Our Staff

Meet the research talent

Dr. Heather Gray-Edwards, DVM, PhD

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR
HEATHER.GRAYEDWARDS@UMASSMED.EDU

Heather Gray-Edwards is assistant professor of radiology at UMMS and a member of the Horae Gene Therapy Center. She obtained her DVM from Auburn University as well as a PhD in biomedical sciences. Her research interests involve the use of animal models to enhance understanding of disease progression in order to develop and test novel therapeutics to cure disease. Her research focus has been to develop noninvasive MRI-based methods to examine disease progression of neurodegenerative disorders in large animal models, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of adeno-associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene therapy.

A large part of her research effort has been devoted to evaluation of therapeutic interventions in testing novel AAV vectors and delivery routes, using both biochemical/molecular biology techniques as well as in vivo evaluation (neuro exams, MRI/MRS, electrodiagnostics) of GM1 and GM2 cats as well as sheep with Tay-Sachs disease. Dr. Gray-Edwards has significant experience in MRI based brain evaluation and has established the use of MR spectroscopy to identify physiologic and pathologic metabolites in the gangliosidosis brain.

Toloo Taghian, PhD

POSTDOCTORAL ASSOCIATE
toloo.taghian@umassmed.edu

Toloo Taghian earned her PhD in physics from the University of Cincinnati. Her PhD research focused on improving the impaired signaling of diabetic endothelial cells using electrical stimuli with the aim to enhance the healing rate of diabetic wounds. To expand her interdisciplinary experience, Toloo joined UMass Medical School and in the lab of Dr. Bogdanov investigated the application of clinically available imaging modalities to monitor molecular level changes of inflammatory markers associated with initiation of type 1 diabetes in rodent models. In the Gray-Edwards lab, Toloo’s research is focused on characterization of CNS changes in Tay-Sachs and Huntington’s disease, and evaluating the efficacy of AAV gene therapy in Tay-Sachs sheep. Her work includes manufacturing the therapeutic vector and monitoring the treatment efficacy using noninvasive MRI techniques and molecular biology methods.

Jillian Gallagher

DOCTORAL STUDENT
jillian.gallagher@umassmed.edu

Jill received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bridgewater State University in 2011 and another bachelor’s degree in neuroscience from Bay Path University in 2015. As a research technician at both UMass Amherst and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University she investigated topics in behavioral neuroscience and has experience in conducting behavioral assays in rodent models. Currently she is a Graduate School of Biomedical Science student at UMass Medical School focusing on generating and characterizing large animal models of neurological diseases. Her passion in science is analyzing changes in behavior related to dysfunctions in the brain. Outside of lab she enjoys spending time with her rescue dog, science fiction, comic books and exploring craft breweries.

Deborah Fernau, MS

RESEARCH PROJECT DIRECTOR
deborah.fernau@umassmed.edu

Deborah received a BS in chemistry from UMass Lowell and an MS in epidemiology from Boston University, where she researched substance use disorders and learned to harbor a deep suspicion of p-values. As research coordinator, she coordinates and manages projects and wears a variety of unofficial hats. She spends most of her free time being bossed around by her dog, two cats and seven chickens, and attempting to keep the wildlife out of the chicken coop.

Sidney Beecy

STUDENT INTERN

After leaving Maine for the wilds of Boston suburbia, Sidney received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Tufts University in 2018. Currently she is a second-year veterinary student at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine where she spends most of the weekday drinking from the firehose of knowledge (or doing her best to stay focused in class). She is extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn more about biomedical research at UMass Medical School and hopes to make research a part of her future career. When not in class or lab, Sidney enjoys horseback riding, watching reruns of bad 90s TV shows, and occasionally bottle-feeding lambs.

Erin Horn

STUDENT INTERN

Erin was born and raised in Ocala, FL and studied biological sciences at Florida State University. She moved to the Worcester area in 2017 and is currently in her third year at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, where she expects to graduate with her DVM in 2021. Erin plans to further her veterinary education through pursuing a residency in pathology and hopes to one day have a career that combines pathology and research.

Brett Story, DVM

VETERINARY INTERN

Brett received his bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Central Florida in 2013. After working as a technician in veterinary practices, he then went on to receive his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Auburn University in 2019. As a veterinary student, his research interest was in neurologic and ophthalmic pathology. He performed research with Dr. Gray-Edwards in Jacob sheep with Tay-Sachs disease characterizing underlying disease pathology. Currently he is a small animal rotating intern at the University of Florida with a specialty interest in veterinary ophthalmology and is assisting in studies of the sheep animal model for Huntington’s disease. Outside of veterinary medicine he enjoys fishing, biking, golfing, scuba diving, and going to the beach with his dog, Dexter.

Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Rachael Gately, DVM

REPRODUCTIVE SPECIALIST

Stephanie Bertrand

LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SPECIALIST

Stephanie received a bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing from Assumption University in 2012. As a livestock production specialist at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, she specializes in husbandry of small and large ruminants and swine. She has a passion for caring for and nursing livestock when they are in need of specialized care. Outside of the barn at Tufts, she enjoys caring for her own beef cattle that she raises and pulling tractors.

Rachel Prestigiacomo

STUDENT FARM WORKER

Rachel Prestigiacomo is a current student at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, and she is looking forward to graduating with her DVM in 2021. She is from the great state of New Jersey, where she grew up with her three sisters (who she loves to pieces). Rachel attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where she discovered plenty of new interests, including ornithology and theatrical lighting. She graduated in 2017 with a BA in biology: ecology and evolution and a double-minor in chemistry and philosophy. At Tufts, Rachel is proud to help care for the Jacob sheep research flock as a student farm worker. Rachel has long been interested in ambulatory mixed practice, and since starting veterinary school, she has fallen in love with small ruminant medicine.

The Gray-Edwards and Sena-Esteves labs have partnered to develop therapies for rare genetic diseases

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