Lab Members

Lab Members

Åsa Gustafsson, Ph.D
Principal Investigator

Åsa received her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California San Diego in 2001 under the mentorship of Dr. Larry Brunton in the department of Pharmacology. She did her postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Roberta Gottlieb at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla where she developed her interest in understanding the molecular pathways that regulate mitochondrial function, morphology and turnover in the heart. She is currently a Professor in the Skaggs School Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California San Diego and the Chair of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program. Outside the lab, she enjoys spending time at the beach, hiking, skiing, reading and spending time with her family. She also enjoys traveling and exploring new destinations in the world.

Rita Najor
Lab Manager

In the winter of 2010, Rita joined Dr. Gustafson’s lab as an undergraduate student, while preparing for the master program. As soon as she earned her bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology in the spring of 2010, Rita joined the lab full time as a master student. She completed her master’s degree in the summer of 2011, and worked part time in Dr. Gustafson’s lab. Then, she subsequently worked at Valasciences Company as a research associate. After one year, Rita was offered a position by Dr. Gustafson as a full time research associate. Currently, Rita is the lab manager and area safety coordinator. She is responsible for a multitude of tasks to ensure that orders are placed correctly, and that the lab is in compliance with the safety guidelines established by the university. Rita also continues to work closely to aide other lab members with their studies. In her spare time, Rita loves to explore the beautiful city of San Diego with her son, Joseph, and her husband, Brian. Some of their family’s favorite places to visit include the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the beach. Baking treats and sharing a weekly movie night is also something they enjoy doing together. 

Liguo Chi
Research Associate

Liguo Chi received his PhD in Pharmacology at the University of Michigan in 1994. Liguo spent 20 plus years in the Pharmaceutical industry working on drug discovery in Cardiovascular tissue. He recently returned to academia and joined Dr. Asa Gustafsson’s lab in 2019 as a Staff Research Associate. Liguo enjoys hands-on lab work and is primarily responsible for doing in-vivo procedures and working with in-vivo disease models to support on-going research projects. After living on the East Coast and in the Midwest for many years, Liguo and his wife Xianglan really like the nice weather in San Diego. Specifically, they enjoy doing a lot of hiking and jogging in their free time.

Rishith Ravindran , Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

Rishith completed his PhD degree from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Thiruvananthapuram, India under the supervision of Prof. S. Murty Srinivasula. His PhD research involved the identification of a novel role for endocytic vesicles in regulating mitochondrial clearance. After completing his PhD degree, Rishith joined Dr. Gustafsson lab as a postdoctoral fellow in February 2023. He is currently interested in understanding the role of organelle interaction and protein aggregation in cardiovascular health and disease. During their leisure time, Rishith and his wife love to spend time cooking, exploring new places, listening to music, singing, and watching movies.

Justin M. Quiles, Ph.D
Postdoctoral Fellow

Justin received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology from Florida Atlantic University in 2015 under the mentorship of Dr. Michael C. Zourdos before completing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2019. At UAB, Justin trained under Dr. Rajasekaran Namakkal Soorappan in the Department of Pathology to define the transcriptomic landscape of myocardial reductive stress, an emerging anti-oxidative mechanism of proteotoxic cardiac disease. Justin joined the Gustafsson Lab as a Postdoctoral Fellow in June of 2019. Currently, Justin is examining the role of mitochondrial protein import and the mitochondrial unfolded protein response in cardiac proteostasis. New to the area, Justin enjoys exploring the southern California outdoors with his wife Maria and two dogs Zulu and Luna.

Shakti Sagar, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Shakti completed his PhD degree at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), New Delhi, India under the supervision of Dr. Anurag Agrawal. During his PhD, he explored how obesity impairs therapeutic efficacy of Mesenchymal Stem Cells by inhibiting cardiolipin- dependent mitophagy. Shakti joined the Gustafsson lab as a Postdoctoral Fellow in September of 2022. Currently, he is interested in studying the distinct role of Autophagy-related proteins in maintaining cardiac homeostasis. Also, Shakti is looking at some specific interaction between mitochondria and lysosomes. He is very interested at visualizing cellular components through high resolution fluorescence microscopy. In his free time, Shakti likes to cook new dishes, working out, travel, play cricket with friends, watch web series and talking to his family.

Samantha Ivezich
BS/MS student

Sam is a Masters’s student from the BS/MS program in Biological Sciences.

Anjni Agrawal
BS/MS student

Anjni is a Masters’s student from the BS/MS program in Biological Sciences.

Erika Zumaya
Undergraduate Researcher

Erika is an undergraduate student currently studying under UC San Diego BISP 199 Independent Research course. She is currently working on her B.S. in Human Biology and minoring in Psychology. She has been a part of the lab since the fall of 2021 and is currently assisting lab members in their experiments and analysis. Her independent project is focused on investigating the role of Beclin1 in trafficking of the Toll Like Receptor 4 (TLR4). In her free time, Erika enjoys reading and crafting.  

Khiet-Tam (Tam) Le
Undergraduate Laboratory Assistant

Khiet-Tam Le (Preferred Name: Tam) is a UCSD undergraduate, a current sophomore, majoring in Pharmacological Chemistry. Tam is also a current SLT co-coordinator in an organization called MedLife at UCSD. As an SLT co-coordinator, Tam helps to promote and answer general members’ concerns regarding MedLife’s main series of events called service learning trips. These trips are where general members get the opportunity to shadow doctors, physicians, dentists, and other health professionals in mobile clinics to give the basic health care to low income families in neighboring countries. Tam is currently a lab assistant in the Gustafsson lab. In her free time, Tam enjoys traveling with her family and spending time to rest and recharge through watching TV shows.