Reproductive Health and Toxicology Lab




Romana Nowak

  • Hometown: Villa Park, IL
  • Degrees:
    BS, MS, PhD Animal Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Postdoctoral Fellowships: Cambridge University (England) and Harvard University (Boston, MA)
  • Description of Research: Interests: Women’s reproductive diseases including endometriosis and uterine fibroids; embryo implantation and early pregnancy; use of domestic animal models as translational models for reproductive diseases; effects of endocrine disruptors on the uterus.
  • Biographical Information: Romana was born in Chicago, Illinois and lived about two miles from Wrigley Field until age 10 when her family moved to the suburb of Villa Park. From the time she was a small child, Romana loved everything about animals and plants and was drawn to science. She always had some kind of pets including a baby squirrel raised to adulthood and two wild baby rabbits. Romana was fortunate to have Dr. Philip Dziuk, a world renowned professor in reproductive biology, as her undergraduate mentor and very quickly decided that an academic career doing research in reproduction was what she wanted to do. Romana does a lot of undergraduate teaching which she greatly enjoys. In her free time Romana likes to spend time with her two sons Linus and Max, bake, garden, follow the Chicago Cubs, and attend Illini sports events. Fun Fact: Romana lived in England for 3.5 years and loves being by the ocean.

Ph.D. Students

Veronica Alston

  • Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Degrees:
    Tuskegee University, B.S. Animal, Poultry, and Veterinary Science, 2014
    Tuskegee University, M.S. Biology emph. Microbiology, 2017
  • Description of Research: Research Interests: Animal Genetics, Toxicology, Biochemistry
  • Biographical Information: Veronica's interest in animal science started in high school. She has always excelled in science and mathematics classes and has received awards for science fair projects. After graduating high school, she came to study at Tuskegee University, majoring in Animal, Poultry, and Veterinary Science, hoping one day to become a research scientist focusing in animal genetics and reproduction. She has taken rigorous courses in the Master of Biology program at Tuskegee University, focusing on microbiology. As an undergraduate, she completed two research summer programs. She worked on campus in a cancer pharmacology laboratory, was a Resident Assistant, and served as a Teacher Assistant for the Chemistry Department. For about four years, she has worked closely with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) which has inspired her to pursue a career that will help both the environment, animals and people. Veronica always felt the need to help people but she also has a passion to help animals, and she wants to integrate her two interests. She has decided to help improve our understanding of the human genome by first exploring animal genetics, toxicology, and biochemistry. She is confident that her strong passion for animals and genetics will inspire her research and hopefully improve our knowledge of how phthalates affect the reproductive system.

Rachel Braz Arcanjo

  • Hometown: Fortaleza, Ceara, Brazil
  • Degrees:
    Universidade Federal do Ceara, B.S. Biological Sciences, 2012
    Universidade de Brasilia, M.S. Animal Biology, 2014
  • Description of Research: Interests: Developmental biology, Embryology, Toxicology
  • Biographical Information: Rachel was born Brasília (Brazil’s capital), but was raised in the coastal city called Fortaleza. Since kid she was drawn to science because she loved to watch scientific tv shows and animal documentaries, developing an investigative sense. During her undergrad, Rachel studied Biological Science and made an internship at Histology laboratory, working with freshwater fish. With a developing interest in reproductive disorders, Rachel started Graduate School in Brasília, where she investigated endocrine disruptors’ effects on female mice follicles. She then decided her next step would be to gain some international experience at a prestigious research institution. Rachel won a Science without Borders Scholarship to pursue her PhD working with Dr. Romana Nowak. Her favorite parts about studying in the United States are her new friends and the fast pace of research, but she also misses her family and the friendliness and warmth of Brazil. Fun Fact: Rachel studied anthropology in France for 6 months.

Ramona Haji Seyed Javadi

  • Hometown: Tehran, Iran
  • Degrees:
    University of Tehran, B.S. Cell and Molecular Biology, 2008
    University of Tehran, M.S. Cell and Molecular Biology, 2011
  • Description of Research: Research Interests: Human reproductive health, Exosome research, Toxicology
  • Biographical Information: Biographical information: Ramona was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. Since high school time, she was fascinated by Genetics, cell biology and solving life sciences questions. After getting a master degree, she decided that she wants to explore knowledge beside what she has been exposed to in Iran. As a master student, she was mentored by Professor Elahe Elahi, a well-known human geneticist at University of Tehran. After getting admission to U of I, she has been exposed to a fresh breadth of interdisciplinary type of research in which bioengineering, cell biology, bioinformatic and reproduction knowledge come all together to solve specific questions in Human reproductive health. In her research, she is trying to develop a non-invassive method to monitor the health of the human placenta in real-time during the complete course of pregnancy. Many aspects of human placentation can only be understood on the basis of experiment on human cells and tissues in combination with data collection from human subject study. Therefore, she is looking at both in vivo and in vitro aspects of human placenta. Beside science, she is very interested in different languages, learning new sports as a hobby and cooking new cuisines. Fun fact: Her favorite sports at U of I are Zumba and Ice skating.

Adam (Kailiang) Li

  • Hometown: Zhengzhou, China
  • Degrees: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2013
  • Description of Research: Interests: Embryo implantation, placentation, establishment of pregnancy
  • Biographical Information: I am interested in understanding the physiology and mechanism during early pregnancy. Currently I am working on a glycoprotein called basigin using a transgenic mouse model. I hope to understand it's role in female reproduction specifically in the establishment of implantation, formation of a functional placenta and development of blood vessels. I got interested in reproduction after attending a seminar talking about reproductive physiology and disease. After my degree, I would love to work in a university because I have a passion for teaching and interacting with students. Fun Fact: I can spin a book on my finger tip for as long as I want.

Kadeem Richardson

  • Hometown: Oak Park, MI
  • Degrees:
    Tuskegee University, B.A. Animal Science, 2012
    Tuskegee University, M.S. Animal Science, 2014
  • Description of Research: Interests: Toxicology, effects of phthalates on the uterus, Zika virus, male reproductive tract
  • Biographical Information: Kadeem was born in Ohio but was raised in Detroit, MI. He has been intrigued by animals since four years of age. He became interested in animal science research after taking part in study observing the effect androgens in pubertal male rats. While pursuing his Masters he primarily focused parasitic and viral infections in animals. He took the opportunity to attend the University of Illinois to study the effects of environmental toxins and viral infection on the reproduction tract. His project is currently focusing on the effect of Zika Virus in the male reproductive tract and also determine the severity of the virus at various stages in life. In the future Kadeem plans to continue conducting research with parasites and viruses for the government or start his own business. Fun Fact: Kadeem does a lot of art work.

Emi Tucker

  • Hometown: Raleigh, NC
  • Degrees:
    Anderson University, B.A. Global Studies, 2013
    North Carolina State University, M.S. Physiology, 2016
  • Description of Research: Interests: Marine animal physiology, invasive species control, non-lethal toxicology sampling
  • Biographical Information: Emi was born in New Hampshire, raised in North Carolina and Florida. She became interested in conservation biology while studying environmental policy in college, and she is excited for the opportunity to study toxicology and aquatic reproductive physiology at the University of Illinois. She is interested in how environmental conditions interact with physiology and reproductive strategies in aquatic species. Fun Fact: Emi once backpacked across New Zealand.

M.S. Students

Catherine Lawrence

  • Hometown: Elmhurst, IL
  • Degrees: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.S. Animal Sciences, 2016
  • Description of Research: Interests: Endometriosis, phthalates
  • Biographical Information: Cate was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago she developed a great love for science in high school. She decided to pursue a degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois and found a great interest in reproductive disease. After graduation she decided to continue at the University of Illinois for a masters in this field and work with animals for human benefit. She is currently working with a mouse model of endometriosis and how endocrine disrupting chemicals may effect the progression of the disease. In her free time she likes to bake, go bowling with her fiancé and play with her dog, Murphy! Fun Fact: Cate lived in England for five years.

Courtni Sizemore

  • Hometown: Decatur, IL
  • Degrees: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.S. Animal Sciences, 2015
  • Description of Research: Interests: Leiomyomas, dietary effects on uterine fibroids
  • Biographical Information: Courtni was born and raised in Decatur, IL—about 45 minutes west of Champaign-Urbana. She is a newlywed and enjoys spending quiet time with her husband and their zoo (2 cats, a tree frog, a Chinese water dragon, and a ball python). Growing up, she always wanted to become a veterinarian, and became interested in reproductive biology her senior year of college. Upon completing her B.S. in Animal Sciences at the U of I, she decided to pursue her M.S. degree. She is currently studying the effects of dietary intervention with whole flaxseed and vitamin D on the incidence and growth of oviductal leiomyomas in chickens. Veterinary medicine still lies near and dear to her heart and in the future she hopes to pursue a DVM degree while continuing her research in reproductive biology. Fun Fact: Courtni has never seen the ocean (but she really wants to).


Monika Lizska

  • Hometown: Chicago, IL
  • Degrees: Junior, Animal Sciences
  • Description of Research: Interests: Wildlife health and reproductive biology

Kevin Porter

  • Hometown: Bridgeview, IL
  • Degrees: Junior, Animal Science
  • Description of Research: Research Interests: Reproductive biology and toxicology

Jenny Wang

  • Hometown: Dublin, CA
  • Degrees: Junior, Animal Sciences
  • Description of Research: Research Interests: Companion animal health and toxicology


Amy Ditewig, MS, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Associate Cell and Molecular Biologist, Abbot Laboratories, North Chicago, IL

Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming, PhD, Former Postdoctoral Fellow and PhD Student

  • Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology, and Cell Biology; Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, Springfield, IL

Angela Dirks, MS, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Export Document Examiner, USDA, Goodhue, MN

Annie Newell-Fugate, DVM/PhD, Former Postdoctoral Fellow and PhD Student

  • Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology, Texas A&M Vet School, College Station, TX

Cathy Dayger, MS, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: PhD Student at Portland State University, Portland, OR

Faezeh Koohestani, PhD, Former PhD Student

  • Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Physiology, University of Kansas, School of Medicine, Kansas City, KS

Farzaneh Masoud, PhD, Former PhD Student

  • Current Position: Research Coordinator, National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL

Fernando Mesquita, DVM/PhD, Former PhD Student

  • Current Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Veterinary Medicine, Universidade Federal do Pampa, Bage, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

Jia Jia Bi, PhD, Former PhD Student

  • Current Position: Research Scientist and Technical Account Manager, Genescript, Edison, NJ

Juli Rowlett, MS/DVM, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Practicing Veterinarian in Bolingbrook, IL

Li Chen, MD/PhD, Former PhD Student

  • Current Position: First year Resident in Pathology at State University of New York, Syracuse, NY

Lindsey Burnett, MD/PhD, Former Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Current Position: Second year Resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, San-Diego

Malavika Adur, DVM/PhD, Former PhD Student

  • Current Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Animal Sciences, Iowa State University, Ames, IA

Masaaki Nakai, PhD, Former Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Current Position: Associate Professor at University of Nagasaki Vet School in Japan (deceased)

Meagan Grudzien, MS, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Senior Scientist at AbbVie, North Chicago, IL

Pavni Mehrotra, MS/MD, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Resident in Pediatric Medicine, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

Maria Camila Navas Reinosa

  • Current Position: Former Undergraduate, Class of 2017

Robert Belton, PhD, Former Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Current Position: Associate Professor of Biology, Northern Michian university, Marquette, MI

Sara Brown, MS, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Registered Nurse, St. Louis, MO

Summer Dyer, MS/MD, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Practicing OB/GYN in Downers Grove, IL

Victoriya Ermilova, MS, Former MS Student

  • Current Position: Research Assistant, University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, Portland, OR