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Lab Members

Postdoctoral Fellows

Jennifer Ziegenfuss Ph.D

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In the Lodato lab, Dr. Jenn Ziegenfuss is researching how human aging and brain cell type are promoting the accumulation of somatic mutations & mutational signatures in neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. Jenn is excited to use and develop cutting edge technologies to bridge the gap between cell biology and human genomics in hopes that new translatable discoveries are made that can revolutionize the treatment of currently untreatable diseases. Prior to joining the lab, Jenn was a post-doc in Wes Grueber’s lab at Columbia University.  Her research in the fruit fly explored neuron-substrate interactions and the long-term maintenance & protection of sensory neuron morphology and function. While in the lab, Jenn was a Charles H. Revson postdoctoral fellow.  Jenn received her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Medical School where she worked in the lab of Marc Freeman. In the Freeman lab, she explored how glial cells recognize and respond to dying and degenerating neurons. Her work showed that glial responses to neurodegeneration are genetically separable events mediated by distinct signaling pathways. She also helped identify a cell-autonomous suppressor of degeneration, providing direct evidence that axons actively promote their own destruction.

Graduate Students

Brad Class


After college, where he majored in cell/molecular biology and Spanish, Brad spent a decade exploring various research settings. This science journey took him from coast-to-coast, between sectors (academia, government, industry), and across disciplines. He is excited to continue this journey at UMass Chan Medical School. In the Lodato Lab, he will study how progeroid diseases impact somatic mutation signatures. Outside the lab, Brad enjoys listening to/making music, bringing people together, and sightseeing.

Cesar Bautista Sotelo

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Cesar joined the Lodato lab in April 2020 and is interested in somatic mutations and aging, specifically in skeletal muscle stem cells. He received his B.S. from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in 2018. As an undergraduate, he worked in the Dr. Shizue Mito Lab working on synthesizing DNA intercalators for cancer therapies. He went on to join the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) Post Baccalaureate Program in 2018 and worked in Dr. Sharon Cantor’s Lab for a year. His work there focused on the development of chemoresistance in Breast and Ovarian Cancer. He officially joined UMMS in 2019 as a PhD Graduate Student. Cesar is now a student leader as the Co-Vice President of the Diversity Interest Group (DIG) at UMMS where he is highly active in promoting advocacy, inclusivity, and equity across the institution.

Ailsa Jeffries

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Ailsa started her PhD at UMMS in 2019 and joined the Lodato Lab in 2020. She received her BA in Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology from Harvard University in 2017 and spent two years working as a technician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute before grad school. She’s interested in using genetics and somatic mutations to understand disease.

Sushmita Nayak, M.S.

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Sushmita is interested in discovering genetic mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration. She received her B.S. from Amity University, India in 2016. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she worked at a diagnostic lab to detect causative mutants for rare genetic neurological diseases in Indian patient populations. She went on to pursue a masters in stem cell biology at the University of Minnesota in 2017 and worked in Dr. James Dutton’s lab. During her master’s thesis, she discovered a novel protocol to differentiate induced pluripotent stem cells to peripheral neurons in vitro. She worked in the industry post her masters to understand early events in neurodegenerative disease biology for drug discovery and target validation studies. Sushmita started her PhD at UMMS in 2022 and joined the Lodato lab as a Graduate Student in May 2023. She is being co-mentored with Dr Robert Brown and is interested in studying somatic mutations in neurodegeneration.

Research Assistants

Allie Tolles

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Allie received her B.S. in biology from Keene State College in New Hampshire. Her undergraduate research, done with Dr. Jason Pellettieri, investigated the regulation of gene expression in adult stem cells and regeneration in planarian flatworms. As a Laboratory Technician she manages general lab upkeep and contributes to the Lab’s exploration of somatic mutations in the brain.

Principal Investigator

Michael Lodato, Ph.D.


Mike received his B.S. in 2005 from Hofstra University, where he got his first taste of academic research in the laboratory of Joanne Willey, Ph.D., studying sporulation in the bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor. He received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012, where he worked on the transcriptional regulation of stem cell state in the laboratory of Rudolf Jaenisch, M.D. Mike began his studies of somatic mutations in the human brain in 2013 during his postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Christopher A. Walsh, M.D./Ph.D. at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Mike has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Kreig Cortical Explorer Award from the Cajal Club, the Charles H. Hood Child Health Award, and the Glenn Foundation, American Federation for Aging Junior Faculty Award, and the NIH Director's New Innovator Award. He was named as a Next Generation Leader by the Allen Institute for Brain Science.

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