Meet the KL2 Scholars

Benjamin Darter, P.T., Ph.D.

Benjamin Darter, P.T., Ph.D.

Assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy
Email: bjdarter@vcu.edu
Years active: 2013-2015
Website »

KL2 research focus: Examining gait adaptability in person with lower extremity amputation

Research interests: Rehabilitation following amputation, optimization of gait performance

What being a KL2 scholar means to Darter: “I feel fortunate I was selected to receive one of the KL2 scholar awards. The KL2 program offers a tremendous opportunity for me to develop as a new investigator through the protected time and mentoring the award provides. I believe the KL2 will serve as a springboard toward achieving my goal of developing a robust research program at VCU.”


Anshu Gupta, M.D.

Anshu Gupta, M.D.

Assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics
Phone: (804) 527-4711
Email: agupta2@mcvh-vcu.edu
Years active: 2013-2015

KL2 research focus: Understanding role of receptor of advanced glycation end products in cardiometabolic disease

Research interests: Nutritional disturbances in childhood obesity, metabolic risk factors in childhood, polycystic ovarian syndrome in children

What being a KL2 scholar means to Gupta: “The KL2 scholar award provides me with a unique opportunity to train as a clinical translational researcher with a diverse team of mentors across multiple disciplines. This award truly reflects on the rich, transdisciplinary collaborative environment that VCU provides to investigators at all levels of their careers especially early stage investigators like me.”


April D. Kimmel, Ph.D.

April D. Kimmel, Ph.D.

Assistant professor, Department of Healthcare Policy and Research
Phone: (804) 628-6273
Email: adkimmel@vcu.edu
Years active: 2013-2015

KL2 research focus: Examining geographic variation in HIV treatment and access to care in the U.S.

Research interests: HIV/AIDS, models of care delivery, access to care, global health, population ethics, cost-effectiveness analysis, mathematical modeling

What being a KL2 scholar means to Kimmel: “As an junior investigator, protected time in which to conduct research is critical to my professional development. The KL2 award supports this time and is allowing me to establish a new line of research on which to build my research agenda. The program has allowed me to formalize involvement with a diverse, committed mentoring team, and it provides ready access to institutional resources that will enhance my research skills.”


Leticia R. Moczygemba, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Leticia R. Moczygemba, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Assistant professor, School of Pharmacy
Phone: (804) 827-2253
Email: lrmoczygemba@vcu.edu
Years active: 2010-2013

KL2 research focus: Enhancing medication-related health outcomes among homeless persons

Research interests: Medication-related health disparities in underserved populations; HIT; community-based population research

What being a KL2 scholar means to Moczygemba: “It is a tremendous honor to be a KL2 scholar. The award has accelerated the growth of my research program by providing resources and training to support my work. I am also fortunate to work with a great mentoring team who is committed to my success as a researcher at VCU. I believe the KL2 award is the first step to building a productive, well-funded research program in the area of health disparities.”

Moczygemba received her Pharm.D. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin.


Unsong Oh, M.D.

Unsong Oh, M.D.

Assistant professor, Department of Neurology
Phone: (804) 828-3067
Email: uoh@vcu.edu
Years active: 2010-2013
Website »

KL2 research focus: Understanding how microglial-neuronal interaction can be targeted to improve treatment options for patients with multiple sclerosis

Research interests: Multiple sclerosis neuroimmunology

What being a KL2 scholar means to Oh: “The KL2 scholar award provides a great opportunity for me to pursue my research as an early investigator. It reflects well on the institutional support that the VCU School of Medicine is able to offer investigators.”

Oh received his M.D. from the VCU School of Medicine and completed his residency at the Neurological Institute of New York at Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.


Margaret A. Park, Ph.D.

Margaret A. Park, Ph.D.

Research assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology
Phone: (804) 828-6594
Email: mpark4@vcu.edu
Years active: 2013-2015

KL2 Research focus: To describe the global RNA splicing changes that occur as a result of metastasis in breast cancer. We are using resistance to anoikis (cell death induced by detachment) as a model of early metastasis, and have recently sequenced the transcriptome of parental and anoikis-resistant cell lines. We hope to translate our findings into identifying prognostic indicators for metastatic cancer and/or functionally characterizing important splicing events in cell growth, survival, motility, metastasis and anoikis resistance. The identified splice variants could then be used as target molecules for the treatment of metastatic cancer.

Research interests: RNA splicing, especially as it relates to metastasis and related pathways, cell death and autophagy regulation, cell signaling, combination inhibitor therapies for cancer, and systems biology

What being a KL2 scholar means to Park: “The first step towards independence is an important event in the career of any research scientist. Being a recipient of the KL2 award allows me both the freedom to pursue my own research interests, and the opportunity receive mentoring and career-related guidance from an outstanding team of more experienced scientists. Overall, the KL2 scholars program is a wonderful opportunity to increase research independence for junior faculty.”


Sarah K. Price, Ph.D.

Sarah K. Price, Ph.D

Associate professor, School of Social Work
Phone: (804) 828-0579
Email: skprice@vcu.edu
Years active: 2010-2013

KL2 research focus: Ameliorating disparities in fetal and infant morality among low socioeconomic populations

Research interests: Reproductive and perinatal loss; depression in pregnancy; grief and bereavement; community-based participatory research; disparities in fetal and infant mortality

What being a KL2 scholar means to Price: “In addition to being a faculty member in the School of Social Work, being a scholar means I am simultaneously focusing on the ways in which my areas of research intersect more broadly with researchers and scientists in other disciplines and departments along the entire spectrum of translational research.”

Price received her Ph.D. from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.


Nicole Rankins, M.D., M.P.H.

Nicole Rankins, M.D., M.P.H.

Assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Phone: (804) 828-7877
Email: nrankins@mcvh-vcu.edu
Years active: 2012-2014

KL2 Research focus: Elucidating contributory factors to gestational weight gain with a focus on overweight and obese pregnant women

Research interests: Improving maternal and fetal outcomes, ameliorating racial/ethnic disparities in perinatal outcomes, utilizing pregnancy as a window of opportunity for improving long term maternal and children’s health

What being a KL2 scholar means to Rankins: “The KL2 program is an exceptional opportunity for me as a junior investigator. It provides the time, resources, environment, and mentoring necessary to facilitate my transition to an independently funded physician-scientist.”


Sinem Esra Sahingur, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Sinem Esra Sahingur, D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D.

Assistant professor, Department of Periodontics
Phone: (804) 827-1710
Email: ssahingur@vcu.edu
Years active: 2013-2015

KL2 Research focus: Identification of a genetic marker that will increase susceptibility to periodontal disease.

Research interests: The role of immune and inflammatory responses and host-pathogen interactions in the pathogenesis of periodontal disease; interactions between periodontal disease and systemic health; genetic susceptibility to periodontitis.

What being a KL2 scholar means to Sahingur: “It is an honor to be a KL2 scholar. The award will provide tremendous support for me to expand my research and obtain preliminary data that will lead to competitive and well-funded projects.”


Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D.

Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D.

Assistant professor and research professor, School of Pharmacy
Phone: (804) 828-4583
Email: bvantassell@vcu.edu
Years active: 2010-2013

KL2 Research focus: Examining the mechanism by which Interleukin-1β contributes to the development of cardiac dysfunction/cardiomyopathy; determining if targeted Interleukin-1β blockade will improve cardiac function and alleviate symptoms in patients with heart failure

Research interests: Inflammatory mediators in cardiac dysfunction

What being a KL2 scholar means to Van Tassell: “The KL2 scholar program has enabled me to devote the majority of my time to my research, while providing funds for pilot projects in both clinical and pre-clinical settings. In addition, it has provided funds for publication and travel to scientific meetings and has given access to the best facilities, mentors and resources available at VCU.”

Van Tassell received his Pharm.D. from the University of Utah.


Carlos A. Villalba Galea, Ph.D.

Carlos A. Villalba Galea, Ph.D.

Assistant professor, Department of Physiology and Biophysics
Email: cavillalbaga@vcu.edu
Years active: 2013-2015

KL2 Research focus: Understanding the biophysical properties of the tumor suppressing enzyme known as PTEN. Activity-impairing mutations on PTEN are commonly found in tumors. Thus, understanding the effect of these mutations on the activity of PTEN is critical for the development of therapies to treat PTEN related illnesses. Furthermore, PTEN activity is regulated by a number of factors, which makes it challenging to understand in detail the activation and regulation of this protein. Using a novel approach, we have overcome this difficulty by electrically controlling PTEN activation. This approach opens a door to a better understanding of the behavior of this protein and to elucidating the regulatory interactions and the effect of clinical treatment on the biochemical properties of this protein.

Research interests: Elucidating the mechanism of transduction of bioelectrical signals into biochemical signals in cells; understanding bioelectrical signals controls voltage sensitive phosphatases and voltage-gated ion channels

What being a KL2 scholar means to Villalba Galea: “Being a basic scientist, I am very excited and honored to be a KL2 scholar. This is a great opportunity that opens the door to the world of translational research. I believe that being a KL2 scholar brings a once-in-lifetime chance to harness our experiences and knowledge and search way to readily apply them to the everyday clinical practice and, therefore make accessible to the community what we have harvested from lab benches.”