Lab People

        Lab people: The people working in the Pienta lab are dedicating to understanding the ecology of cancer, how cancer metastasizes and developing new therapies for patients suffering from cancer.



Sarah Amend:  Sarah is a post-doctoral fellow in the lab and received her undergraduate degree from N.C. State University in Biological Sciences and did her Ph.D. thesis work on contributions of the microenvironment to bone resident cancer at Washington University in St. Louis. She is studying the role of the malignant cancer niche in inducing cancer cell biodiversity.


Haley Axelrod:  Haley is a graduate student in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.  She is a native of California and graduated from UC-Irvine with a degree in Biological Sciences. She is working on understanding mechanisms of cancer cell dormancy in the bone microenvironment.

James Hernandez aka J1

James Hernandez:  James graduated in 2011 and has been working at the Dr. Pienta’s lab as a laboratory technician. He is studying the process and factors that are associated with epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and mesenchymal-epithelial transition (MET) in prostate cancer. James also investigates differences between M1 and M2 macrophages.

Ardeshir  Kianercy:  Ardeshir received his Ph.D. in 2013 from the Information Science Institute at the University of Southern California (USC).  He has master’s degrees in Mechanical and Chemical Engineering.  He is pursuing his post-doc in the Pienta lab studying how to apply game theory to cancer.


Steve Mooney:  Dr. Mooney is a native of Minnesota where he obtained his bachelor’s degrees in Chemistry and Statistics from the University of MN. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry under to supervision of Professors Ralf Janknecht and Jeffrey Salisbury at the Mayo Clinic. At Johns Hopkins, Dr. Mooney is focused on the transcriptional regulation of epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and the reverse process (MET) within prostate cancer models. Others have shown that micrometastisis within the bone are present in most patients however prostate cancer only becomes lethal once these lesions actually awaken from dormancy and proliferate. This process requires EMT/MET, which Dr. Mooney is studying using a diverse array of methods.

Princy Parsana: Princy graduated from Johns Hopkins with a Masters degree in Bioinformatics in 2013.   Princy is a graduate student in Computational Science and is being joint mentored by Dr. Pienta and Dr. Alexis Battle to apply machine learning to studying epithelial to mesenchymal transitions and cancer cell dormancy.


 Diane Reyes:  Diane is a Nurse Practitioner who has joined the group to help drive our translational research efforts.  She will also team with Dr. Pienta to deliver the best possible care of our patients.




Gonzalo Torga: Gonzalo is an MD from Spain who is interested in pursuing a career in Medical Oncology.  He joined the Pienta lab in spring of 2014 to study translational research while developing new therapies for prostate cancer.



IMG_9192Ken Valkenburg: Ken is a post-doctoral fellow in the lab who received his undergraduate degree from Ferris State and did his Ph.D. thesis at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, MI on Prostate cancer mouse models of APC and smad4.  He is currently studying the mobilization of PCa cells from the hematopoietic stem cell niche.

James Verdone:  James was born and raised in New Jersey. He from Johns Hopkins University in Biomedical Engineering program in 2013 and came to work in the laboratory as a technician. He is studying cell morphology and applying his BME skills to the EMT / MET projects.

Don Vindivich:  Don Vindivich was neither born nor raised in Maryland however he is proud to say “Ich bin ein Baltimoron”. He studied at Towson University, obtained his degree and immediately began work in the Urology Department here at Johns Hopkins. Don has been the key leader of the laboratory under 3 Urological Research directors. Don’s major interests in the lab include rare cell isolation and facilitating the cataloging of human urological specimens.

JZ3Jelani Zarif: Jelani received his Bachelor of Science and M.S. degrees in Biological Science from Jackson State University. He received his  PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from Michigan State University in the lab of Dr. Cindy Miranti in 2014.  He joined the Pienta lab to study prostate cancer biology and to develop new treatments for metastatic prostate cancer.


Past members:

Takumi  Shiraishi, MD:  Takumi joined the Dr. Pienta’s lab in the fall of 2013 as a post-doctoral fellow. He  researched the alteration of cancer metabolism using epithelial and mesenchymal prostate cancer cell models and their impacts on cytoskeletal remodeling. He left the lab in August 2014 to return to Japan to practice Urology.