Research Assistants & Students

Stephen Kneeland, M.S. Research Assistant

I joined the John Laboratory as a Research Assistant in 2007 shortly after graduating from the University of Maine with an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology. In the John Lab, my research is focused on identifying new mouse models of glaucoma with an emphasis on open-angle glaucoma. To obtain these mutants, I manage an ENU-induced mutagenesis screen and use a variety of thorough ocular examination techniques during the screening process. These techniques include measurement of intraocular pressure (IOP), and examination and photography of the anterior chamber, fundus, and optic nerve. In addition to primary open-angle glaucoma, we are also interested in closed-angle glaucoma, pigmentary glaucoma, developmental glaucomas, and anterior segment dysgenesis. These efforts also provide valuable models of other ocular conditions including retinal degeneration and pediatric cataract. One of my projects recently discovered that a gene which is important for RNA granules, including stress granules, results in pediatric cataract and glaucoma. These findings are relevant for susceptibility to IOP due to oxidative stress and for susceptibility to glaucoma following cataract extraction.

Amy Bell, B.S. Research Assistant

I have been a Research Assistant in the John Laboratory since 2001. I provide key support for many experiments. My main activities within the lab are measuring intraocular pressure (IOP) and the daily management, supervision and maintenance of our centralized mouse colonies. I have great experience measuring mouse IOP and every week spend two days gathering IOP data for various experiments in the laboratory. This data is important for all areas of our research including mechanisms of IOP elevation, the discovery and characterization of glaucoma models, and complex genetics experiments. The mouse colony work is critical to our research. With a Shared Services Assistant, I develop new strains for current and future experiments. Together, we produce and age quotas of experimental mice to support the experiments of Research Scientists, Postdoctoral Fellows, and other laboratory members. I also help train new lab members in proper mouse room procedures, animal handling procedures, and in IOP measurement.

Nicholas Tolman B.A., Tufts University, Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Studies

I joined the John lab in 2013 after receiving my B.A. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Connecticut College. During my time at Connecticut College, I worked on several different research projects. We studied whether Ceftriaxone and other β-lactam antibiotic compounds could attenuate morphine reward in rats by enhancing the reuptake rate of excitatory amino-acid transporters. For my honors thesis, I examined the effects of developmental lead exposure on working memory performance in rats after manipulating several elements of the animal’s developmental environment.

I am very excited to have joined Simon John's lab and the opportunities it offers to train prior to graduate school. I have already learned various techniques including delicate dissection of retinal and optic nerve tissue, measuring IOP, examining structural abnormalities in mouse eyes, managing colonies, and genotyping. I am involved with several of the exciting projects going on in the lab, especially the screening for and characterization of high IOP mutants.

Being from coastal Maine, I am used to being an outdoor person. I enjoy hiking, climbing, going to the beach, and a number of sports including soccer, tennis, and hockey. Living next to Acadia National Park with its extreme beauty and easy access to outdoor offerings is an amazing experience.

Trip Freeburg B.A., Research Assistant

I received my undergraduate degree in biology from Oberlin College in northern Ohio. I worked in two labs during my time at Oberlin. My first lab experience was in Dr. Michael Moore's plant systematics lab, where I studied the evolutionary history of gypsum-endemic plants in the Chihuahuan desert. I then moved to the lab of Dr. Maureen Peters, where I completed my thesis project. Dr. Peters studies the genetic basis of a highly stereotyped one-minute digestive motor program in C. elegans. My project focused on the role of the gene ehs-1 in this motor program. After graduating from Oberlin, I was fortunate enough to get a position in the John lab and started my tenure in June of 2014. My primary role is studying factors affecting aqueous humor outflow from the anterior chamber. To this end, the John lab has developed a device that applies pressure to the anterior segment of a dissected mouse eye and measures the resulting outflow. During my time working on this project, I have developed my problem solving and troubleshooting skills as we continue to make improvements to the outflow measurement device. I have also become proficient with the highly precise and technical dissection used to prepare the mouse eye for outflow measurement. In addition to my work on the outflow project, I also maintain a number of mouse strains used in different projects in the lab. I’m certain that the skills I've acquired in the John lab will continue to be useful as my career develops.

I really wasn't a very outdoor-oriented person before I started working at JAX, but that changed quickly when I moved to Bar Harbor. Mount Desert Island, and Maine has almost endless opportunities for outdoor fun. There is so much to explore. During the summer, I go hiking almost every weekend. And I am still finding all sorts of new activities to try.

Tionna Baldwin B.A., Research Assistant

In the summer before starting my senior year in High School, I was accepted to participate in a cooperative research opportunity in the engineering department at the University of Maine. Working under Dr. David Nievandt, the focus of the project was to create synthetic model membranes for use in later studies. This led me to study Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University and continue work in the Nievandt lab until my sophomore year. After taking classes in anatomy and biochemistry I realized I was far more interested in genetics as well as biochemical responses to disease in humans, specifically related to sensation and perception. During my senior year I studied cell signaling cascades and pseudo-zinc fingers associated with G-Proteins under Dr. Robert Gundersen using the model organism Dictyostelium discoideum.After graduating from the University of Maine I was accepted into the John Lab as a Research Assistant, and joined the lab July 2014. My primary project is the ENU-induced mutagenesis screen that is central to our mission of developing new models of glaucoma. Focusing on this project has required that I master a number of skills: mouse husbandry, delicate dissection of optic nerves and other tissues, intraocular pressure measurement using a glass microneedle, examine the anterior chamber of the mouse eye using a slit lamp, examining the posterior chamber of the mouse eye using MicronIV / OCT imaging and the use of pattern electroretinography (PERG) to determine retinal function.

My experience at the lab has been instrumental to my development as a scientist and gave me a new perspective on career opportunities. The atmosphere is cooperative and welcoming, with a lab group that is easy to talk to and provides useful feedback. I enjoy learning new technologies and the John Lab has given me opportunities for personal and professional growth that I would not have gotten at any other institution.

Brynn Cardozo B.A., Research Assistant

As a child my favorite question was '"Why?" I was on a constant exploration of knowledge and my wild tree-climbing ways led me to even more fascinating things, multicolored fungi, the way trees saw in the wind (which I unfortunately discovered at the top of a 100ft pine) and much to my parent's dismay, hundreds of tadpole pets that taught me about the life cycle of frogs. This passion for exploration and knowledge led me to Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) where I studied Biochemistry, delving into the chemical reactions that allow life to function. WPI's project based curriculum provided many opportunities for me to dip my toes into the scientific world. In my senior year I was granted the opportunity to complete my Major Qualifying Project (a senior research project) at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine in Worcester Massachusetts. There, I worked characterizing and confirming a novel CRISPR/Cas9 quintuple knockout of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin, meant to model a protein deficiency that leads to early onset emphysema, COPD, and in some cases cirrhosis and/or carcinoma of the liver.

I joined the John lab after graduating from WPI, with the desire to expand my knowledge and skill set in the laboratory. In my first month I have already been exposed to new techniques and procedures, as well several different approaches to studying glaucoma that result from the complex nature of the disease. I am excited to continue growing and learning as a scientist, and expanding my knowledge of disease pathways.

The best part is that working JAX results in living in an amazing place. As an avid cyclist the location next to Acadia National Park offers up prime terrain for both road and mounting biking. Additionally, some of my other favorite pass times like hiking and reading next to the ocean are only a quick jaunt away from the lab. I cannot wait to explore the island further and get involved in the active community.

Kelly Keezer, Laboratory Technician IV

I have been a Laboratory Technician IV in the lab since 2014. I help maintain our core mouse colonies that are needed by everyone in the lab to complete experiments. I am also involved in research with one of our postdoctoral fellows, to develop an inducible model of glaucoma in mice. Our goal is to raise intraocular pressure and cause optic nerve degeneration, as seen in glaucoma. I perform intraocular injections and follow up by measuring intraocular pressure (IOP) using a tonometer, and evaluate optic nerve cupping using optical coherence tomography (OCT). An inducible model of glaucoma will allow us to more quickly assess whether mutations and treatments affect the course of the disease.

I really enjoy working in the lab, as the group continually challenges me to master new techniques. Despite having two very active kids, I am currently working towards my Bachelors Degree through Husson University during the evenings.

Graham Clark B.A., Research Assistant

I received a B.A. in Biochemistry and Mathematics from Bowdoin College, where I performed research in synthetic organic and organometallic chemistry in Rick Broene’s lab. The subject of my honors thesis was the improvement of a cobalt-based catalyst for olefin synthesis. I greatly enjoyed studying synthetic chemistry, but following graduation from Bowdoin, I decided to change things up and pursue biomedical research in preparation for application to medical school. This led to me joining the John Laboratory as a Research Assistant.

My time at the John Lab so far has been very interesting. I have had the opportunity to learn and employ various techniques that I had not been exposed to in my chemistry background, including physiology, genotyping, immunohistochemical staining, and handling and care of mice. I look forward to learning and contributing more.

I have lived my whole life in Maine, but I have never lived anywhere quite like Mount Desert Island. I love being near Acadia National Park, which allows me to enjoy various outdoor pursuits, including hiking, biking, and running.

Jocelyn Thomas B.A., Research Assistant

Science, and more specifically, life science, has been a passion of mine since an early age. I continued to foster that curiosity as an undergraduate at Colby College where I received my B.A. in Biology. I was also part of the Colby Achievement Program in the Sciences. While at Colby, I had the opportunity to participate in research in several laboratories, with projects ranging from measuring the effects of an acetylcholine rich diet on the development of the hippocampus portion of rat brains, to better understanding the mechanisms how circadian rhythm proteins cause their effects in fiddler crabs. I joined the John Laboratory team a few months after graduating and I have already learned so much during my time here. I have learned a vast array of techniques for both handling and collecting data from the mice we work with. I have also been trained to carryout genotyping, as well as optic nerve dissections. I really enjoy working in the John Laboratory and appreciate the chance to continue to develop my scientific research skills. The latter is something the John lab is invested in doing for their RAs.

When I am not in the lab I am out getting to know Bar Harbor better. Even though I am a native Mainer, I have only been to Bar Harbor a handful of times, but I truly enjoy the outdoors and I look forward to exploring more of this beautiful area.

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