Kai Kessenbrock, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator

Dennis Ma, Ph.D.

CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow

Dennis received his PhD in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, characterizing the anti-cancer activity of natural and synthetic compounds in cell and animal models. A major focus of this work has been on cancer cell mitochondria and oxidative stress and how these are exploited in the induction of apoptosis by these anti-cancer agents. He is currently studying the early systematic changes in epithelial homeostasis and the mammary stem cell niche during breast cancer initiation using single cell analyses. Dennis is currently funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Postdoctoral Fellows Program.

Maren Pein, Ph.D.

CIRM Postdoctoral Fellow

(shared with Lawson Lab)


Maren received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Her current research interests focus on the spatial mapping of the human breast tissue in health and disease utilizing single cell genomics in combination with high-resolution spatial transcriptomics and proteomics approaches.

Jacob Insua Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Feodor Lynen Postdoctoral Fellow

(Shared with Lawson Lab)


Jacob received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of Heidelberg, Germany. His current research explores the interaction between metastatic tumor cells and their organ-specific niche using cell proximity-based labeling following single cell genomics analyses.

Yingying Han, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow


Yingying received her Ph.D. in Developmental Biology from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Her current research seeks to understand the regulation of mammary stem and progenitor cell function through cell-cell communication with focus on the Wnt signaling pathway as well as epithelium-associated immune cell populations.

Hamad Alshetaiwi

Graduate Student (CMB Program)

Fellowship from the Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission


Hamad received his B.S from Qassim University in Saudi Arabia. He then got his M.S. in Biomedical Science from Kansas State University, where he focused on using neutrophil granulocytes that infiltrate breast tumors as a novel tool for cancer detection. Currently, Hamad is studying the intricate roles of neutrophil granulocytes in the context of anti-tumor immunity during breast cancer progression and metastasis.

Kevin received his B.S. in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently in the UCI Medical Scientist Training Programm (MSTP). His graduate research is focused on the metabolic and paracrine interactions of the breast microenvironment in the pathogenesis of breast cancer.

Kerrigan Blake

Collaborating Graduate Student (MSCB Program)

(Devon Lawson Lab)


Kerrigan received her B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Kansas. Her collaborative efforts with the Kessenbrock lab are using pseudotemporal analysis pipelines to reconstruct cellular differentiation trajectories based on single cell gene expression data.

Yanwen Gong

Graduate Student (MCSB Program) joint with Weining Shen’s lab


Yanwen received her B.S. in Microbiology from Colorado State University. Then she got her M.S. in Biotechnology from UC Irvine, where she focused on bioinformatic analyzis of RNA-seq data. Her current research interests include investigating gene regulatory networks by single-cell multi-omics technology, and constructing differentiation trajectories from single-cell genomics data. Her long-term passion is to explore new perspectives and invent methods to analyze genomics data combining ML algorithms and statistical analysis.

Justice Williams

Graduate Student (CMB Program)


Justice received his B.S. in Nutrition Science from the University of California, Davis. He then worked on NGS-based early cancer detection diagnostic assays for 2 years at the biotech startup Grail. His research is currently focused on understanding the role that specific breast microenvironmental factors play in regulating mammary stem cell activity, particularly in the context of early cancer initiation and progression.

Grace Hernandez

Lab Manager (shared with Lawson Lab)


Grace received her B.S. in Human Biology from the University of California, Irvine. As Lab Manager for both the Lawson Lab and the Kessenbrock Lab, she is involved in various different research projects focusing on mammary development, breast cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis.

Current Undergraduate Researchers:

Lannhi Nguyen

Scott Nguyen

Maha Rauf

Jennifer Nguyen

Former Lab Members:

Dr. Quy H. Nguyen (CMB Graduate Student; now scientist at Genomics High-Throughput core facility at UCI)

Dr. Nicholas Pervolarakis (MCSB Graduate Student; now Computational Scientist at Active Motif, San Diego, California)

Nathan Ryan James (Lab manager; now UCI Medical School)

Jan Rath (Master Student; now Graduate Student at Lausanne University, Switzerland)

Josh Mo (Rotation student; now MSTP student UCI)

Samantha Magpantay (visiting high school student)

Anushka Silva (undergraduate researcher)

Anush Markaryan (undergraduate researcher)

Leona Torosian  (undergraduate researcher)

Christian Calderon (undergraduate researcher)