Lab Members

Principal Investigator:

Ofer Levy Ofer Levy, MD, PhD
Staff Physician & Principal Investigator, Division of Infectious Diseases  
Director, Precision Vaccines Program 




Administrative:

Diana VoDiana Vo, BA

Program Coordinator, Precision Vaccines Program, Division of Infectious Diseases

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research Associates and Fellows:

Asimenia Angelidou, Levy LabAsimenia Angelidou, MD, PhD
Staff Neonatologist, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine 
Staff Scientist, Division of Infectious Diseases

 

Dr. Angelidou obtained her MD and PhD in Immunopharmacology from the University of Athens in Greece. She completed her pediatric residency in the University of Texas Southwestern and is completing her clinical fellowship in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital. Dr. Angelidou completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Tufts University where she studied and extensively published on the role of mast cell activation in autism spectrum disorders under the mentorship of Dr. Theoharides. She joined the Levy Lab in July 2015 with an interest in neonatal innate immunity and vaccinology. Her main project focuses on characterization of vaccine-induced primary and trained innate immune activation in newborns. Trained immunity alludes to previously activated innate immunity exhibiting altered responses to subsequent stimuli. This mechanism could mediate heterologous effects of live attenuated vaccines, such as Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), whereby a vaccine against one pathogen may also protect against others. This work can provide fundamental insights into the mechanisms by which common licensed neonatal vaccines protect in early life and can inform future early life vaccine development. 

 
Joann Arce Joann Arce, PhD
Research Fellow, Division of Infectious Diseases
 
Dr. Joann Diray Arce is a research fellow in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital. She completed her PhD in Microbiology and Molecular Biology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She conducted research on characterization of salt stress response and tolerance in halophytes using transcriptomics and LC-MS/MS proteomics analysis. She also studied on mitochondrial DNA replication systems in the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana. Her experience in both advanced molecular biology and bioinformatics have expanded her interests to human systems immunology using big studies. She is the Scientific and Operational Manager of the Data Management Core (DMC) for the Expanded Program on Immunization Consortium-Human Immunology Project Consortium with roles of providing coordination, quality assurance, quality control and analysis of international metadata and systems vaccinology datasets to characterize vaccine-induced OMIC signatures that protect newborns. She has current projects focused on in vitro modeling of age/sex-dependent responses on the metabolic profiles after vaccination. She is also an investigator on the funded HIPC II Signatures Project, a collaboration with multi-institutional HIPC centers with the primary goal of populating the NIAID’s ImmPort database and analyzing datasets with protective vaccine signatures from published literatures.
 

David Dowling, PhD
Project Manager, Adjuvant Discovery Program, Division of Infectious Diseases
Research Fellow in Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

 

Guzman Sanchez-Schmitz, Levy Lab

Guzman Sanchez-Schmitz, MSc, PhD
Co-PI & Research Associate, Division of Infectious Diseases
Research Associate, Harvard Medical School

 

Dr. Sanchez-Schmitz has a Master of Science in Molecular Biology focused on Genetics from CINVESTAV-IPN and a Ph.D. in Immunology focused on Human Bioengineering from CINVESTAV-IPN and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. During his Ph.D., he studied the autonomous development of monocytes into dendritic cells using three-dimensional bioactive tissue constructs. With this experience, he was invited to participate in a biotech company to develop a human model for rapid vaccine assessment, a program funded by DARPA. Dr. Sanchez-Schmitz’s research on this program successfully produced many patents. After 5 years in industry, he was invited to join Dr. Levy at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2010 to focus on the design and development of a completely human tissue construct reproducing in vivo neonatal immune responses. His new microphysiologic age-specific human tissue construct autonomously generates strong antigen-presenting cells able to reproduce primary adaptive responses from neonatal cells after in vitro immunization with licensed pediatric vaccines such as HBV, BCG, DTaP, PCV-13, and PCP (Frontiers in Immunology. 2018 Nov 20;9:2634). His work has helped secure millions of dollars in funding from sources such as DARPA, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the NIH. He is convinced that better, safer and more effective therapeutics for humans can be achieved by focusing pre-clinical selection of candidates on human cells under microphysiological conditions. His breakthrough work could provide fundamental insights into how vaccines, adjuvants, chemicals and biologicals work in early human life. His more than 18 years of experience developing cutting-edge in vitro human models that reliably reproduce the in vivo physiology of targeted organs have led to many peer-reviewed publications, patents, standard operating procedures, grants and sponsored research agreements. “I am extremely honored by the opportunity to be part of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Sincerely, Guzman Sanchez-Schmitz, MSc, PhD.

 

Simon van Haren, Levy LabSimon van Haren, PhD
Research Fellow, Division of Infectious Diseases 


Dr. van Haren obtained his Ph.D at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, where he conducted immunological and biochemical research regarding the formation of Factor VIII-neutralizing antibodies in patients with hemophilia A. His research project was focused on the mechanism of endocytosis of Factor VIII by human dendritic cells, the presentation of antigenic peptides on MHC class II and the identification of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells. During his postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Levy, his research has focused on characterizing age-specific immune responses to vaccine adjuvants. He has modeled the immune systems of newborns, 6-month old infants, adults and elderly individuals in different in vitro settings, such as whole blood, monocytes, monocyte-derived DCs, B-and T-cells and a microphysiological tissue construct. Supported by an Early Career Award from the Thrasher Research Fund, he initiated a project that aims to identify combinations of Toll-like receptor (TLR) and C-type lectin receptor (CLR) agonists that could overcome the classical impairment in Th1-polarization seen in newborns. This study has identified novel age-dependent synergy between specific TLR and CLR agonist combinations, which are currently under evaluation for their ability to enhance early life immunity against Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

 

Rahima Khatun

Rahima Khatun, PhD

Research Fellow, Division of Infectious Diseases 

 

Dr. Rahima Khatun is a project coordinator in Adjuvant Discovery Program and research fellow in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital. She holds both PhD and MSc degrees focusing on Protein Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at York University and served as contract postdoctoral intern in Analytical Research and Development Division of Sanofi Pasteur, Toronto, Canada. Her PhD research investigated the structure and function of a human Ubiquitin E3 ligase, HUWE1, that controls DNA damage response, apoptosis and transcriptional regulation using advanced molecular/biochemical/biophysical and cell biology approaches. She developed innovative NMR Spectroscopy based methodologies and SOPs specializing in characterization of alum-based commercial and de-novo adjuvanted vaccines in compliance with FDA, EMA, Health Canada, cGMP and GLP, and ICH guidelines. Since September 2018, she is coordinating and overseeing the biophysical aspects of the age specific de-novo lead adjuvants of Boston Children’s Hospital under the Precision Vaccine Program. Currently, Rahima is focusing in developing receptor specific age-related adjuvant molecules and providing scientific guidelines upon consultation with sub-contractors to upgrade the lead adjuvants into pre-clinical trials. She envisions to develop lead/drug like molecules targeting innate immune receptors with potentials of bridging the age-related discrepancies of currently licensed vaccines. 

 

Al Ozonoff

Al Ozonoff

Director of Data Management Core, Precision Vaccines Program

 

Dr. Ozonoff is Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a patient safety researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). His research focuses on statistical methods to support and enhance public health, patient safety, and biomedical research especially vaccinology. He received his PhD in mathematics at Univ of California Santa Barbara in 2002, and has held faculty appointments at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston Uniiversity School of Public Health before joining BCH. He was a 2016 HMS Fellow in Bioethics and serves in a number of consulting roles with public health agencies. Dr. Ozonoff has been a senior scientists involved in the planning and implementation of EPIC-HIPC for several years. He is faculty in the BCH Precision Vaccines Program (PVP) and the DMC Core Lead with oversight of EPIC-HIPC data management including data monitoring, security, access, quality assurance, computing resources, and public deposition.

 

Sofia Vignolo

Sofia M. Vignolo, BS

Research Data Coordinator

 

Sofia Vignolo earned a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering pre-medical concentration with an Applied Mathematics minor from the University of Miami (May 2018). She joined the Precision Vaccines lab in October 2018. Working under the Data Management Core (DMC) and being a part of the operational Human Immunology Project Consortium (HIPC) team, Vignolo is strengthening her computational skills as she analyzes and runs quality control assessments on large datasets from experimental results/metadata in an international collaboration. She is also working on data deposition of published vaccine studies into public databases (such as ImmPort and GEO) in order to share data with the rest of the scientific community. Vignolo’s research interests are in the biomedical sciences, specifically immunology, and her career goals are to pursue an MD-PhD degree.

 

Juan Carlos (Charlie) RamirezJuan Carlos (Charlie) Ramirez, BS, MS Candidate
Research Technician

 

Juan Carlos (Charlie) Ramirez earned his dual Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Molecular Biology from Brandeis University in May 2017, and has since been a research technician under the Adjuvant Discovery/Development Programs within the Precision Vaccines Laboratory at Boston Children’s Hospital. Focusing in the in vitro modeling of adjuvants, Charlie has explored the age-specific responses of mononuclear cell populations to exogenous stimuli, centering on quantifying immunosignaling proteins and identifying receptive subpopulations for adjuvant development. He is also pursuing a Master’s of Science in Biotechnology at Harvard University, where he is focusing on computational and bioinformatic methods to better interrogate the high volumes of complex biodata as related to human health. Charlie aims to ultimately earn his PhD, and is interested in the intersection of the aging process and the onset of disease, along with therapies which may be able to delay morbidities in the late stages of life. 

 

Jensen Pak

Jensen Pak, BA 
Research Assistant 

 

Jensen Pak graduated from Williams College in 2018 with degrees in Biology and Classics. He currently works with Dr. van Haren studying the mechanism of age-dependent synergy between specific TLR and CLR agonists, combination adjuvant candidates for a potential vaccine enhancing early-life immunity against respiratory syncytial virus. He is also a member of the EPIC-HIPC project, assisting clinical operations and characterizing molecular signatures predictive of neonatal vaccine immunogenicity in vitro. Jensen plans to attend medical school, specializing in pediatrics or medical genetics.

 

Karen Vivialy Garcia Hernandez

Karen Vivialy Garcia Hernandez, BS
Research Technician

 

Karen Garcia Hernandez, whom goes by “Vialy", earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences from Chicago State University in December 2017. A retired Division 1 athlete, Vialy is now a supportive member of the Adjuvant Discovery/Development Program within the Precision Vaccines Program. Specifically, she is responsible for the development of adjuvant receptor specificity and potency assays and testing lead adjuvants in in vivo models. Vialy aspires to become a pediatrician with a focus on neonatology. 

  

Danielle Chaney

Danielle Chaney, BS

Research Technician

 

Danielle Chaney received her Bachelor of Science degree in Cell and Developmental Biology with a minor in Chemistry from the University of Iowa in May 2018. As a Research Technician for the Adjuvant Development Program, she is working on optimizing the immunologic activity of novel small molecule adjuvants to create a more robust immune response to the pertussis vaccine that mimics natural infection. Danielle’s career goals are to pursue an MD/MPH combined degree with a focus in infectious disease and epidemiology. 

 

Alec Plotkin

Alec Plotkin, BS
Research Assistant

 

Alec Plotkin received his Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Northeastern University in May 2018, with a Minor in Biochemical Engineering. As a Research Assistant in the Precision Vaccines Program, Alec works with Dr. Smolen on the Human Immunology Project Consortium (HIPC) to detect signatures of immune responses in newborns during the first week of life. His particular areas of responsibility include collecting and processing biosamples from newborns and adults, conducting immunological assays on these samples, and analysis and QC/QA of the data generated. Beyond this, he is always looking for new ways to improve workflow and help others in the lab. Alec has an interest in identifying and characterizing mechanistic pathways that are involved in the development of immune responses, including the development of predictive models for disease states. He is currently preparing applications for MD and PhD programs, and aims to start in the fall of 2020. Alec enjoys spending his free time outside, in the mountains or on the beach, and likes to play guitar.

 

Mitchell Cooney

Mitchell Cooney, BA
Research Assistant

 

Mitchell Cooney earned his dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology and Geography with a special focus on spatial epidemiology from Colgate University in May 2017. After beginning his career at a well-funded NYC startup, he has since returned to medical research, joining Boston Children’s Hospital as a Research Assistant within the Precision Vaccines Program. Mitchell currently works alongside Dr. Sanchez-Schmitz further developing human three-dimensional bioactive tissue constructs. He also employs human microphysiologic tissue constructs to characterize vaccine-induced molecular pathways in vitro correlating with CoP in vivo as a member of the EPIC-HIPC project. Mitchell plans to attend graduate school following his time at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

 

Elena Morrocchi
Graduate Research Student (PhD Student in Molecular Immunology and Applied Bioechnology)
Elena Morrocchi received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biotechnology and her Master Degreee in Industrial Biotechnology respectively in 2014 and 2016, both at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. During her Internship at the ENEA Research center (Cesano,Italy) she was involved in the production of an immunocitokyne in a glyco-engineered plant of Nicotiana Benthamiana. Then she started her PhD focusing her attention on the evaluation of B cells phenotype and transcriptomic profiles in HIV vertically infected patients whom started the ART therapy early. Elena’s goal is to earn her phD deepening the knowledge of immune responses in immunocompromised cohorts of patients.