Our Lab

Dr. Marija Cvetanovic, Principal Investigator

Dr. Marija Cvetanovic received her BSc in Molecular Biology and Physiology from the University of Belgrade in 1998. She completed her PhD at the Department of Immunology, Microbiology and Virology at the University of Illinois in Chicago in 2004, studying recognition of apoptotic cells by macrophages. As a postdoctoral fellow she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Puneet Opal, exploring the molecular pathology of Purkinje neurons in the Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type1 (SCA1).

In 2012, Marija joined the Department of Neuroscience and Institute for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota as the Assistant professor. In her time away from the lab Marija enjoys to walk with her dog, June, read, rock climb, cook, watch movies, and study yoga.

Graduate Students

Carrie Sheeler, Ph.D. Candidate


Carrie started as a graduate student in the Graduate Program of Neuroscience in 2017. Her interest in Neuroscience stems from a passion for molecular and systemic changes underlying susceptibility to neurological disease. In the Cvetanovic lab, her focus is on regional vulnerability to SCA1 using human iPSCs as a model system. Outside of the lab, Carrie spends her time gaming with friends, gardening, and exploring everything Minneapolis has to offer.

Katherine Hamel, Ph.D. Candidate

Katie is a born and raised Minnesotan.  After graduating from St. Olaf college, Katie moved out west to the San Francisco bay area to work as a lab tech. While the bay area is a beautiful place to live, and she highly recommends you take time to visit if you can, Katie couldn’t stay away from Minnesota forever. She started in the Graduate Program of Neuroscience at the UofM in 2018, and joined the Cvetanovic lab in the spring of 2019. When not in the lab, you can find Katie hanging out with friends and family, including my dog, Cucumber, or playing hockey.

Alyssa Soles, Ph.D. Student

Genevieve Benjamin, Masters Student

I'm a graduate student in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience with the entering class of 2020. I moved to Minneapolis from St. Louis, Missouri after graduating from Truman State University where I studied biology.  My research interests include glial contributions to SCA1 pathogenesis and potential therapeutics. Outside of the lab I enjoy hanging out with my cats, painting, and spending time outside. 


I am a student in the Master's of Biological Sciences program working on my thesis project involving the examination of the effects of astroglial activation in SCA1 and wild type mice. Outside of the lab, I enjoy teaching Sunday school to early elementary school-age children at my church, practicing karate, and spending time with my husband playing games and walking our dog, Gizmo.

Post-Baccalaureate Researchers

Juao-Guillerme Rosa, Lab Manager 


My name is Juão-Guilherme, I am a researcher and manager at the Cvetanovic lab. I grew up in Massachusetts but moved to Minnesota to study Neuroscience at Macalester College. 

In the Cvetanovic lab, one of my main projects is studying the therapeutic effects of BDNF in mouse models of SCA1. When we're not working hard, I enjoy potlucks, happy hours, and climbing with my lab mates!

Ella Borgenheimer, Lab Technician


I’m a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, where I studied Neuroscience and Pharmacology. I am especially interested in neurodegenerative diseases and therapy options. I keep busy as a nanny, hanging with friends, reading, and taking care of my plants. I love all things, but most notably, dogs, coffee, chickens, people, and—last but not least—brains!

Fares Ghannoum, Lab Technician

My name is Fares Ghannoum and I came from Syria in 2015. I recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor's degree in neuroscience. I came to the lab in September 2019 as a volunteer where I do genotyping, sectioning, staining, and running gels. I have become even more involved in the lab after graduation, working as a lab tech and developing a project assessing how acute intake of drugs of abuse changes activity in the cerebellum. Research is important for me because this opportunity is my first ever approach to actually witness how real science works and understand how experiments take place. Outside of lab I work as a PCA for a child with autism which is a very rewarding experience. In my free time, I serve as a deacon for St. Sahah Armenian church and I enjoy swimming and watching soccer. 

Kaelin Sbrocco, Lab Technician


Hey, my name is Kaelin Sbrocco! I am originally from Wisconsin and graduated from St. Olaf College with a Bachelor's degree in biology with minors in neuroscience and mathematical biology in 2021. My interests in the world of neuroscience stemmed from one of my other major interests -- sports! Stories about the concussion crisis of the NFL came out while I was in high school and I knew that I wanted to study the brain under the lens of neurodegeneration. I am super interested in the specifics behind the neural mechanisms that cause our brains to work and/or malfunction. When not in lab, I can be found at the dog park with my pups Sable and Soup, playing softball as a washed up college athlete, hiking and backpacking with friends, or spending quality time with family. 

Stephen Gilliat, Lab Technician

Stephen grew up in Oregon and recently graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor’s in Neuroscience. After learning that SCA runs in his family, he has joined the Cvetanovic lab hoping to better understand the disease and contribute to the field. In his time away from work he enjoys running, baking bread, and working in the garden.  

Undergraduate Researchers

Alisha D'Souza

Alisha is an international student from Kuwait at the University of Minnesota with a Biochemistry major and an Integrative Neuroscience minor. She joined the Cvetanovic lab in 2016 as a freshman and is currently completing research for her honors thesis. 

Merin John

I am a junior studying Biochemistry, and have been a part of Dr. Cvetanovic's Lab since January 2019! I am currently working to see how the ATXN1 gene affects the expression of the BACE1 cleaving enzyme in the mouse cortex and hippocampus, which may help us understand why the lack of ATXN1 increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease. After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I plan to attend medical school; I hope to pursue a career as a physician and perform clinical research.


Laurel Schuck

Laurel joined the Cvetanovic lab in March 2020 as a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. She is pursuing a degree in neuroscience in the honors program, and in the lab, she helps out with genotyping and DNA extraction, as well as pursuing her own project in summer 2021. This project uses ATXN1 154Q knockin mice and qPCR to examine gene expression and astrogliosis in SCA1. After her undergraduate, she plans to attend medical school and continue research through a career as a neurologist. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, yoga, sewing, and spending time with friends.

Lab Creative Catalysts


Fawkes, Juao-Guilherme Rosa

Bumi .JPG

Bumi, Juao-Guilherme Rosa


Olive, Ella Borgenheimer


Henry, Ella Borgenheimer


Leo, Ella Borgenheimer

Oscar, Alyssa Soles


Cucumber, Katie Hamel


Gizmo, Genevieve Benjamin


Soup, Kaelin Sbrocco


Sable, Kaelin Sbrocco

Bruno, Stephen Gilliat


Milli (Millikan) and Dumples, Carrie Sheeler

Margo, Alyssa Soles


Maddy, Laurel Schuck


Birdie, Dr. Cvetanovic

Junebug, Dr. Cvetanovic

Bee, Laurel Schuck

Lab Alumni

Aaron Mellesmoen, M.S

Melissa Asher, M.S.

Wenhui Qu, M.S.

Joo Hyun Kim, Ph.D.

Andrea Johnson, M.D.

Abigail Lukowicz

Adanna Ekekwe, LSSURP Student

Austin Ferro, Ph.D.