD, joined Cedars-Sinai as a research scientist in 2017. He completed his undergraduate and master's degrees in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In 2009, Dube received his doctorate in biomedical engineering from the UCLA. Subsequently, he worked at Amgen as a data scientist in the research and development informatics group. His current research interests include utilizing novel data science methods to analyze imaging, "-omics" and genetics data to understand causal mechanisms underlying inflammatory bowel disease to further efforts in developing innovative predictive models and treatment targets for the clinical setting.

Talin Haritunians, PhD
Assistant Professor

Talin Haritunians, PhD, joined the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group (TGG) at Cedars-Sinai in July 2013. She received her doctorate in human genetics from UCLA in 2004, and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Cedars-Sinai Division of Hematology/Oncology and a research scientist at the Medical Genetics Institute prior to joining the TGG. Haritunians participates in multiple inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) genomics studies, overseeing TGG data generation and quality control with expertise in project management of large-scale genetic and expression datasets. Her research interests focus on the genetics underlying IBD severity, complication and response to medical therapies. Haritunians has published more than 100 articles in high impact journals. She is a member of the steering committee for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases IBD Genetics Consortium and co-chair of the consortium's analytic committee.

Linda Hwang
Research Associate IV

Linda Hwang is a translational research informatics project manager and a senior research associate at the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group. Prior to joining Cedars-Sinai, she served as a cheminformatics database manager and senior research associate at TargeGen, Inc. (acquired by Sanofi-Aventis), where she led the design and development of various drug discovery informatics. Prior to work at TargeGen, Inc., Hwang was a scientist at Deltagen Research Laboratories, formerly known as Combi-Chem, Inc., that was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb and DuPont Pharmaceuticals in San Diego. There, she was responsible for parallel synthesis of small molecule libraries. Hwang received her bachelor’s of science in pharmacological chemistry from the University of California, San Diego.

Michelle Khrom
Clinical Research Associate I

Michelle Khrom joined Cedars-Sinai's inflammatory bowel disease research team in 2016 after graduating from UCLA with a bachelor's degree in microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics. Her role includes DNA isolation and quantification, genotype clustering (optimizing allele-calling from genotype data) and database and freezer inventory management. Additionally, Khrom places purchase orders for several research groups and is currently learning to use PLINK for genetic analysis.

Carol Landers
Senior Research Project Advisor

Carol Landers has more than 30 years continuous research and research laboratory management experience in IBD. She is credited with inventing the antibody detection assays currently used by the serotyping unit, and directly oversees the serotyping unit as well as serving as impartial steward of the Mucosal Immunology Repository for Inflammatory And Digestive Diseases (MIRIAD) Biobank and Database, engaging with intra- and extra-mural collaborators to review proposals requesting access to MIRIAD services and specimens. Her expertise is documented in more than 80 articles published in high impact journals. Landers has a bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Iowa State University.

Dalin Li, PhD
Research Scientist

Dalin Li, PhD, joined Cedars-Sinai as a research scientist in 2011. He completed his undergraduate medical training at Peking University Medical School in 2000 and received his PhD in epidemiology there in 2005. Subsequently, Li worked as a postdoctoral fellow and a postdoctoral research associate in the Division of Biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His current research interests include developing novel statistical and bioinformatics tools to analyze large-scale genetics and "-omics" data, using those tools to explore the underlying mechanisms in IBD and thereby developing novel predictive models and treatment targets for clinical practice.

Yin Li
Research Associate

Yin Li joined Cedars-Sinai in 2010. She began her tenure as a research associate in the tissue culture laboratory of the Medical Genetics Institute. Li is currently a research member with the F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunology Research Institute (IBIRI), following its merge with the Medical Genetics Institute. Her current expertise focuses on the isolation and preservation of patient lymphoid, fibroblast and other cell lines for subsequent genetic and bioinformatic analysis. Within these few years, Li proved integral in helping IBIRI achieve success on multiple projects related to human genetics. Before joining Cedars-Sinai, Li conducted basic scientific research in the field of adult infectious diseases at Harbor-UCLA for more than 15 years. She graduated from the nursing school of the Chinese Academy of Medical Science, and serviced as nurse in the Beijing Cancer Hospital.

Anzhelya Makaryan, MS
Research Associate

Anzhelya Makaryan joined the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group (TGG) at Cedars-Sinai in February 2016. Her field of expertise includes creation of lymphoblastoid cell lines from whole blood and set up of fibroblast cultures. Before joining TGG, Makaryan worked as a research associate II in the Medical Genetics Institute at Cedars-Sinai, since November 2004. She received her master's degree in biochemistry from Yerevan State University in Armenia and worked for more than 20 years as a clinical researcher in several laboratories.

Emebet Mengesha
Research Specialist I

Emebet Mengesha is a research specialist in the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group, having transitioned from the Medical Genetics Department in July 2013. She has been working at Cedars-Sinai for the past 19 years as a researcher, and in the past two years has added pre/post award grant management to her role. Mengesha earned her bachelor's degree in biochemistry and cell biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her field of expertise on the research side includes DNA/RNA/protein isolation, Illumina genotyping and expression as well as Taqman assays from Applied Biosystems, with quality control of data as an integral part.

Takeo Naito, PhD
Postdoctoral Scientist

Takeo Naito, PhD, joined the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group at Cedars Sinai in October 2018. He graduated from University of Yamanashi Graduate School of Medical Science, Japan, in 2009. From 2009 to 2013, Naito worked as a resident. He received his doctorate in 2017 from Tohoku University School of Medicine, Japan. At Tohoku University, Naito conducted translational researches between genetic background of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and its clinical phenotype. He identified candidate genes for Paneth cell defect in Japanese Crohn’s disease and decreased bone mineral density in Japanese IBD. His current research interest is in transcriptomics in IBD for developing new therapy target and precision medicine. Naito is also interested in the difference in genetic background of IBD between races.

Elmar Park, LVN
Clinical Research Coordinator

Elmar Park, LVN, has more than 15 years of professional experience working as a special collections apheresis nurse for various research projects for preclinical and clinical applications in biology, immunotherapy and cell therapy. In 2010, Park had the opportunity to work in the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute. Currently working as clinical research coordinator, Park works collaboratively with many research primary investigators, clinicians and other coordinators to identify and recruit eligible study subjects, collect bloods and maintain study documents.

Valeriya Pozdnyakova
Research Associate I

Valeriya Pozdnyakova received her bachelor's degree in microbiology and immunology from Quinnipiac University in 2018, where she studied horizontal gene transfer of Borrelia burgdorferi. She then worked as an emergency medical technician at American Medical Response, New Haven, Connecticut, before joining the inflammatory bowel disease research team at Cedars-Sinai. She currently works as part of the tissue procurement team in the McGovern Lab.

Maria Salas, LVN
Clinical Research Coordinator

Maria Salas, LVN, joined the McGovern Laboratory/Translational Genomics Group at the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute as a clinical research coordinator in 2013. Salas began her career at Cedars-Sinai as part of the Youth Employment and Development program, which is designed for high school juniors interested in careers in the medical field. Prior to her current position, Salas worked in the department of medical genetics as a research project assistant. She received her LVN license from American Career College and is a certified phlebotomist. She also graduated from a two-year Spanish/English medical translators program at Mount San Antonio College and speaks fluent Spanish.

Shaohong "Shell" Yang, MD
Project Scientist

Shaohong "Shell" Yang, MD, joined the Cedars-Sinai F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute as a project scientist. She completed her medical training at Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine and finished her residency in internal medicine in Shanghai before coming to the United States for further training. Yang received postdoctoral training from the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in San Francisco and UCLA, and has been a research faculty at UCLA since 2008. Prior to joining Cedars-Sinai, her primary research goals were understanding the importance of nuclear lamins in disease and aging and finding a therapeutic strategy for Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. Yang has published 28 articles, including 12 first-author articles and 16 additional articles as co-author, all in prestigious journals. At Cedars-Sinai, Yang’s focus is using clinical factors to predict outcomes and responses to therapies in inflammatory bowel diseases.

Contact the McGovern Lab

110 George Burns Rd.
Davis Building, Rooms 4094 A, B
Los Angeles, CA 90048

8730 Alden Dr., Suite E244
Los Angeles, CA 90048