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.

Navraj Lally
Lab Assistant

Navraj received his bachelor’s degree in biology from UC San Diego in 2018 and went on to complete his Master’s degree under the mentorship of Dr. Åsa Gustafsson. During his master’s, he worked alongside a previous graduate student to investigate novel roles of anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1 in regulating mitochondrial dynamics and turnover. After graduating, Navraj stayed on with the Gustafsson lab to continue working on his previous project, help progress other research projects, and aid in some of the lab’s day to day tasks. In his free time, Navraj enjoys watching sports such as mixed-martial arts and football, as well as listening to podcasts, learning new things, and spending time with friends.

Wenjing Liang, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Fellow

Wenjing’s major research interest is mitochondria turnover in cardiac aging process, nicotine related heart disease. She recently took over another project which is studying the relationship between extracellular vesicles secretion and mitophagy in myocardial infarction model from a former lab member. Wenjing completed her doctoral program in Clinical Medicine at Shandong University, in China. During her doctoral studies, her main project was studying the mechanism of atherosclerotic plaque stabilization. She also participated an international training program and spent one and half year doing cardiac fibrosis research as a visiting graduate student in the lab of Paul Insel at UCSD. Besides doing research in lab, Wenjing loves reading, cooking and baking, she also enjoys the outdoors of sunny southern California.

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.

Mark Lampert
Ph.D. Student

Mark obtained his B.S. in Microbiology from The Ohio State University in 2015. He received his initial laboratory training at Ohio State, as well as at UNC-Chapel Hill under Dr. Lee Graves. He has been a graduate student in the Gustafsson Lab since starting the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program in 2015. His project focuses on the role of Beclin1 as a central regulator of intracellular quality control pathways, including autophagy and the endosomal pathway. Given the increasing focus on intracellular quality control and its role in heart disease, Beclin1’s novel role in regulating the endosomal pathway is of particular interest. In his free time, he enjoys reading (both fiction and non-fiction), playing beach volleyball, and watching sports, with a particular love for the Ohio State football team.

Eileen Moreno
Ph.D Student

In 2014, Eileen completed her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology at California State University, Los Angeles. During that time, she did research with Dr. Katrina Yamazaki, investigating cardioprotective effects of epicatechin in the type 2 diabetic heart. While working on her undergraduate degree she also participated in two summer research experiences, one at the University of Oxford and another at UCSD where she first met Dr. Gustafsson. After graduation, Eileen returned to the Gustafsson lab for a short post-Bac position and was accepted into the biological sciences doctoral program in 2015. In the lab, Eileen investigates proteins involved in the processes of autophagy and mitophagy in the heart. Outside of the lab, Eileen loves spending time with her husband and her two rambunctious huskies. She enjoys baking, swimming and all things Harry Potter.

Rachel Diao
Ph.D. Student

Rachel is currently a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences program at UCSD. She majored in Biological Sciences at Cornell University, where she studied various molecular mechanisms of aging and aging-related diseases with Dr. Sergiy Libert and Dr. Sylvia Lee. Her main interest lies in deciphering how loss of organelle quality control contributes to systemic aging. One of her projects in the lab involves elucidating mechanisms of mitochondrial quality control in the aged heart. In her free time, Rachel enjoys playing the clarinet, knitting, trying new kinds of food, and being bad at video games.

Monica Jeung
Master’s Student

Monica is an incoming Masters’s student from the BS/MS program. She is finishing her undergraduate degree in Microbiology, with minors in Psychology and Philosophy. Her shift from microbiology to molecular biology started with her undergrad work with the Kadonaga lab on the UCSD campus. Currently, she is working with PhD student Eileen on the localization of Beclin-1. In her free time, she dances, bakes, and knits.

Logan Holland
Undergraduate Researcher

Logan received her bachelor’s in Biochemistry & Cell Biology from the University of California San Diego in 2020. While completing her degree, she researched various assembly proteins and kinases involved in cardiomyopathy development in Dr. Ju Chen’s Lab. Logan joined the Gustafsson Lab as a Master’s Student in June 2020 to continue researching the heart. Outside of the lab, she enjoys reading, creative writing, and spending time outdoors.

Josiephine Duong
Undergraduate Laboratory Assistant

Josiephine is a 3rd year undergraduate at UCSD majoring in Biology with a minor in Psychology. She is currently building up laboratory and clinical experience for PA school. Around the lab, she assists post docs, graduate researchers, and other lab members with their experiments and is involved with general lab upkeep. She enjoys cooking, Netflix, and playing piano on her free time.