Lab Members


Thomas Kash, Ph.D

Tom received his BS in chemistry from SUNY ESF at Syracuse, then following graduation, worked briefly in the Medical Department at Brookhaven National Labs.  He then moved to Manhattan for graduate school (Weill Medical College at Cornell University) and earned his PhD in Neuroscience working on GABA-A receptor structure/function in Neil Harrison’s lab. At this point, Tom felt like he spent too much time up north, so moved down to the Winder Lab at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.   While a post-doc, Tom’s work focused on examining the impact of alcohol and neuropeptide signaling on synaptic function in the amygdala.  In 2009, Tom moved to UNC to start his own lab. Tom lives in the rural buffer between Chapel Hill and Durham with his wife, daughter, 1 dog, more goats than one would need, 2 llamas and 7 chickens.


Kristen Pleil, Ph.D

Kristen came to the Kash Lab as a postdoc in the summer of 2010 and was promoted to research associate in the spring of 2015. Her academic career began as an undergraduate at Emory University, where she worked in a neurology lab at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. In graduate school at Duke University, Kristen combined molecular and immunohistochemical techniques with behavioral assays to study the roles of estradiol in the organization, activation, and plasticity of neural circuits underlying spatial learning and memory. In the Kash Lab, Kristen’s research combines chemogenetic and optogenetic approaches with ex vivo slice electrophysiology and behavioral assays to examine how neuropeptide signaling modulates the cellular and synaptic function of genetically-defined neuron populations within discrete limbic circuits to regulate binge alcohol drinking and affective behaviors. She is particularly interested in how this signaling is disrupted in individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders such as alcoholism and anxiety and how modulation by sex and stress hormones contributes to sexual dimorphisms in the prevalence and behavioral expression of these diseases. Kristen lives in downtown Durham with her husband, Carl, and their toothless cat, Magnus.



Andrew Hardaway, ph.d  

Andrew joined the Kash Lab in the spring of 2014. Andrew received his PhD from Vanderbilt University where he worked with Randy Blakely and others to reveal novel genes that regulate dopamine signaling and locomotory behaviors using genomic approaches in the nematode Caenhorhabditis elegans. In the Kash lab, Andrew is investigating opioid contributions to binge eating and is applying circuit level manipulations like DREADDs, optogenetics, and in vivo Ca2+ imaging to construct valid models of binge eating disorder (BED). Additionally, he is applying novel viral strategies to probe gene expression changes within genetically and anatomically defined cell types in response to behavioral and metabolic perturbations to reveal novel genes that contribute to maladaptive circuit alterations following binge eating. He lives in Carrboro with his wife (Abby) and pets (Tonks, Zeda, and Duncan). When he’s not in lab, Andrew is usually found brewing beer. His favorites are Bavarian Lagers. Prost!

Lara Hwa, ph.d

Lara started her post-doc in the Kash lab in August 2015. After growing up in The Woodlands, Texas, Lara did both her undergraduate and graduate work at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts investigating rodent models of excessive alcohol consumption and withdrawal. Her dissertation researched mice that escalated their alcohol drinking after social defeat stress. She used behavioral pharmacology and in vivo microdialysis to study how corticotropin-releasing factor receptors in midbrain areas like the ventral tegmental area and dorsal raphe affect monoaminergic transmission to forebrain regions in the drinking mice. She came to the Kash lab to expand her scientific toolkit, to learn slice electrophysiology, molecular biology, and optogenetics in stress-reactive corticolimbic areas involved with escalated drinking. Lara is also an avid sailor, and an aficionado of red wine and tapas.

Catherine Marcinkiewcz, ph.d

Catherine joined the Kash lab as a postdoc in January 2011. Her main goal is to understand how ethanol-induced adaptations in serotonin signaling in the extended amgydala contribute to anxiety using a combination of slice electrophysiology, molecular biology and behavioral pharmacology. She also has a background in Biomedical Engineering and obtained her bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University before deciding to pursue a career in Neuroscience. Originally from Florida, Catherine received her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Florida in December 2010, where she studied the role of organic cation transporters in stress-induced psychopathology. Catherine plans to eventually run her own lab to study the neurobiological underpinnings of depression.  Catherine now lives in Carrboro and enjoys kayaking, hiking the trails of Carrboro, and has even developed a taste for southern cuisine. Fun facts: Catherine once contemplated a career as a fighter pilot, but decided that playing with brains was much more fun.


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Jessica McKlveen, ph.d

Jessica joined the Kash lab in January of 2015 after completing her PhD in neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati in Dr. Jim Herman’s lab. Jessica’s dissertation focused on the role of prefrontal glucocorticoid signaling in acute and chronic stress regulation at the synaptic, neuroendocrine, and behavioral level. In the Kash Lab, Jessica is studying circuit-level effects of binge drinking using slice electrophysiology, ontogenetics, and DREADD technology. Jessica lives in Durham with her husband Brian and two dachshunds, Frankie and Spock. In her spare time, Jessica makes hand-poured candles in upcycled containers and participates in local art and craft shows.


Dipanwita Pati, Ph.D

Dipa joined the Kash lab as a postdoc in February of 2016. Originally from India, Dipa moved to Florida in 2010 to start her graduate training at University of Florida and in December 2015 received her PhD from Dr. Charles Frazier’s lab. Her dissertation involved using slice electrophysiology to study oxytocin signaling in the hypothalamus with respect to its modulation of central stress circuits at the synaptic level. As part of the Kash lab, Dipa intends to complement her training in electrophysiology with molecular biology, optogenetics and calcium uncaging to manipulate corticolimbic circuits involved in animal models of alcohol addiction. Dipa lives in Carrboro with her cat, Sir Tesla. When not in lab, Dipa is busy planning her next weekend getaway. 

melanie pina, Ph.D

Melanie joined the Kash Lab as a post-doc in May of 2016. Melanie did her graduate work in at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR. Her dissertation focused on identifying the neurocircuitry involved in alcohol seeking induced by environmental cues using a combination of pharmacology, chemogenetics, and a novel viral strategy. She demonstrated that the extended amygdala and its projection to the midbrain regulates cue-induced alcohol-seeking behavior. In the Kash Lab, Melanie plans to use electrophysiology, optogenetics, chemogenetics, and in vivo Ca2+ imaging to probe how inputs to the BNST orchestrate dynamic motivational states. Melanie lives in Chapel Hill with her fiancé, Jon, and their blue-eyed cat, Scratch.


Chris Mazzone

Chris joined the Kash Lab as a graduate student in May of 2012. He graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2009 and then worked as a lab technician at the University of Connecticut Health Center with Dr. Richard Mains and Dr. Betty Eipper where he worked on projects assessing anxiety and drug sensitization phenotypes in a line of transgenic knockout mice. In the Kash Lab, Chris is studying how discrete subpopulations of cells within the extended amygdala contribute to anxiety and fear behaviors. His work combines electrophysiology with optogenetic and chemogenetic manipulations of genetically defined cells to probe how they fit within a circuit both anatomically and behaviorally.



Dan joined the Kash Lab in April of 2015. He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a major in Biology and focus in Neuroscience. Previously he worked with Dr. Judith Kroll and used EEG and fMRI to investigate neural networks involved in task switching and executive control. Since starting grad school, Dan has become interested in how these networks become perturbed in addictive and psychiatric disorders. He is particularly interested in the role endogenous opioid signaling plays in anxiety states and alcohol withdrawal. To accomplish this, he uses a combination of chemogenetics and behavioral paradigms to probe to function of one specific cell type while leaving all others unaltered.  Outside of lab, he enjoys running, biking, and trying out the many brunch places in the Triangle Area.


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Waylin began his graduate training with the Kash Lab in the Spring of 2016. Originally hailing from California, he ventured eastward into salmon shorts and Sperry country for his undergraduate studies, where he graduated from Colby College with a BA in Psychology and Neuroscience. There, he researched the neuroprotective properties of choline in rodent models of depression and schizophrenia with Dr. Melissa J. Glenn. Currently pursuing a PhD in Pharmacology at UNC Chapel Hill, Waylin is interesting in exploring the neural circuitry of pain and affect. He hopes to integrate his background in behavioral neuroscience with more circuit-specific manipulations to anatomically, chemically, and functionally characterize neurons that contribute to the emotional valence of pain. When he isn’t labbing it up, Waylin is writing the next great American novel (Whispers of Shonda), watching basketball, and complaining about the state’s inferior burritos.

research technicians/support staff

Jeffrey DiBerto

Jeff joined the Kash Lab as a research technician in February of 2015. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2013 where he majored in psychology and public policy and minored in biology. As an undergraduate, he conducted research in the laboratory of CJ Malanga, MD, PhD where he investigated the biological basis of motivated behavior in mouse models of Fragile X syndrome and substance abuse disorders using intracranial self-stimulation. Jeff continued his work in the Malanga Lab as a lab manager after graduating and before joining the Kash Lab. He is broadly interested in the mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric disorders and the translation of basic research tools used to study them (e.g. DREADDs) into clinical application.


Michelle Kim

Michelle joined the Kash Lab in July 2014. She is originally from Iowa and graduated from Grinnell College in 2014 where she majored in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience. Among other tasks, Michelle is responsible for training new members of the lab, ordering and taking inventory of lab equipment and supplies, assisting with experiments, and managing the lab’s website/Twitter. Michelle is considering pursuing a career in neuroscience research but is also interested in studying health behavior and issues surrounding mental health and health disparities.



Nicole Crowley (Graduate student) - Postdoctoral fellow, Pennsylvania State University

Jonathan Sugam  (Postdoctoral fellow) - Senior scientist, Merck

Emily Lowery-Gionta (Postdoctoral fellow) - Postdoctoral fellow, Koob Lab, National Institute of Drug Abuse

Cayce Dorrier (Undergraduate research assistant) - Graduate student, University of California San Diego

Alexis Kendra (Research technician/Lab manager) - Graduate student, Master of Biotechnology Program at Northwestern University 

Chia Li (Graduate student) - Postdoctoral fellow, National Institutes of Health

Alberto Lopez (Research technician/Lab manager) - Graduate student, University of California Irvine

Nora McCall (Research technician/Lab manager) - Graduate student, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Ana Jijon (Research technician)