NIDCR Research Fellows

Fellowships to Enhance Diversity in Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research


Jamiya Kirkland – NIDCR Director’s Postbac Fellow (2022-present)

Jamiya Kirkland

I am a 2021 summa cum laude graduate of Howard University majoring in Biology and minoring in Sociology and African American Studies. As a recipient of the NIDCR Postbaccalaureate Diversity Fellowship, I will be joining the Kerosuo Neural Crest Development and Disease Unit research lab. During my undergraduate career, I worked under Dr. Yayin Fang, PhD for four years completing molecular docking studies for anticonvulsant enaminones, designed to control epileptic seizures, targeting voltage-gated sodium channels using the Molecular Operating Environment (MOE). In Dr. Kerosuo’s lab my goal is to expand my knowledge in computational biology and coding to understand molecular mechanisms of neural crest development. I’m looking forward to joining the NIH community to gain valuable experience in biomedical research as I prepare for my next career step to attend medical school with plans of specializing in gynecology or plastic surgery.


Belmaliz Cardona Rodriguez – NIDCR Director’s Postbac Fellow (2022-present)

Belmaliz Cardona Rodriguez

I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus with a bachelor's degree in Industrial Microbiology. As an undergraduate student I worked in an Extremophiles Lab (focused on Archaea’s) and in a Mycology Lab. These experiences have exposed me to various experimental techniques. My true research interest though is in the areas of the Oral Microbiome and Periodontal disease. To pursue these interests, I have joined the laboratory of Dr. Niki Moutsopoulos, at NIDCR as a Post-bac IRTA. I will be mentored by Dr. Tomoko Ikeuchi and contribute to projects relevant to understanding mechanisms of periodontitis using animal models. I’m really excited about this journey which I hope will lead me to pursue a DDS/PhD degree. It's an honor to be part of this team of outstanding scientists. I'm looking forward to learning and growing at NIDCR.


Kapsa Bengyella – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2020-2022) 

Kapsa Bengyella

I am a post-bac fellow in the Somatosensation and Pain Unit of NIDCR and my project centers on the functional characterization of a specialized population of spinal neurons (the postsynaptic dorsal column neurons) that mediate touch and proprioception. There are instances when an individual's tactile sense can get disrupted and normal light touch can become a painful experience; for example, clothes rubbing against your skin when getting dressed. Our lab is working to decipher the neural circuits that modulate touch and pain with the hope of understanding more of how touch is modulated in the central nervous system. Some of my daily tasks in the lab include performing stereotaxic surgeries to target and label these spinal neurons in the gracile nucleus of the mouse brain. I also perform standard immunohistochemical procedures as well as behavioral assays to assess pain hypersensitization in the mouse hindpaw. It is really rewarding to be involved in science in progress and I have learned a lot from the training at the institute and from my mentor, Dr. Liu.


Amy-Claire Dauphin – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2020-2022)

Amy-Claire Dauphin

A recent summa cum laude graduate of Oakwood University, Amy-Claire Dauphin, a recipient of the NIDCR Postbaccalaureate Diversity Fellowship, is strengthening her research competencies at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Lab of Dr. Kelly Ten Hagen. With a focus on O-linked glycosylation, she is aiding in the identification and characterization of known and unknown cell populations in the Drosophila larval salivary glands. Aiming to elucidate the role of O-glycosylation in development and disease, her contributions focus on the conceptualization of how large, highly-glycosylated proteins are synthesized, packaged and secreted in Drosophila larval salivary glands. She is excited to be here by virtue of funding from the NIDCR Fellowship and is eager to pursue an MD/PhD degree studying diseases, existing and emerging, on at-risk and neglected populations as the next step on her professional journey.


Makeda Berhane – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2020-2021)

Makeda Berhane

I am a current Postbac Fellow in the Molecular Biology of Bone and Teeth Section under Dr. Marian Young and Dr. Priyam Jani. Our lab’s research focus is to review previous studies that discuss Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) and Dentinogenesis Imperfecta (DGI), involving changes in collagen, tooth color and blood flow with aging process, and differences in tooth eruption, root completion, and dentin formation rate and structure. Our research will aid clinicians to better diagnose patients with OI and DGI to ameliorate dental functions and improve overall quality of life. Following my fellowship, I will be matriculating as an incoming medical student at Tufts School of Medicine with plans of specializing in Pediatric Orthopedics.


Jamil Cherry – NIDCR Director's Postbac Fellow (2018-2019)

Jamil Cherry

Jamil Cherry is a fourth year dental student at Howard University College of Dentistry. In 2019, he completed the post baccalaureate program under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Marian Young and Dr. Hai Pham. His project involved finding the phenotype of Collagen Type VI knockout mice and its effects on the periodontal ligament. In his free time, he enjoys running, hiking, fishing, and reading science books. Currently, he is applying to post-doctoral residencies in advanced education in general dentistry and dental public health.


Jason Collins – NIDCR Director's Postdoc Fellow (2018-Present)

Jason Collins

I am post-doctoral fellow and award winner of the NIDCR Director’s Diversity Fellowship. This award has helped me to apply my expertise in protein biochemistry and molecular biology to study ubiquitin dependent mechanisms of cell fate determination during development. My research is focused on the essential gene UBA1, which is the apex of the ubiquitylation pathway and is important for all of cellular ubiquitylation. We focus on understanding the cellular regulation and function of UBA1 to further our insights into in human development and disease. Recently, in a collaborative effort with NHGRI we discovered and characterized the mechanism of a novel undiagnosed auto-inflammatory disease we call VEXAS. Not only has the award given me the opportunity to contribute to novel disease discovery and do cutting edge science, but it allows me to contribute to a more diverse program and promote diversity in the post-doctoral community. More importantly, it allows me to serve as a role model for the next generation of future post-doctoral trainees and help build a more diverse and inclusive research experience.

Sang-A Park Memorial Intramural Postdoctoral Fellowship


Surangi Perera – Postdoc Fellow (2019-Present)

Surangi Perera

I was awarded the Sang-A Park Fellowship to support my postdoctoral research. This award has allowed me to focus on my research interests and study neural crest development and differentiation. One of the main projects I have been working on at NIDCR has been to characterize the in vitro generation of human neural crest cells. I am using transcriptomics combined with immunohistochemistry and fluorescent in situ hybridization to increase our understanding of human neural crest development and how these in vitro human models compare to what we know from other animal model systems in vivo. Outside of scientific research, I am passionate about science education and outreach (a key component of the fellowship), and I organize an outreach project at an elementary school in the local area. Together with five other NIH trainees, we design and present hands-on science activities to 4th graders in line with their science curriculum. We hope this will expose the students to what it is like to be a scientist from an early age. The support from this fellowship has allowed me to conduct cutting-edge research, engage in real-world discussions about the place of science in everyday life, and foster the next generation of scientists.

Dental Public Health Research Fellows


Ishita Singh, BDS, MPH

Ishita Singh

Ishita Singh earned her BDS from the National Dental College and Hospital, India, and her master’s in public health from the University of Utah. Prior to joining NIDCR as a dental public health fellow, she worked as a healthcare delivery research intern at Intermountain Healthcare to study and address social health determinants’ impact on the population. Singh’s research interest lies in oral health disparities, oropharyngeal cancers, and oral consequences of narcotics and combustible product use. She’s keen to advance her career at NIDCR to become a dental public health specialist and researcher to promote oral health sciences and public health practice.


Leah Leinbach, DMD, MPH

Leah Leinbach

Leah Leinbach earned her DMD from the University of Pennsylvania and her master’s in public health from John Hopkins University. Before joining NIDCR’s dental public health fellowship program, she was an assistant professor and chief of the division of oral health at Pennsylvania State University, delivering patient care in support of cardiac and oncology services. Leinbach’s clinical experience focused on patient oral health care in conjunction with managing other health conditions. She hopes to leverage past clinical experiences with research skills gained through the fellowship to promote the integration of oral health into the broader healthcare system.

Last Reviewed
October 2022