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Current Group Members

  • Gitali Devi

    Gitali Devi, PhD

    Research Specialist, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Gitali started her research career after completing a master's degree in chemistry at Gauhati University in India. Before she was introduced to the nucleic acid therapeutics area, she gained research experience in organic methodology development at the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, India. During her PhD with Professor Krishna N Ganesh at the National Chemical Laboratory, India, she developed backbone-modified peptide nucleic acids for better recognition of complementary DNA/RNAs. Gitali then moved to Singapore and pursued her postdoctoral research at Nanyang Technological University, with a particular focus on synthesizing new drug modalities including PNA, G-quadruplex, and molecular conjugates to achieve better antisense and drug delivery properties. In the Watts Lab, Gitali is working on single guide RNA modifications for effective Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage and is developing new chemical methods to make various antisense oligonucleotide architectures, which could potentially improve cellular uptake and induce gene regulation.
    Gitali enjoys watching movies and likes playing volleyball (though she did not have a chance to play for years) and aspires to learn singing and dancing with her daughter in the future :).

  • Pranathi Meda Krishnamurthy

    Pranathi Meda Krishnamurthy

    Research Associate, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Pranathi Meda Krishnamurthy, originally from Bangalore, India, obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees from Bangalore University. Since she was a student, she has had a fascination with biology, from simple taxinomic identification to understanding the molecular basis of cellular processes. In the Watts Lab, Pranathi currently is working on synthesizing nucleic acids with novel chemistries and testing them in vitro, with the goal of using the nucleic acids to deliver to clinically relevant targets. Before joining the Watts Lab, Pranathi worked on understanding the molecular mechanisms in protein degredation and cancer manifestation in the labs of Drs Ray and Chinnaiyan at the University of Michigan. Away from the lab, Pranathi likes to spend time with her family, enjoy different vegetarian cuisines, and travel.

  • Jacquelyn Nemetz-Sousa

    Jacquelyn Nemetz-Sousa

    Research Associate, RNA Therapeutics Institute
  • Julia Rembetsy-Brown

    Julia Rembetsy-Brown

    Research Lab Technician, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Julia graduated from Colby College with a bachelor’s in neurobiology in 2018 and joined the Watts Lab as a research technician. She is involved in mouse colony development and oligonucleotide delivery in the central nervous system. Outside of the lab, she enjoys hiking and puzzles.

  • Zexiang Chen

    Zexiang Chen

    PhD Student, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    Zexiang Chen graduated from Fudan University, Shanghai, China in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He later moved to Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO to study RNA secondary structure. Upon completion of his master’s degree in chemistry in 2013, Zexiang began to work in regulatory affairs in pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer. In 2017, Zexaing decided to pursue the PhD life in biomedical science to achieve his dream of becoming a scientist. He now is a PhD candidate in the RNA Therapeutics Institute at UMass Medical School, co-mentored by Jon Watts and Erik Sontheimer. His current research focus is on utilizing chemically modified RNA guides for better in vivo genome editing and studying how to improve HDR-driven precise genome editing by modified donors. When not in the lab, Zexiang is a fan of soccer or football -- whichever people like to call the sport -- and a fan of Dota2.

  • Adam Hedger

    Adam Hedger

    PhD Student, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    Adam was born in the United Kingdom and grew up near Bournemouth, on the south coast of England. He completed his integrated master’s degree in chemistry (MChem) at the University of Southampton, UK. During his final year, he conducted a six-month research placement in the Watts Lab at UMass Medical School, synthesizing prodrug analogues of non-natural nucleosides for DNA labeling. Fired up by this experience, after finishing his degree and taking a year off, Adam came back to UMass to pursue his PhD in the labs of Celia Schiffer and Jon Watts. His PhD project is at the interface of structural biology and nucleic acid chemistry, developing new inhibitors for a class of deaminase enzymes. Outside the lab, Adam is never far from a cold beer (although he will argue with Jon over what is a good one) and is a huge football (soccer) fan. He misses English pubs and baked beans, but is enjoying taking advantage of the American climate to both hike and learn to ski.

  • David Keener

    David Keener

    PhD Student, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    David Keener, a Massachusetts native, attended college at the University of Rochester, where he received a Bachelor’s of Science in neurobiology in 2015. Afterward, David moved to North Carolina and worked on developing biocement technology for applications in the marine environment. As a new member of the Watts Lab, David is working in vitro on a gene editing technology that may be able to be used to treat genetic disorders. When not in the lab, David is an avid musician and enjoys cooking and tabletop games. He also co-hosts a literary discussion podcast about the Harry Potter series.

  • Samantha Sarli

    Samantha Sarli

    PhD Student, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    Sam graduated from Lehigh University in 2016 with a BS in behavioral neuroscience. She then joined the lab of Jesse Gray at Harvard Medical School, where she studied experience-dependent myelination and its role in learning and memory. Currently, Sam is a graduate student in the Watts lab studying oligonucleotide technologies and their therapeutic applications in brain tumors and central nervous system diseases. Outside of the lab, Sam is an avid cyclist and scooter aficionado on a quest to find a perfect bowl of ramen.

  • Kaitlyn Valla

    Kaitlyn Valla

    PhD Student, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    Kaitlyn graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in 2018 with a bachelor's in biochemistry and a minor in philosophy & religion. As an undergraduate, she explored CRISPR technology and used this tech to generate a fluorescent fusion protein. Now in the Watts lab to pursue her PhD, Kaitlyn is working on the development of an oligonucleotide therapeutic to treat a rare genetic epilepsy. When she's not at her bench or computer, she can be found gardening or painting while listening to a true crime podcast, or engrossed in a novel. As a dog, cat, and axolotl owner, Kaitlyn is also an animal lover and can be found hiking with her dog on the weekends.

  • Feng Damon Wang

    Feng Damon Wang

    PhD Student, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

    Damon obtained his BS in biotechnology at Northwest A&F University in China in 2015. He then moved to Hong Kong as a research assistant working on homology independent genome editing. Damon is a PhD candidate working on RNA therapeutics for neurological diseases such as Friedreich's Ataxia and has been following the RNA therapeutics market tightly. The best way to alter Damon's whole body transcriptome into a happier stage is by grabbing some bourbon whiskey in a classy jazz bar, where neither a gRNA library nor small molecule library is needed.

  • Io Long Welles Chan

    Io Long Welles Chan, PhD

    Postdoctoral Associate, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Welles grew up in Macau and moved to the United States to pursue his education. He completed his BS from Hardin-Simmons University and MS from the University of Houston – Clear Lake. In 2019, he completed his PhD from UMass Medical School studying gene regulation during development in C. elegans. In 2020, he joined the Watts lab to pursue his interest in nucleotide therapeutics and currently focuses on treating lung and brain diseases. Outside of the lab, Welles is interested in business (UMass Life Science Solutions), cooking delicious foods and playing music.

  • Sungwook Choi

    Sungwook Choi, PhD

    Postdoctoral Associate, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Sungwook Choi graduated from POSTECH (BS) and Seoul National University (MS) in Korea. He then moved to the United States and completed his PhD in C. elegans developmental genetics at UMass Medical School. In the Watts Lab, Sungwook is working on developing therapeutics for Rett syndrome patients using genome editing tools. He enjoys watching movies outside the lab.

  • Zachary Kartje

    Zachary Kartje, PhD

    Postdoctoral Associate, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Zachary J Kartje was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana and received his BS in chemistry from Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana in 2013. He completed his PhD from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2018 under Keith T Gagnon. During his PhD work, he employed various chemical modifications (as well as DNA) within the guide RNA of CRISPR-Cas9, showing improved properties over its all-RNA counterpart. Since joining the Watts Lab in 2019, he has been working on developing anti-sense approaches for the treatment of NF1. Outside of the lab, Zach enjoys any sports and computers.

  • Minwook Shin

    Minwook Shin, PhD

    Postdoctoral Associate, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Minwook Shin graduated from the College of Pharmacy at Seoul National University in 2007, and he completed his research for a PhD in Dr Kyu-Won Kim’s lab at the same university in 2016. Through Minwook's research, the binding of Ninjurin1 and lipopolysaccharide was identified and the induction of inflammation through the binding was revealed. After completing his PhD, Minwook started as a senior researcher at OliPass Corporation, a company developing modified peptide nucleic acid (PNA)-based therapeutics, because of the great interest in nucleotide therapeutics. He analyzed the effect of oligonucleotides and participated in the development of an experimental method for the quantification of PNA-based therapeutics. In 2018, Minwook joined Jonathan Watts' lab to further explore the world of nucleotide therapeutics. His research focus is a modulation of a pulmonary delivery method using modified nucleotide therapeutics.