Our team

Mission Statement

Ultimately, it is the people we train and inspire, who will carry science into the future. It is our most sacred responsibility to mentor them well. * (words from Geoff Wahl, one of Toshi’s mentors).

Our laboratory strives to contribute to our community primarily through two mechanisms; 1) scientific discovery that has the potential to change cancer patients’ lives, and 2) training and mentorship to the next generation of research and clinical scientists – well-trained young individuals will be the source of continued future contributions. We as laboratory researchers also believe research and mentoring, including training and teaching, are inseparable. If we only care about what we actually do, we will get progressively narrowed. Young individuals ask important naive questions which are the source of fresh perspectives. Thus, mentorship and creating a welcoming and personalized training environment is a very top priority in the laboratory. At any level, we provide trainees with the back of mentor(s) who has their interests in mind and can support them moving forward. Our plan is to 1) actively identify their needs for support, 2) be a careful listener and learner for them, 3) create an open and interactive environment enabling mutual critical feedback, and 4) inspire them in our professional space.


Toshiro Hara, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Zhibek Bekezhankyzy, M.S.

Research Lab Specialist

Zhibek was born and raised in Kazakhstan and got her master’s degree in pharmacology and toxicology, as well as bachelor of science in chemistry from Nazarbayev University. She earned a scholarship from the Yessenov Foundation for her internship in 2023. During her master’s thesis, she focused on investigating the anti-proliferative activity of metformin, an anti-diabetic drug, and elucidating its mechanism of action on breast cancer cell lines. With over three years of research experience, Zhibek’s primary research interests are in cancer pharmacology, drug discovery, and the development of preclinical models.  

Hobbies: Hiking, playing the Kazakh national instrument ‘dombyra’ and swimming.

Darina Mukhamejanova

Visiting Undergraduate Student

Darina is an undergraduate student at Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan, majoring in biological sciences. She participates in Dr. Dos Sarbassov’s laboratory to study how cell growth is regulated in KRAS mutant cancer cells under nutrient deprivation and cytotoxic drug treatment. Her research interests focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms of human diseases, functional omics methods, and cell signaling. Darina has a passion for writing and advocacy. She served as the editor-in-chief of the nonprofit foundation Beyond Curriculum, with the aim of promoting accessible education for high school students in Kazakhstan.

Hobbies: ITF Taekwondo, Rock Climbing, Mountaineering and Hiking


Sarah Syed

MD/PhD Student

Sarah is a first-year medical student at the University of Michigan, where she is a part of the MD/PhD program. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in neuroscience, with a focus on cellular and molecular neuroscience. As an undergraduate student, she worked on several projects in the Watanabe Lab at JHU School of Medicine, where her most recent project focused on investigating the role of microglia in managing synaptic debris accumulation in excitatory neurons. Her primary research interests include neuroimmune interactions, glial cell biology, and neuronal metabolism. 


Edwin Nieblas - Bedolla

Neurosurgical Resident

Edwin is a neurosurgical resident at the University of Michigan. He graduated from the University of Arizona, double majoring in biochemistry and in molecular and cellular biology. He completed a master’s in public health from the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on global health and received his medical degree from the University of Washington, where he first became interested in neurosurgical oncology. His previous research includes work in the Brastianos laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was involved in several investigations evaluating therapeutic targets for the treatment of brain metastasis derived from different primary cancer sites.


Jahnavi Gurramkonda

Research Specialist

I am Jahnavi Gurramkonda and here with a strong passion for neuroscience. I studied medicine at Columbus Central University School of Medicine in Belize. Early exposure to medicine and research ignited my fascination with the nervous system. During clinical rotations in Nepal, I reinforced my commitment to patient care and research. As a physician-scientist in training, I’m dedicated to excelling in clinical practice and advancing neuroscience through research. My interests include brain and spinal cord tumors, immune system interactions, and glioblastoma research. My goal is to become a transformative force in neurosurgery, blending surgical expertise with scientific contributions to improve lives.