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, son and many other animals.

RESEARCH ASSisTant Professor

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), daughter (Mae), 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, runner, and enjoys eating and drinking around the world with her family and husband, Theo.


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 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 retrograde intersectional viral strategy. She demonstrated that the extended amygdala and its projection to the midbrain regulate cue-induced alcohol-seeking behavior. In the Kash Lab, Melanie has recently identified a unique cortical microcircuit and is currently using electrophysiology and novel viral strategies to map this local circuit and its long-range projections. Melanie lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, Jon, and their blue-eyed cat, Scratch.


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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 investigated 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 interested 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.

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Olivia Hon

Olivia joined the Kash Lab in the spring of 2018. Originally from northern California, she moved down to San Diego to study Physiology and Neuroscience at UCSD, where she worked with Dr. Jill Leutgeb. In the Leutgeb Lab, she studied spatial learning and memory networks to decode how specialized cell types in hippocampus and medial entorhinal cortex (grid cells!) represent space and time using in vivo electrophysiology. After growing tired of the perfect weather, tacos, and pristine coastline, Olivia moved to Chapel Hill to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. She is interested in the intersectionality of anxiety and addiction, and the underlying neural circuitry. When not in the lab, Olivia loves to paint and cook, and has a passion for true crime documentaries!


sofia Neira

Sofia joined the Kash lab in April of 2018. A native of Bogota, Colombia, she received a BS in Psychology from the University of Central Florida and came to UNC in 2016 for a postbac program. She worked in the laboratory of Dr. Donita Robinson investigating the long term effects of adolescent exposure to ethanol. Currently, she is interested in circuit neuroscience, and wants to understand and identify the neural circuits underlying the interactions between stress and alcohol. When not in lab, she likes to go on hikes, do puzzles, and hang out with her three cats.

REsearch Staff



Kristi joined the Kash lab as a research specialist/lab manager in June of 2017. She has spent the last 19 years working in Ken McCarthy’s lab at UNC, trying to decipher the roles of astrocytes in brain physiology and animal behavior. This work involved the development of numerous engineered mouse lines, including DREADD technology, cell specific knockouts, with inducible cre/lox technology, and AAV vectors expressing Ca2+ sensors, DREADDs, and Cre for in vivo imaging. In the Kash lab, she will be involved in validating mouse lines and AAVs using in situ and immunochemistry. In addition, her mad molecular biology skillz will allow the construction of new AAV vectors of interest to lab members. She also looks forward to combining her experience running mouse behavior with in vivo imaging and optogenetic and chemogenetic stimulation of neuronal pathways. When not in lab, she enjoys anything involving the outdoors, be it hiking, kayaking and camping, listening to live local music, and good beer – especially if all three are combined! She lives near Jordan Lake with her horses and cats.


Christina Stanhope

Christina joined the Kash lab as a research technician in November of 2018. Originally from New Jersey, she received a BS in psychology and philosophy from Seton Hall University. Her undergraduate honors thesis focused on behavioral sex differences in fear conditioning. She is currently assisting with the many projects underway in the Kash lab. She hopes her time in the lab will prepare her for PhD candidacy. Outside of the lab, she enjoys skiing, hiking, and playing with her new puppy.


Ashley Meadows - Research Specialist, Duke University

Catherine Marcinkiewcz - Assistant Professor, University of Iowa

Jeff Diberto (Research Technician/Lab Manager) - Ph.D Student, UNC School of Medicine and Roth Lab

Jennifer Jensen (Undergraduate research assistant) - Post-baccalaureate fellow, National Institute of Health

Morgan Bowling (Undergraduate research assistant) - UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

Chris Mazzone (Graduate student) - Postdoctoral fellow, Cui Lab, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,

Jess McKlveen (Postdoctoral fellow)  - Science officer, Department of Defense

Michelle Kim (Research Technician/Lab Manager) - Research Technician, Hodge Lab, UNC Chapel Hill, NC

Kristen Pleil (Postdoctoral fellow; Research associate) - Assistant professor, Weill Cornell Medical College

Nicole Crowley (Graduate student) - Research Assistant Professor, Pennsylvania State University

Jonathan Sugam  (Postdoctoral fellow) - Senior scientist, Merck

Emily Lowery-Gionta (Postdoctoral fellow) - Lab Head, WRAIR

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) - Post-Doc, Vanderbilt University

Nora McCall (Research technician/Lab manager) - Post-Doc, U Penn

Ana Jijon (Research technician)