Photo collage. Left to right: Ally Morrissey, Haorui Sun, Katia Vieira de Moraes LaCasse, Brianna Hilton
Pictured above (left to right): Allison Morrissey, Haorui Sun, Katia Vieira-De-Moraes-Lacasse, Brianna Hilton

UVM Researchers: The Next Generation

by Michelle Bookless

On Monday, August 30, the 2021 academic year officially kicked off for University of Vermont (UVM) undergraduate students and a large number of graduate students at UVM and the UVM Larner College of Medicine.

Among them, are graduate students seeking a Ph.D. or master's degree in one of nine inter-departmental, interdisciplinary programs for which Larner is proud to collaborate on with the UVM Graduate College, Continuing & Distance Education, the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, the College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences, the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, and the College of Arts & Sciences.

UVM's newest grad students bring multifaceted backgrounds to their research and studies in the Biomedical Engineering, Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences, Neuroscience, Medical Science, Pharmacology, Pathology, Public Health, Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, and Clinical and Translational Science programs.

Learn a bit about a few of the graduate students starting their journeys at UVM and the UVM Larner College of Medicine, below:

Ally Morrissey works in a lab wearing safety gloves, goggles, and a white lab coat

Allison Morrissey

Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences PhD Program

A Vermonter at heart, Allison (Ally) Morrissey, grew up in Jericho, Vt., and graduated with a B.S. in forensic science from University of New Haven in January 2021. After graduating, Morrissey spent the spring of 2021 as a CVS pharmacy technician, vaccinating hundreds of people in and around Morrisville, Vt. Morrissey says that opportunity to do so was a privilege. "I saw how heavily COVID was impacting the world and I wanted to do whatever I could to serve the community and be part of the solution," she says.

Morrissey chose UVM for her Ph.D. in Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Sciences due to it's location in Burlington, and the opportunities the university offers for students to "be exposed to many areas of research through rotations."

Morrisey says she is most interested in exploring the areas of molecular genetics and proteomic mass spectometry. She hopes to specialize in research on the molecular genetics of anxiety disorders, in order to help young adults who struggle with anxiety. "I'm hoping we can use molecular genetics to identify some bio markers that would indicate if someone is predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder," she says, adding, "Or...develop better/more specifically targeted medications for people with anxiety based on their genetics."

Haorui Sun

Biomedical Engineering PhD Program

Originally from Zhengzhou, the capital of the Henan province in China, Haorui Sun graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa with a B.A. in biology and computer science in 2021. Sun says that while he was an undergraduate student, he "became very interested in the field of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), because of it's meaningful and promising applications."

Currently, he says, "the most widely used example of BCI is cochlear implant technology," says Sun, but "so far, most BCI technologies and applications are still in the early stages of development." Sun is looking forward to being one of the researchers that pushes BCI tp the next stages of development.

Sun says he chose UVM for his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, based on the collaboration between labs at UVM. "Working in a place here people help each other is extremely pleasant," says Sun, adding that the open and friendly meetings and interviews he had with UVM College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences Assistant Professor David Jangraw, Ph.D., reassured him that he would receive "great support for academic success at UVM."

An avid video gamer and anime fan, Sun says he loves spicy food and is looking forward to hosting Friday night Chinese Hot Pot parties for his fellow grad students.

Haorui Sun poses outside with a waterfull behind him.
Katia Vieira-De-Moraes-Lacasse poses against a sunset background

Katia Vieira de Moraes LaCasse, M.D.

Master of Public Health Program

A dedicated humanitarian, Katia Vieira de Moraes LaCasse, M.D., was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and received her medical degree from Faculdade de Medicina do ABC in 2004 and completed a pediatric residency in 2010 at Santa Casa de Misericordia de São Paulo.

After several years working as a pediatric hospitalist and running a private pediatric practice, Vieira de Moraes LaCasse embarked on her first humanitarian deployment to Afghanistan with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The experience had an immense impact on her and changed her life trajectory, says Vieira de Moraes LaCasse.

"After my six months in Afghanistan, I returned home to Brazil, quit both my jobs and closed my private practice. I could not fathom going back to work in private hospitals when I knew how much help was needed in humanitarian contexts," she says. "I set out to dedicate my life to humanitarian work full time."

Three years ago, after additional MSF deployments to South Sudan, as well as Save the Children deployments to Colombia, Syria, Haiti, and Dominican Republic, Vieira de Moraes LaCasse moved to Vermont.  Currently serving as the clinical lead for the Emergency Health Unit at Save the Children U.S., she decided to pursue a Master of Public Health degree at UVM to "add more tools to her arsenal to provide better responses and affect policy development," she says. After her first two courses this summer, Vieira de Moraes LaCasse says she "already noticed a significant difference in perspective and reasoning in my work," and adds "I am convinced that starting my MPH at UVM was the right decision."

Brianna Hilton

Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program

A longtime ski racer who began skiing who began skiing when she was only one-and-a-half years old, Brianna Hilton, hails from Littleton, Mass., and is a 2019 graduate of Trinity College who received a B.A. in biology and Hispanic studies. She worked as a research assistant for the Human Embryonic Stem Cell Core at Boston Children's Hospital before coming to UVM.

Hilton says she always knew she wanted to continue her studies and pursue research and coming to UVM to pursue a Ph.D. in Cellular, Molecular, & Biomedical Sciences (CMB) was the next natural step. "I specifically wanted an umbrella program that would allow me to explore multiple facets of biology," says Hilton. "UVM provided that, along with state of the art technology and welcoming students and faculty."

Hilton is excited to explore a variety of fields, including cancer biology, regenerative biology, and neurobiology. Additionally, she says, "I am looking forward to living in Vermont, hiking, skiing, and being outdoors, and I am excited to be a part of the UVM family."

Brianna Hilton poses outside at a cafe