Current Members

Juan Rene Alvarez Domínguez, Ph.D.
Juan grew up in Guatemala, and went to school there and in Italy. He graduated from Princeton university with a B.A. in Molecular Biology, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in Biology. He worked as an HHMI LSRF Fellow in the Melton Lab at Harvard University, studying the physiological maturation of pancreatic islets. His interests include regenerative medicine, circadian rhythms, and organoids. Outside of lab, Juan enjoys film, music, travel, skiing, and chess.
Sam Pollock, B.S.

Sam graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 with a degree in bioengineering and a minor in chemistry. He worked in the neuro-radiology department of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh for a year before joining the Peace Corps, serving in Guinea for two years as a math teacher. Sam's professional interests include genetics, neurology, epidemiology, imaging, and signals and systems. His personal interests include rock climbing, skiing, traveling, reading, and music.

Zoe Gruskin

Zoe graduated from the University of Maryland in 2022 with a B.S. in Animal Science and the Outstanding Service in Research award. During her undergraduate she worked in a gastrointestinal lab and an orthopedic lab. Her professional interests include animal behavior and welfare, immunology, biophysics, and organoids. She also likes reading, traveling, hiking, and volunteering.

Sam Preza

Sam graduated from University of Maryland in 2019 with a degree in Chemical Engineering. He worked for three years at AstraZeneca in Bioprocess Development, where he researched N-linked glycosylation, Raman chemometric modeling, and perfusion technologies. Broadly, Sam’s interests lie in researching and developing technologies for unmet medical needs—currently, optimizing pancreatic islet maturation and scale-up for therapeutic application. Outside the lab, Sam enjoys rock climbing, romantic date nights, snowboarding, beach volleyball and kicking it with friends.

Mai Liu

Mai graduated from Purdue University in 2020 with a major in biological engineering and minors in computer science and biotechnology. He completed his master of biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2022, where he studied cell-specific gene expression using deep learning-enabled tissue labeling in pancreatic adenocarcinoma. His interests lie in cell therapy and regenerative medicine, including current projects on epigenetic control of human pancreatic islet maturation. Outside the lab, Mai enjoys playing video games and hanging out with friends.

Zihan Gao

Zihan Graduated from Purdue University in 2020 with a degree in Biological Engineering and a minor in Biotechnology. From 2020 – 2022, she pursued her master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering in the Johns Hopkins University, where she explored the epigenetic and mechanotransducive regulation of PD-L1 expression in breast cancer cells. Zihan’s professional interests include tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and cell therapy. Her personal interests include watching Chinese costume drama, cooking, baking, hiking, and traveling with friends.

Daria Zhadanova

Daria graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2023 with a BA in biology and earth science. She is broadly interested in developmental biology, cell signaling, epigenetics, and chromatin. Daria is currently studying the dynamics of repressive histone modfications throughout SC-islet differentiation. Outside the lab, she enjoys reading, going to museums, puzzles, and summer.

Monica Cho

Monica is a sophomore at Penn studying bioengineering on the pre-med track. Her interests lie within the intersection of synthetic biology, biotechnology, and medicine, and she hopes to further her education and research to make a real-life impact on patients’ lives. Outside of the lab, she enjoys traveling, hanging out with her friends and family, exploring good food, and watching Netflix.

June Hyunjun Ahn

June is from Boston, and is currently a senior at the University of Pennsylvania pursuing a M.A. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Biochemistry, Physics, and Biophysics. His interests lie in applying novel chemical biology approaches to solving problems in regenerative medicine. Outside the lab, June loves to play basketball, drink lattes, and skateboard.

Azariah J. Wise

Azariah is an undergraduate student from Spelman College majoring in Health Science and graduating in 2025. Her professional interests include Obstetrics and Gynecology, Endocrinology, and Circadian rhythms. Her personal interests include reading, swimming, baking, and traveling.

Beatrice Han

Beatrice is an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in Biochemistry and Bioethics. Before joining the Alvarez lab, she conducted neurovirology research on a cerebral organoid model system. Currently, she is investigating the link between pancreatic beta cell maturity and vulnerability to autoimmune attack. Outside of the lab, she enjoys listening to horror podcasts, ink sketching, cooking with friends, and all things speculative fiction.

Roberto Mendoza

Roberto is a Salvadoran-Mexican born in the United States. He is a rising senior at Northeast High School from Philadelphia, PA, hoping to pursue a career in Biomedical Research. His personal interests include spending time with family/friends and going out for walks in nature.


Yasthika AshokKumar

Yasthika is a Conestoga High School student from Berwyn, PA graduating in 2023. She is monitoring the success in making beta cells from pluripotent cells by quantifying the expression of expected protein markers via flow cytometry at each stage of the process.

Israeli Galicia Silva

Isra is from Guatemala, and graduated from Universidad del Valle de Guatemala with a degree in Biochemistry and Microbiology. Her interest in Molecular Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine stems from her undergraduate thesis work, which introduced the first mammalian cell model at her university. She has worked as a Teaching Assistant for Biochemistry, Biology, and Chemistry courses, and loves introducing kids to science. Her personal interests include acting, theater, musicals, nature, art, and swimming.

Landed in Philly, Fall 2022
Oktoberfest, Fall 2021
PhD rotation + incoming students, Spring 2022
IRM OER Summer Intern Capstone, Summer 2022
Hiking, Fall 2022
Chinese New Year, Winter 2022
Blue Mountain skiing, Winter 2022
Rollar Skating, Spring 2023
Welcoming Summer Students, Summer 2023