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People

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Dr. Susan C. Baker
Principal Investigator

Professor of Microbiology & Immunology

Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine

Susan received her PhD in Microbiology from Vanderbilt University. During her postdoctoral training at the University of Southern California, Susan became interested in the replication and pathogenesis of coronaviruses.  To pursue her interest, she joined the faculty in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine where she continued her work on coronaviruses and started a collaboration with Dr. Anne Rowley to study the etiology and pathogenesis of the childhood illness Kawasaki Disease.  Susan’s coronavirus research focuses on understanding how the virus take over the host cell environment to generate their replication complexes and the viral factors that delay the host immune response to infection. Her lab is known for their work identifying coronavirus double membrane vesicles (DMVs), which are the sites of viral RNA synthesis; investigating coronavirus proteases and generating cell-based assays to evaluate coronavirus protease inhibitors, and investigating the role of the coronavirus endoribonuclease in limiting the host interferon response after infection. She enjoys mentoring and celebrating the success of her students and postdoctoral fellows.

 

Outside activities: Susan enjoys gardening, hiking, traveling to new places, and spending time with her family and cats Lucy and Linus and dog Poppy.

Current Lab Members

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Dr. Amornrat O’Brien

Research Assistant Professor

Amornrat Kanjanahaluethai O’Brien completed her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees at Chiang Mai University (CMU), Thailand, in Medical Technology and Microbiology.  She earned her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at Loyola University Chicago, under the supervision of Dr. Susan Baker, identifying coronavirus papain-like protease (PLP) activity, PLP cleavage sites, and double-membrane vesicle formation.  After graduation, Amornrat served as a faculty member at CMU investigating attenuated dengue vaccine candidates and the molecular mechanisms of interferon resistance mediated by hepatitis C virus proteins. Amornrat also enjoyed regular visits to the Baker lab throughout the period.  In 2016, Amornrat rejoined the Baker lab, where she continues her coronavirus research on the generation of cell-based biosensor assays to assess compounds against coronavirus proteases.  Her research is focused on how feline coronavirus interacts and evades host immune responses.

In her free time, Amornrat enjoys painting, sewing, knitting and other crafts. 

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Monika Evdokimova

Ph.D. Student

Monika was born in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria and moved to the United States in 2001. During her undergraduate studies, she majored in Biology and minored in Chemistry and Spanish. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Elmhurst College. In 2018, she enrolled in the Integrated Program in the Biomedical Sciences PhD program at Loyola University Chicago. She then joined the Baker lab in the Microbiology and Immunology department. Monika’s research is focused on investigating how the nsp15 protein interacts with the coronavirus replicase complex to evade the host innate immune response. 

 

Outside of lab, Monika enjoys reading, baking, and spending time with her family.

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Mudassir Ali

M.D. and Ph.D. Student

Mudassir Ali is an MD-PhD student studying how coronaviruses interact with the innate immune system. Specifically, he is looking at the RNA sensor MDA5 and how coronaviral proteins interfere with its function. Outside the lab, Mudassir spends most of his free time with his family, raising his sons to be future coronavirologists. 

 

With the spare minutes he has every week, Mudassir likes to read, do calligraphy and cultivate bonsai trees.

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Dr. Shuchen Feng

Research Associate

With a background of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, Shuchen is interested in how pathogens and environmental-derived microorganisms affect public health. Shuchen earned her PhD in Freshwater Sciences/Environmental Microbiology at University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee in 2019; her doctoral thesis focused on tracing human-specific fecal indicators in water environments with extensive applications of microbiological techniques, Next-generation sequencing and molecular quantification methods, and bioinformatics and data analysis skills. Since the beginning of pandemic, Shuchen has been dedicated to SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in wastewater and has contributed greatly to the successful real-time surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in multiple cities in Wisconsin. Shuchen joined the Baker lab in 2022, and her current research interests include identifying SARS-CoV-2 variants from patient samples through next generation sequencing, and exploring in deep the genomic features of SARS-CoV-2 variants and their potential correlation with disease.

Dr. Fernando R. Moreira

Research Associate

Fernando R. Moreira is a research associate who joined the Baker Lab in April 2022. Fernando obtained his PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019; his doctoral thesis focused on studying the effects on mosquito saliva on virus replication and disease. His research interest includes coronavirus replication and the effects on the host's immune response as a way to identify viral specific targets to decrease disease burden.

In his spare time, Fernando enjoys cooking for his family, eating, running, and biking, but mostly eating. 

Recent Baker Lab Trainees and Current Positions in Science

Xufang Deng, PhD

Research Assistant Professor, 2016-2021

Baker Lab Projects:

  1. Evaluating the role of nonstructural protein 15 in coronavirus pathogenesis.

  2. Investigating the role of interferon antagonists in porcine coronavirus pathogenesis.

 

Position after training: Assistant Professor (tenure track) at Oklahoma State University in the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Matthew Hackbart, PhD

Graduate student, 2015-2020

Dissertation: “Investigating the Mechanism of the Coronavirus Endoribonuclease in Antagonizing Innate Immune Signaling.”

Position after training: Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Dr. Carolina Lopez at Washington University in St. Louis.

Robert C. Mettelman, PhD

Graduate student, 2014-2019

Dissertation: “Generating Biologic and Genetic Research Tools to Investigate Serotype I Feline Coronaviruses.”

 

Position after training: Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Dr. Paul Thomas at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.

Anna M. Mielech, PhD

Graduate student 2010-2014; Postdoctoral fellow 2014-2016

Dissertation: “Investigating the Role of Papain-Like Protease in the Pathogenesis of Coronavirus Infections.”

 

Position after training: Research Scientist USAMRID, Fort Detrick, MD; in 2018 accepted a position at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Andrew Kilianski, PhD

Graduate student, 2010-2014

Dissertation: “Coronavirus Proteases as Therapeutic Targets: Development of Biosensors to Detect Inhibition of Protease Activity and Separation of the Multiple Functions of Coronavirus Papain-like Proteases.”

 

Position after training: Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Research Council, Edgewater, Maryland. In 2021, accepted a position as the Senior Director for Emerging Infectious Diseases for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI).

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