Our Team

Madan Kwatra, Director

Dr. Kwatra is an associate professor of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology, and Psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center. He has a PhD in medicinal chemistry followed by several years of training in receptor biochemistry and pharmacology. This included training with 2012 Nobel laureate Dr. Robert Lefkowitz. Dr. Kwatra has been funded by the NIH to study the function of substance P/neurokinin-1 receptor (NK1R) and effect of age on cardiac GPCRs. He also led an interdisciplinary team consisting of anesthesiologists, biostatisticians, psychiatrists, and surgeons in a 2.5 million dollar, NIH-funded study to understand the molecular basis of postoperative delirium in the elderly. In 2009, Dr. Kwatra discovered a constitutively active form of NK1R in glioblastoma (GBM). Since then he has been focusing on GBM biology. Recently, he found that patient-derived GBM xenografts retain the phosphoproteomic profile of parent tumors and plans to use a panel of such xenografts and stem cells for personalized glioblastoma drug discovery. Because of his expertise in medicinal chemistry, receptor pharmacology, cell signaling, and clinical trials, Dr. Kwatra is in a unique position to develop an effective therapy against GBM.


Gustavo Chagoya M.D.

Dr. Chagoya is currently a neurosurgery resident at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is set to complete his residency training in June of 2022. His interests include cerebrovascular and skull base surgery, and neuro-oncology. He earned a Bachelor in Science degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from Rice University in 2011 and went on to complete his MD degree at Duke University in 2015. He is a former full time member of the Kwatra laboratory, focusing on glioblastoma research.


Justin Choi

Justin hails from California, where he received his B.A. in Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. After graduating, Justin returned home to Southern California where he spent several years at the Beckman Research Institute (City of Hope) researching novel inhibitors of the SUMOylation pathway, which solidified his interest in cancer-related drug discovery research. Now between his third and fourth years of medical school at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago, Justin is undertaking a research fellowship with Dr. Kwatra to characterize the efficacy of a novel plant-derived compound against various dermatological malignancies and glioblastoma.


Jaimie McKeel

Jaimie is a senior majoring in biomedical engineering and also on the pre-medical track at Duke. She utilizes her engineering background in bioinformatics and data analysis. Additionally, she researches the molecular characterization of EGFRvIII+ glioblastoma and the efficacy of FDA-approved drugs against these characterized cell lines.

Cory Nanni

Cory has been working with Duke’s Glioblastoma Drug Discovery Group and Dr. Kwatra since 2014. He conducts experiments on mice, including subcutaneous and intracranial tumor implantation, oral gavage treatments, tumor extractions, and post-mortem brain fixation (preservation). He has published papers on the heterogeneity of EGFRvIII-positive glioblastoma stem cells and its implications for personalized drug development. He also fulfilled pre-clinical trial studies under grants with mid-sized pharmaceutical companies, including Astra Zeneca, Curtana, Del Mar, Genzada, and Helsinn. These trials composed of cell culture and mouse studies.


Callie Roberts

Callie has been working with Duke’s Glioblastoma Drug Discovery Group and Dr. Kwatra since 2013. During her undergraduate years at Duke, she spent time in the lab, learning about glioblastoma cell culture and how to design and conduct experiments. After graduation, she worked full-time as a research technician to study the effects of a third-generation tyrosine kinase inhibitor on glioblastoma stem cells. While obtaining a Masters in Biomedical Sciences at Wake Forest School of Medicine, she researched receptor-mediated drug delivery to glioblastoma in the lab of Dr. Debinski, the Director of the Wake Forest University Brain Tumor Center of Excellence. She is now a second-year medical student at UC Davis School of Medicine, just an hour from her hometown in the East Bay. Her deep passion for improving the standard of care for glioblastoma patients and learning about the connections between oncology and immunology is rooted in her work with Dr. Kwatra, and she is honored to continue to collaborate with a creative, intelligent, and very dedicated group.


Gabby Braun

Gabby Braun is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring Chemistry and Education. She is on the pre-med track and works in the Kwatra Labs as a research assistant. She is interested in working with cancer due to loved ones affected by it and its increasing prevalence in our society. Outside of classes and research, she is also the Saturday Program Director for Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science (FEMMES). 



Cole Davis

Cole is a senior double majoring in Chemistry and Neuroscience with a minor in Biology. For his independent study, he is working on a project to evaluate the efficacy of D2 dopamine receptor antagonists, particularly Haloperidol, in their ability to slow the growth of Glioblastoma. After his time at Duke, he hopes to attend medical school somewhere in the United States.


Meghan Miller

Meghan is a senior double majoring in Gender, Sexuality, Feminist Studies and Global Health with a minor in Chemistry. She is also on the pre-medical track and is planning to attend medical school after undergrad. Starting August 2019, Meghan has enjoyed researching Glioblastoma in Dr. Kwatra’s laboratories and volunteering for the Glioblastoma Foundation. Meghan co-hosted the 2019 Glioblastoma Awareness Gala and is working on an Independent Study Project based around the drug Trifluoperazine and its ability to help treat GBM.


Our Collaborators

Glenn Lesser, M.D.

Dr. Glenn Lesser is a professor of Hematology and Oncology at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. He is board certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Medical Oncology. His research interests include glioma, glioblastoma, neuro-oncology, and brain tumors. Dr. Lesser obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, medical training at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, and his internal medicine residency training at the North Carolina Baptist Hospital. He is a member of many professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology, North Carolina Medical Association, and the Society of Neuro-Oncology.


Shawn Kwatra, M.D.

Dr. Shawn Kwatra is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He specializes in medical dermatology and is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology. His areas of clinical expertise include general dermatology, chronic pruritus, prurigo nodularis, atopic dermatitis, and dermatology for ethnic skin. Dr. Kwatra obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, medical training at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and his dermatology residency training at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Kwatra’s primary clinical and translational research interest is in the pathogenesis and treatment of chronic pruritus. He is a member of several professional organizations including the American Academy of Dermatology, the Society for Investigative Dermatology, the International Forum for the Study of Itch, and the Skin of Color Society.


Our Advisors

Al Musella

musella@virtualtrials.comAl Musella

Al Musella is the president and founder of the Musella Foundation For Brain Tumor Research & Information, Inc, a 501(C)3 nonprofit public charity dedicated to helping brain tumor patients through emotional and financial support, education, advocacy and raising money for brain tumor research.  In 1992 his sister-in-law was diagnosed with GBM, sparking his interest in brain tumors. He soon realized there was no centralized online resource for brain tumor clinical trials.  Thus, shortly after, he began the first online support group dedicated to brain tumors and collected and published a database on all relevant clinical trials.  This site served as a model for the current NIH clinical trials website.  Next, Dr. Musella created an online patient registry to monitor the treatments used and the respective outcomes.  To date, he has provided grant funding for over 60 brain tumor research projects and emphasizes the value of nontraditional, unique approaches.   He serves on numerous boards as a patient advocate, helping to shape the direction of brain tumor research.  Dr. Musella was involved in the FDA approval process for Avastin and the Novocure System, and in the Medicare funding process for Gliadel, Temodar, Avastin and the Novocure system.  In 1999, Al also lost his father to GBM, but he has continued to make a profound impact on brain tumor research, awareness, and support.


Recent Lab Alumni

Sarah Nullmeyer

Madison Krischak

Kristine Brown

Gustavo Chagoya

Timothy Yen

Sarah Corin

Caroline Schanche

Bradley Cahn