Learn more about Villapol Lab Team members, their scientific backgrounds/interests, and research projects.

Pictures credit to Sid Gunamalai


Shashi Krishnamurthy, M.S.


Shashi Krishnamurthy joined the Villapol Laboratory as a Senior Research Assistant in November 2018. She has degrees in Microbiology and Biochemistry (2004), and a Master’s in Biochemistry (2006) along with over 6 years of experience in biomedical research and laboratory management. Before joining the RI she worked as a Research Associate at UTMB studying animal models of Traumatic Brain Injury and has strong experience in Molecular Biology techniques.


Manoj Dandekar, Ph.D.

Research Associate

For the past 15 years, Dr. Manoj Dandekar has been working in the neuroscience and neuropharmacology field. After completing his Ph.D. in the Faculty of Medicine (2009), he worked in the pharmaceutical drug discovery industry (2009-2016). In May of 2016, he joined the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, to strengthen his research background and become an independent researcher. His current lab (Dr. Sonia Villapol), within the Center for Neuroregeneration, at Houston Methodist Research Institute focuses on uncovering the connection between the brain and peripheral organs in the context of brain injury. Manoj’s research interest is focused on investigating the neuropathology of CNS disorders and brain injury, and establish microbiome-gut-brain connection using mostly an in vivo approach.


Sirena Soriano, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Sirena Soriano obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Valencia, Spain in 2016 under the mentorship of Dr. Moltó and Dr. Martínez. As part of her doctoral training, she joined the laboratory of Dr. Botas at Baylor College of Medicine as a visiting fellow to perform a genetic interaction screening in a fly model of Friedreich ataxia. She later joined Dr. Samaco’s laboratory as a Postdoctoral Associate where she participated in the molecular and behavioral characterization of rodent models of Autism Spectrum Disorders. In 2019, she joined the Dr. Sonia Villapol’s Laboratory as the following step in her pursue for a career in academia, with the goal of investigating the link between brain injuries and Alzheimer’s disease.


Jane Fitzgerald

Research Assistant

Jane Fitzgerald is working on Dr. Masdeu’s lab. She joined Villapol Lab’s to investigate the occurrence of auto-antibodies targeting neural receptors, resulting in symptoms mirroring schizophrenia. Originally intending to pursue a degree in fine arts, she completed her Bachelor’s in biology with a minor in chemistry from Suffolk University in Boston. Throughout her studies, she tutored chemistry for undergraduates’ students. She has assisted with field demographic research of Peromyscus leucopus on the Boston Harbor Islands. She also utilized site-directed mutagenesis to study enzymatic activity due to a missense mutation in the fumarase gene.

Maria Qi Wang.jpg

Maria “Qi” Wang

Ph.D. Student from Rice University

Maria is a Ph.D. student from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University. She is working in the Treangen Lab.

She is study the role of the gut microbiome in the neuropathology of brain injuries.


Kiana Banafshay

Summer Intern Student

Kiana Banafshay is a junior at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) majoring in biology with a minor in business. She was recognized as a Distinguished College Scholar and is a mentor in the Accelerated Research Initiative at UT. A native of Houston, Texas, Kiana is excited to be at Houston Methodist and learn more about neurorestoration through this lab, broadening her research experience as a result. She will also be applying to medical school this upcoming summer to further her dreams of becoming a medical doctor.