Congratulations to the 2021 MGM Graduates

Dr. Alex Antonia defended his doctoral thesis, “Understanding Mechanisms and Diversity of Leishmania-Mediated CXCL10 Suppression,” on April 15, 2020. Alex obtained his undergraduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, where he worked with Steve Meshnick and Steve Taylor on malaria genetics and drug resistance. He was recruited to the MSTP at Duke in 2013 and joined the lab of Dr. Dennis Ko in 2015. Alex won numerous awards at Duke, including Best Talk at the MGM retreat, Best Poster at NC ASM, the TriCEM Graduate Student Award, and Burroughs Wellcome Graduate Diversity Enrichment Fellowship. Alex’s thesis project took the Ko lab in a completely new direction—examining how the parasite Leishmania evades host cytokine responses. Alex went from the simple observation that Leishmania incubated with cells reduced levels of CXCL10 to uncovering the molecular mechanism of this suppression by the protease GP63, testing relevance in mice, examining the diversity of this process across Leishmania species, and finally trying to leverage this information into a treatment for Leishmaniasis. While finishing his final year of medical school after his defense, Alex continued to be engaged in research, submitting a short review on evolutionary medicine of Leishmaniasis, a co-1st author paper demonstrating Chlamydia species also suppress CXCL10 through an unrelated protease, and a 1st author paper on diversity of GP63 cleavage of CXCL10 across Leishmania species—all while adjusting to life with a beautiful new baby girl, Elena.

Alex will start his internal medicine residency at Duke this summer and plans to continue with a fellowship in infectious disease and eventually establish his own research program as a physician scientist focused on understanding parasite host-pathogen interactions and translating those discoveries into improved clinical care.

Dr. Hannah Brown successfully completed her PhD training in November 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her graduate studies, she defined the important roles of the cell membrane in microbial adaptations in the infected host. As one who deeply loves her family and friends, Hannah hates social distancing and deeply missed celebrating her graduation with others. Hannah is now working as a postdoctoral fellow in Jay Vyas’ lab at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts General Hospital, studying the immune responses to pathogenic fungi – doing more flow cytometry than she ever dreamed was possible.

Dr. Matt Detter joined the laboratory of James B. Duke Professor Douglas Marchuk in 2015. Matt utilized mouse models of cerebral cavernous malformations to 1) study the early cellular events of malformation development and 2) test potential therapeutics. During his studies, Matt was awarded an American Heart Association predoctoral fellowship and a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award. Matt earned his Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in April 2020 and Doctor of Medicine in May 2021. He will join the University of Pennsylvania’s internal medicine residency training program this summer.

Dr. Kyle D. Gibbs defended his doctoral thesis, “Natural Genetic Variants in Humans and Salmonellae Underlie Variable Infection Outcomes,” on March 12, 2021. Kyle came to Duke’s CMB program in 2014 from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where he had been awarded the Presidential Scholarship and had carried out diverse research projects ranging from studying oncolytic measles viruses to honeybee populations in India. While at Duke, Kyle won numerous awards, including a 2020 Duke Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence, Best Talk at the 2018 MGM retreat, and a perfect 10 on his NIH F31 application. Kyle’s thesis work in Dr. Dennis Ko’s lab masterfully demonstrates the power of using natural genetic variation to understand host-pathogen interactions. On the pathogen side, Kyle characterized a novel Salmonella effector (named SarA) that reprograms host transcription and discovered that these effects were mediated through SarA mimicking the gp130 cytokine co-receptor to activate the host transcription factor STAT3. On the host side, Kyle carried out cell-based GWAS screening of Salmonella-dependent cellular traits and discovered human genetic variation in a cation channel regulates Salmonella replication.

Kyle will be continuing in the Ko lab for the summer, passing on his expertise in Salmonella, host-pathogen interactions, and human genetics to new trainees. In the fall, he will begin an IRACDA postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Andrew Camilli at Tufts, with the goal of eventually teaching and conducting research at a liberal arts college like his alma mater. He is well on his way, having completed the Duke Certificate in College Teaching Program and served as the instructor of record for the introductory microbiology course at Durham Tech for Spring 2020—transitioning from in-person teaching to a flipped classroom over zoom during the pandemic.

Dr. Alfred Harding graduated from the department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in December of 2020. During his time at Duke, Al worked in Dr. Nicholas Heaton’s lab where he  focused on utilizing genetic techniques to develop new technologies aimed at improving patient outcomes following influenza infection. Since graduating from Duke, Al has begun a postdoctoral research position at MIT in the Gehrke Lab, where he studies neurotropic RNA viruses.

Dr. Mike McFadden grew up in northern Michigan and did his undergraduate studies at Michigan State, where he studied tripartite interactions between mosquitoes, Wolbachia, and vector-borne pathogens such as dengue virus and malaria parasites. His PhD research in Dr. Stacy Horner’s laboratory focused on Flavivirus-host cell interactions and regulation of the type I interferon response. Mike discovered novel roles for the RNA modification N6-methyladenosine and its related cellular machinery in regulation of the production of antiviral genes. Mike is now doing postdoctoral research at University of Michigan with Dr. Mary O’Riordan and Dr. Teresa O’Meara, studying the role of cellular stress responses in innate immunity during fungal and bacterial infections.

Dr. Nicole Stantial, a recent graduate from the Jinks-Robertson lab, is originally from Massachusetts and came to Duke through the Cell and Molecular Biology Program. In Sue’s lab she investigated the mutagenic effects of trapping topoisomerase 2 on DNA and discovered a unique mutation signature that is comprised on small duplications. Outside of lab, Nicole enjoyed working with the Graduate and Professional Student Government Community Pantry, exploring the Durham food scene, and training for triathlons. Nicole will be moving to St. Louis, MO to start her professional career.


Dr. Albert Zhang comes from the Atlantic coast of New Brunswick, Canada. When he is not in lab prodding worms, he can be found exploring the lakes and beaches of North Carolina. After graduating, he will be changing sceneries and doing his postdoc in the foggy Bay Area.