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Pediatrics / Jarvinen-Seppo Lab / Lab Members


Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Dr. Kirsi Järvinen-SeppoKirsi M. Järvinen-Seppo, M.D., Ph.D.

Kirsi Järvinen-Seppo, M.D., Ph.D.


Dr Järvinen-Seppo’s research interests focus on development of the infant microbiome and immune system, and how that relates to development of allergic diseases, particularly food allergies and atopic eczema. In particular, the research program is assessing the development of infant immune system in populations at different risk for allergic diseases such as the Old Order Mennonite community of Western New York and atopic families in Rochester. Her research laboratory is developing assays to measure the development of mucosal and systemic immunity and to characterize immunomodulatory factors in breast milk and the mechanisms how breast milk can impact the gut microbiome and immune cells.

In her spare time, she enjoys exercise, traveling, gardening and spending time with her family including two children.

Lab Members

Research Associate Professor

Dr. Antti SeppoAntti E. Seppo, Ph.D.

Research Associate Professor

Antti E. Seppo, Ph.D.

Dr. Seppo’s research aims at developing an understanding of the factors that predispose and cause food allergies in children, and to understand predictive indicators of the severity of allergic reactions in children and adults. To that end, he can evaluate genetic factors by applying genomic and transcriptomic techniques and environmental factors by biochemical screening of biomarkers.

His long-term interest is to understand the fundamental mechanisms in the developing human immune system and particularly mechanisms that upon failure cause allergic disease. This understanding will in part come from observations in the studies of allergy relevant factors, and in part from mechanistic studies involving candidate pathways of early immune system development.

Separate from allergy research, his research interests also include integration of leading edge biocomputing methods into cell based assay research, especially in connection with image analysis.

Postdoctoral Fellows

Courtney JacksonCourtney Jackson Ph.D.

Research Interest: Neonatal/infant B cell biology in the development of allergic disease.

Erin DavisErin Davis Ph.D.

Research Interest: Erin’s research focuses on how maternal diet and environment throughout the perinatal period influence the maternal microbiome, human milk composition, and infant allergic disease outcomes.

Ph.D. Students

Tyler Scherzi Tyler Scherzi

Ph.D. Student, Microbiology & Immunology Graduate Program

Tyler is a Graduate student studying how the interaction of immunoglobulins (specifically IgA) from human breast milk with Bifidobacterium longum spp. infantis, a prevalent commensal organism in the infant gut microbiome, and other gut microbes affect the development of the immune system in infancy. We are particularly interested in understanding and comparing these interactions in milk from Rochester and Old Order Mennonite (traditional farming community) populations, as the former have shown significantly reduced rates of development of Atopic diseases.

Sophie TroyerSophie Troyer

M.D. Ph.D. Student

Looking at the impact of the developing infant innate immune system on the development of allergic diseases. Also looking at the development of the gut epithelium in its interactions with the microbiome.

Undergraduate Students

Justine LamJustine Lam

Undergraduate Student

Investigating the Role of Bifidobacterium longum ssp. infantis in Maintaining Intestinal Epithelial Cell Barrier Integrity: This project involves growing Caco-2 epithelial cell monolayers and treating them with B. infantis strains as well as agonists known to induce intestinal barrier dysfunction. The purpose is to quantify resulting intestinal permeability, visualize the subsequent formation of tight junctions, and analyze the innate immunologic activity of B. infantis.

Elizabeth PonkoEllie Ponko

Undergraduate Student

Looking at the effect of farming lifestyle on the immune system and allergic development. Specifically investigating the differences in IgA levels between mothers and infants from different lifestyles, and how they correlate to allergic and atopic disease prevalence.

Technical Staff

Nichole Diaz Nichole Diaz

Laboratory Technician

Nichole graduated from Bucknell University with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology a long time ago. She has worked as a laboratory technician/manager for close to 20 years with the brunt of her experience being in mammalian stem cell culture. Brand new to Rochester, her last position was in Heidelberg Germany, she is super excited to continue learning and expanding her knowledge base of scientific techniques and practices while exploring and making a new home for herself here in Western New York.

Research Coordinators

Allison LeadleyAlison Leadley, M.P.H.

Sr. Human Subjects Research Coordinator

Allison has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Cornell University and completed her Master’s in Public Health at the University of Rochester. She has more than 30 years of experience as a research coordinator and is always excited to take on new projects and learn new things.

Kaili Widrick Kaili Widrick

Sr. Human Subjects Research Coordinator

Kaili earned her Bachelor’s degree in Wellness Management and then earned her Master’s degree from the University of Rochester in Healthcare Administration. She has been a coordinator at the University for the past six years.

photo of Jessie LuxembergJessie Luxemberg

Sr. Human Subjects Research Coordinator

Jessie earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina. She then completed her Master’s in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Previous Lab Members

Carolina Valderrama HincapieCarolina Valderrama Hincapie

2023 Summer Student

Carolina was a 2023 URMC Summer student who finished her B.S in Biology from the University of New Mexico in late 2023. During the summer she analyzed maternal immunoglobulin profiles in rural versus urban populations to better understand their role in infant immunity and development of allergies. She will be starting her PhD in the IQ Biology program at CU Boulder in Fall 2024.

Alexandra KaplanAlexandra Kaplan

SCRC 2022 Summer Student

During her time in the 2022 SCRC Summer Program, Alex explored correlations between specific lifestyle factors and allergic outcomes in Rochester and Old Order Mennonite children. She is now a medical student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry.

Catherine Acio-PizzarelloCatherine Pizzarello

M.D., Ph.D. Student, Microbiology & Immunology Graduate Program

Catherine Pizzarello earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. She completed her first two years of medical school and is currently a second year graduate student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. Catherine is currently investigating the role of human milk in modulating infant gut mucosal immunity.

Zhiyu-blake-DouZhiyu "Blake" Dou

Undergraduate Student

Zhiyu Dou is a fourth year student at the University of Rochester, majoring in Biology (General track) and minoring in Studio Arts. She is interested in the effect of lifestyles, urban versus traditional farming communities, on intestinal microbiomes and the risk of developing atopic diseases.

Lauren VanasseLauren Vanasse

Undergraduate Student

Lauren Vanasse is a fourth year undergraduate student at the University of Rochester double majoring in Computational Biology and Statistics. She is interested in the affects of human breast milk on the development of infant immune systems and the rates of Atopic diseases. She is especially interested in bioinformatics and how to further analyze comparative cohort data from Rochester and Old Order Mennonite populations, the latter of which experiences a reduced rate in Atopic diseases.

Ilya VerekhmanIlya Verekhman

Undergraduate Student

Ilya Verekhman is currently a third-year student at the University of Rochester completing his undergraduate Bachelors of Science degree in General Biology. He is interested in seeing how human milk can impact gut epithelial cell gene expression using a Caco-2 model, RNAseq, and qRT-PCR. By understanding how human milk affects this process, we hope to better understand its contribution to the development of gut epithelial immunity.

Mustafa MahmoodMustafa Mahmood

SCRC Student

Mustafa is currently a junior biology major studying to follow the pre-med track. He is interested in the mechanisms behind autoimmune conditions and hopes to gain more experience doing research to better understand the biology of these conditions.

Madina JumabaevaMadina Jumabaeva

Undergraduate Student

Madina is currently a sophomore majoring in Microbiology and minoring in Chemistry on a pre-med track. She is interested in the microbiology field of this lab studying the milk microbiome and hopes to gain experience in lab and in clinical shadowing.

James MillerJames Miller

Laboratory Technician

James spent twelve years practicing the technical arts of the laboratory sciences. After completing his bachelor’s degree from a massive SUNY school nestled among the Finger Lakes, he began his foray into lab-dom as the seminal staffer for a pharmaceutical start-up. Thereafter, he managed a lab centered on bacterial stress responses under Drs. Abranches and Lemos, and a lab investigating the metabolic shifts within affected tissues during a heart attack under Dr. Brookes. His current interests include sequencing technologies, composting, pondering the pitfalls of experimental design, and raising his abnormally tall three year old.

Akhila SunkaraAkhila Sunkara, M.B.B.S.

Human Subjects Research Coordinator

Akhila is currently working as a human subjects study coordinator. Originally from Rochester, but completed her medical school in India and joined our team in April 2018 working on food allergy clinical studies. She is currently applying for residency, and very interested in the clinical aspect of medicine.

Shana YiShana Yi

Undergraduate Student

Shana is currently a third year undergraduate student at the University of Rochester studying epidemiology. She wishes to develop her skills in the research lab to apply and provide a public health perspective.

Alanna Wong M.D.Alanna Wong M.D.

Clinical Fellow

Dr. Wong earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA where she majored in psychobiology. She attended the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Science in Buffalo, NY where she earned her M.D. Dr. Wong completed her Internal Medicine residency training at Montefiore Medical Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY. She is currently completing a fellowship in Allergy and Immunology. Her research in the Jarvinen-Seppo lab is focused on breast milk and the development of food allergies.

Anna StolarczykAnna "Ania" Stolarczyk

Undergraduate Student

Anna is a senior at the University of Rochester studying Microbiology with minors in Chemistry and Clinical Psychology. She is investigating how human milk oligosaccharides interact with dendritic cells in the infant GI tract to influence oral tolerance to foods using MDDC assays and flow cytometry.

Timera BrownTimera Brown

SCRC 2018 Summer Student

Timera Brown, BS participated in the 2017 Strong Children’s Research Center’s Summer Program. Her research project aimed to analyze immune system development in infants via IgA coated bacteria isolated from stool microbiota. Currently she is attending medical school at The Warren Alpert School of Medicine.

NAMEDivya Bana

SCRC 2018 Summer Student

Divya graduated from the University of Connecticut with a degree in Biomedical Engineering. As a summer student in the Järvinen-Seppo lab for the 2018 SCRC Summer Program, she helped to develop a direct DNA extraction protocol to study the breast milk microbiome. She will be attending UConn School of Medicine in the fall.

Dr. Puja Sood Puja Sood, M.D.

Clinical Fellow

Dr. Sood earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY where she majored in Health and Society. She attended the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, NY where she earned her M.D. Dr. Sood completed her Pediatric residency training at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. Dr. Sood is board certified in Pediatrics and is currently completing a fellowship in Allergy and Immunology with a clinical focus on food allergy. Her research project, under the mentorship of Drs. Seppo and Järvinen-Seppo, focuses on understanding the role of breastfeeding and immunomodulatory factors in breast milk on the development of atopic disease.

Javier de Andres Leo photo Javier de Andres Leo

Visiting Ph.D. Student

Javier is a native of Madrid, Spain. He received his Master’s degree in Immunology in 2013 from the Complutense University of Madrid and is currently a Ph.D. student in the laboratory of Professor Juan Miguel Rodriguez Gomez at the same university. He has participated in several clinical trials including the use of probiotics isolated from human milk as an alternative in the treatment of infectious mastitis. As part of his Ph.D. studies, he did a rotation abroad in 2015 in the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) in the Boston University, and in 2017 he joined the Järvinen-Seppo lab as a visiting student at the University of Rochester to assess the role of human milk oligosaccharides in the development of infant gut microbiome.

Melissa Page - Volunteer Jarvinen-Seppo LabMelissa Page

Undergraduate Summer Student 2017

Melissa Page is currently an undergraduate student at Cornell University studying Food Science on the Pre-Med track. As a summer student in the Järvinen-Seppo lab, she developed an ELISA assay for measuring the Specific IgA to crude peanut protein in saliva. The amount of Specific IgA in saliva gives insight to the development of an individual’s mucosal immune system. This process will be further developed in order to test Specific IgA in saliva using Luminex.

Jonathan Phillip Jarvien-Seppo LabJonathan Phillips

SCRC Summer Student 2016

Jonathan graduated from Juniata College with a degree in the Biological Foundations of Behavior. As one of the students in the Järvinen-Seppo lab for the 2016 SCRC Summer Program, he worked on a project investigating the prevalence of pediatric food allergy in a Mennonite population in upstate New York. He will be spending two years conducting research before attending medical school.

Dr. John VarroneJohn J.P. Varrone, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Associate

John J.P. Varrone, Ph.D. was a Postdoctoral Associate in the Järvinen-Seppo Laboratory in the Department of Pediatrics, where he sought: 1) to identify immunomodulatory factors found in human breast milk; and 2) to determine how these factors influence the infant gastrointestinal tract microbiome.

John earned his Ph.D. in Pathology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in March 2014, having performed his dissertation research in the laboratory of Edward M. Schwarz, Ph.D. (Orthopaedics). His research focused on determining how anti-glucosaminidase monoclonal antibodies help prevent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) total joint arthroplasty periprosthetic infection. John comes to us having completed a 1.5-year postdoctoral fellowship in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases under the direction of Nicholas J. Mantis, Ph.D. at the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center. His research there focused on decoding how anti-lipopolysaccharide (LPS) O-antigen secretory IgA antibodies provide host protection against Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium in the gastrointestinal tract.

Valerie UrbanHouda Abdelrahman

SCRC Summer Student 2015

Houda is from Fargo, North Dakota. As a summer student in the Järvinen-Seppo lab through the Strong Children's Research Center, she stimulated intestinal epithelial cells to measure the production of APRIL, a factor involved in T-cell independent production of IgA, to understand breastmilk's immuno-modulatory role. Currently, she is a medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Sade Fridy Sade Fridy M.P.H.

Laboratory Technician

Sade completed a bachelor's degree in Biotechnology at the Rochester Institute of Technology and is currently completing a Master's in Public Health at the University of Rochester while working in the Järvinen-Seppo lab. Her interests lie in understanding the association between breast milk and food allergy in two capacities: using in-vitro experimentation to analyze the effect of breast milk on innate immune receptors (TLRs), and creating mathematical models to predict whether TLRs and other factors are associated with severe food allergies.

Valerie UrbanValerie Urban

SCRC Summer Student 2016

Valerie graduated from Connecticut College in 2017 where she majored in Biology and minored in Hispanic Studies. There, she also competed all four years on the Connecticut College Women’s Swim Team and volunteered at a local hospital escorting patients. As one of the students in the Järvinen-Seppo lab for the 2016 SCRC Summer Program, she worked on a project investigating whether IgA concentration in breast milk and infant saliva may relate to food allergy incidence.

Dr. Jessica SternJessica Stern, M.D.


Jessica Stern, M.D. completed her medical degree as well as Med-Peds residency and clinical fellowship in Allergy and Immunology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Her research interests include food allergy, asthma and eosinophilic disorders. She is especially interested the epidemiology of allergic diseases, health care disparities, and health care policy. Her project in the Järvinen-Seppo Lab comprised characterizing cytokines in breast milk. She is also collaborating with the Halterman Lab on a project examining the relationship of food allergy on asthma outcome measures. She currently holds a faculty position in the Allergy and Immunology Division at the University.

Dr. Mahta MortezaviMahta Mortezavi, M.D.


Mahta Mortezavi grew up in Toronto. From 2005-2010 she attended the National University of Ireland (University College Cork), where she received her medical degree. During medical school, she worked with Professor Tim Dinan, measuring total IL6 levels in patients with irritable bowel disease and showed that these patients have an elevated level of the pro-inflammatory cytokine level compared with controls. It is this project that inspired her interest in immunology. Mahta completed her internal medicine residency at the University at Buffalo, where she worked in Dr. Julian Ambrus’ lab studying the effect of IL14 on vaccine response in mice. Ultimately, she decided to pursue fellowships in both Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology to establish herself as a clinical immunologist. During her clinical fellowship, her lab project involved measuring total and antigen specific IgA levels in breast milk and saliva from subjects in the metro Rochester area compared with the nearby Old Order Mennonite population. She is currently a practicing clinician at the Rochester General Hospital.

photo of Joana CoelhoJoana Coelho

Undergraduate Student

Joana worked in the Järvinen-Seppo Lab throughout her undergraduate studies. Her project included growing Caco2 gut epithelial cell line on transwells and assessing the impact of breast milk on their expression profiles.