Skip to main content

Randall T. Peterson Lab

The Peterson lab screens using living zebrafish, ensuring that the drug candidates discovered are active in vivo.


Researchers in the Peterson lab utilize high-throughout screening technologies to discover new drug candidates for cardiovascular, nervous system, and metabolic disorders. Unlike conventional drug discovery programs that utilize simplified, in vitro assays, the Peterson lab screens using living zebrafish, ensuring that the drug candidates discovered are active in vivo. Several compounds discovered in the lab have not only become widely used research tools, but also preclinical drug candidates.


Randall T. Peterson Lab

Lab Members

Randall T. Peterson, PhD

Randy received his PhD from Harvard University after studying as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute predoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Stuart L. Schreiber. Following graduation, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Mark Fishman at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Peterson then went on to spend 14 years as a faculty member at Harvard University, where he was an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, an Associate Biologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a Senior Associate Member of the Broad Institute. In January of 2017, he arrived at the University of Utah as L.S. Skaggs Presidential Endowed Professor and Dean of the College of Pharmacy.

    Gabriel Bosse, PhD

    Gabriel joined the lab in 2015 after receiving his PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from l’Université Laval. Gabriel is interested in using zebrafish to study complex brain disorders.

    Yijie Geng, PhD

    Yijie joined the lab in 2016 after receiving his PhD in Cell and Developmental Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yijie is interested in using chemical biology to study the development of zebrafish social behavior.

    Penny Lam, PhD

    Penny joined the lab in 2015 after receiving her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin —Madison. She is interested in discovering novel chemo-optogenetic tools using small molecule screening and protein engineering. She is aiming to combine these chemo-optogenic tools with her background in studying the innate immune system to elucidate the in vivo signaling regulation of microglial biology in health and disease.

    Jason Nielson, PhD

    Jason joined the Peterson Lab in 2017 after earning his Ph.D in Biochemistry from the University of Utah. Jason is interested in mitochondrial function and disease. He is using zebrafish to model rare human mitochondrial diseases and screen for novel therapies.

    Saba Parvez, PhD

    Saba joined the Peterson lab in 2017 after receiving his PhD in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Cornell University. During his graduate school as an HHMI International Predoctoral Fellow, he worked on developing novel chemical biology tools to understand cell signaling pathways in biological systems. At the Peterson lab, he is continuing his interest in developing methods that will aid in the study of 3-D genome organization.

    Teija Zhang, PhD

    Tejia received her Ph.D. from Harvard University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Massachusetts General Hospital before moving with the Peterson lab to the University of Utah. She is generating zebrafish models of lysosomal storage diseases for characterization and chemical screening.

    Keith Burns

    Keith joined the lab in the summer of 2013 and has worked as a summer student since. He has spent most of his time assisting Leo Xiang, Penny Lam, and Jason Nielsen with their research. He also is studying chemical pathways and molecules involved in depression.

    Norm Olsen

    Norm joined the lab in February of 2018. He spends his time assisting Gabriel Bosse with addiction and behavior research. He is currently attending the University of Utah as an undergraduate student.

    Brock Pluimer

    Brock joined the lab in June of 2016. He worked to develop behavioral models for zebrafish possessing mutations associated with schizophrenia and autism. In August of 2018, he joined the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program.

    Hugo Padilla

    Hugo joined the lab in June of 2016 as a summer intern. His impressive work ethic and accomplishments in the lab lead him to be hired as a full-time technician, where he assisted Penny Lam with her optogenetic research as well as Jason Nielsen with his research on mitochondrial diseases. Hugo left the lab in May of 2018, preparing to begin medical school at the University of Southern California in the fall of 2018.

    Youngnam N. Jin, PhD

    Youngnam joined the lab in 2011 after receiving his PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester. Youngnam primarily focused his research on RNA stability, germ cell development, and cancer.

    Yan Liu, PhD

    Yan earned his PhD in 2004 from the University of Virginia. He joined the Peterson lab in 2007 after completion of his training as an AHA fellow in Dr. Eric Olson’s lab at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He developed zebrafish models for various heart diseases and identified novel regulatory pathways using a chemical biology approach.

    Anjali Nath, PhD

    Anjali earned her PhD in the department of Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology at Yale University. In 2009, she joined the Peterson lab where she used chemical biology to both define the mechanisms of the pathogenesis of diabetes and to identify potential therapeutic agents.

    Andrew J. Rennekamp, PhD

    Andrew developed zebrafish behavioral assays as tools for high-throughput system-biology and neuroactive drug discovery. His primary focus was in chemical biology, neuropharmacology, and threat response behaviors. Visit Dr. Rennekamp’s website here.

    Xiang (Leo) Li, PhD

    Xiang joined the Peterson lab in 2010 after earning his PhD at Tsinghua University in China. He was interested in zebrafish hematopoiesis as well as pathogenesis of blood diseases. He worked on developing zebrafish models for human blood diseases and identifying therapeutic drugs through small molecule screening.

    Aarti Asnani, MD

    Aarti joined the Peterson Lab in 2013 as a Cardiology Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital. She focused on defining mechanisms of chemotherapy-related cardiotoxicity. Before moving to Boston, she earned her MD at Duke University.

    Colleen Brady, PhD

    Colleen joined the lab in 2011 after receiving her PhD in Cancer Biology from Stanford University. Colleen was interested in using zebrafish to study tissue regeneration.

    You Wang, PhD

    You joined the Peterson lab in 2013 after training as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Before that, she earned her PhD in Organic Chemistry from Fudan University in 2011. Her work mainly focused on optimizing hit compounds that came out of high-throughput small molecule screening.

    Seth Brownmiller

    Seth joined the Peterson Lab as a summer intern in 2013 and again in 2014. He is currently an undergraduate at UMass Lowell. While in the lab, Seth worked with Andrew Rennekamp on high throughput behavioral drug screens and zebrafish genotyping. Seth wrote his senior thesis using data he generated in the Peterson Lab.

    Giancarlo Bruni, BA

    Giancarlo received his BA from Reed College in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2011. He joined the Peterson Lab in June of 2012 where he worked on behavioral screens of neuroactive compounds with David Kokel. In 2014 Giancarlo left the lab to work at the start-up company “Teleost” before enrolling as a PhD student at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    Alexa Burger, PhD

    Alexa earned her PhD from the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 2007. She then joined the lab of Dr. Daniel Haber in the MGH Cancer Center as a postdoctoral research fellow and spent some time with the Peterson lab.

    Lindsay Cade, BS

    Lindsay joined the Peterson lab as a Research Technician in 2009 after receiving her BS in Biochemistry from Rochester Institute of Technology. While in the lab she worked to create knockout zebrafish lines using TALENs and novel zinc finger nucleases.

    Yvonne Chao, BS

    Before joining the Peterson lab in June 2004, Yvonne earned a B.S. in Biology at Brown University. She is now pursuing a joint M.D./Ph.D. degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

    Joanne Chueng, BS

    Joanne joined the Peterson lab in 2009 as a Research Technician after earning her bachelors degree in Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley. She worked with Dave Kokel, PhD to identify neuroactive compounds using a behavioral assay based on the Photomotor Response. In 2011 she left Boston to enroll in a PhD Neuroscience program at UC San Francisco.

    Elma Feric, BA

    Originally from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Germany, Elma began working in the Peterson lab in the summer of 2005. She is interested in the developmental biology of the zebrafish. In May of 2005 she earned her BA in Neuroscience and Psychology from Brandeis University. In 2008 Elma joined the Neuroscience Department at Amgen Inc where she is an electrophysiologist and molecular neuroscientist.

    Charles C. Hong MD, PhD

    Charles (Chaz) earned his MD/PhD at Yale University, completed his residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital and came to Massachusetts General Hospital for a fellowship in Cardiology. He joined the Peterson Lab in July 2003 where he studies the gridlock mutant and it’s chemical suppressors. Charles is now an Associate Professor of Medicine and Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University.

    Tony Hong

    Tony joined the Peterson lab in 2005 as an undergraduate student from Boston University. In the lab he worked on chemical modifiers of vessel identity.

    Andrew (Woong) Y. Hwang, BS

    Woong joined the Peterson lab as a Research Technician in 2011 after receiving his BS from the University of Rochester. Before moving to Boston Woong worked as a summer research intern in the Olson Lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He spent his time in the Peterson Lab working on creating knockout zebrafish lines using TALENs and novel zinc finger nucleases. Woong left the lab in the summer of 2013 and is currently in medical school at Yale.

    Shan Jin, PhD

    Shan joined the Peterson lab in 2009 after receiving his PhD in Chemistry from Georgia State University. His work focused on organic chemistry synthesis to modify drug structures and instrumental analysis with LC/MS to identify structures and metabolites. Shan currently works in industry.

    Nathalie Jurisch-Yaksi, PhD

    Nathalie joined the Peterson lab at the end of 2009 after earning her PhD at the German Cancer Centre in Heidelberg, Germany. In 2010 she joined the Laboratory of Membrane Trafficking at the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium.

    Sonia JiHae Kim, BS

    After earning her BS in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sonia joined the Peterson lab in September 2007. In 2009 she enrolled as a dental student at Boston University.

    David Kokel, PhD

    Dave joined the Peterson lab in 2006 with a PhD from Boulder CO, on the chemical and genetic regulation of apoptosis in C. elegant.  While in the Peterson lab he developed approaches to behavior- based neuroactive drug discovery— by combining complex behavioral phenotyping with high-throughput chemical screening technologies. Dave is now a principal investigator with his own lab at UCSF.

    Gloria Lee, BS

    Gloria Lee worked in the Peterson lab from May 2006 to the end of the summer of in 2007. In 2009 she graduated with a BS from MIT in Biology and Brain & Cognitive Sciences.

    Rita Mateus, MS

    In November 2008 Rita joined the Peterson lab as a visiting Fulbright researcher from Portugal. During her time in Boston she worked with Dave Kokel, PhD trying to understand neurodegenerative diseases and their molecular pathways in the zebrafish embryo. She received her masters degree in zebrafish caudal fin regeneration in Portugal.

    Arpita Mukhopadhyay, PhD

    Arpita joined the Peterson lab in June 2006. She earned her PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore, India from the Molecular Biology and Genetics Unit.

    Kathleen Munson, BA

    Kathleen joined the Peterson lab in June 2006 after graduating with a BA in Biochemistry from Vassar College. She is currently a graduate student in Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry the joint program in Oceanography between MIT and the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution

    Samir Patel, BS

    Samir joined the lab in 2010 as a research technician after receiving his BS in Biology from Providence College. He worked on creating novel zinc finger nucleases and TALENs for targeted gene modification in zebrafish. He also worked with Andrew Rennekamp, PhD to identify new neuroactive compounds using a high-throughput in vivo chemical screen. In July 2012, Samir left the lab to enroll in a PhD program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

    Quinn Peterson, BS

    Quinn joined the Peterson lab in August 2005 after earning his BS in Biochemistry from Brigham Young University. Since leaving the lab, Quinn has earned his PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2011.

    Travis A. Peterson, DO

    Travis was a member of the Peterson lab in 2002. While in the lab he worked on small molecule suppression of the gridlock mutation. He is currently an Orthopedic surgery resident at Ohio State University.

    Justine Ryu

    Justine worked in the Peterson lab as an undergraduate student enrolled in the 7 year BS/MD program at Boston University. While in lab, she assisted Anjali Nath.

    Chetana Sachidanandan, PhD

    Chetana earned her PhD working on skeletal muscle regeneration from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India, following which she studied mouse somitogenesis at the Cancer Research UK, London, UK. She worked in the Peterson lab from 2006 to 2010 trying to understand iron homeostasis in zebrafish using a novel small molecule BMP inhibitor, Dorsomorphin discovered in the lab by Charles Hong, MD PhD. In 2010 Chetana started her own lab at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, Delhi, India.

    Kumar Sarkar, MS

    Kumar joined the Peterson lab in June 2010 after finishing a joint BS/MS degree program in Biochemistry at Wesleyan University. During his time in the lab he worked with Yan Liu, PhD investigating molecular pathways involved in heart failure in zebrafish and mouse models, with Shan Jin, PhD to characterize antidotes of organophosphate neuro-toxicity, and with Dave Kokel, PhD to identify small molecules that affect behavior. Kumar left the lab in 2012 to begin an MD program at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

    Peter Schlueter, PhD

    Peter earned his PhD from the University of Michigan in the fall of 2006 and shortly thereafter joined the Peterson lab. He became interested in modeling cardiac hypertrophy in the zebrafish and identifying novel chemicals that suppress this pathological condition. In 2010 Peter enrolled in a JD program at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota where he is pursuing an interest in intellectual property law.

    Stanley Shaw, MD PhD

    Stanley joined the Peterson lab as a postdoc in 2002, and studied VEGF signaling in endothelial tubule formation until 2005. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School.

    Gromoslaw (Gromek) Smolen, PhD

    In 2002, Gromek earned his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Johns Hopkins University. Subsequently, Gromek came to Boston as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the lab of Dr. Daniel Haber in the MGH Cancer Center. Given the fact that cancer cells can misappropriate a number of signaling pathways used for normal organism development, Gromek grew interested in researching the interface of developmental biology and cancer research. In collaboration with the Peterson lab, Gromek studied a number of cancer genes using zebrafish as a model Organism. In 2010 Gromek joined Agios Pharmaceuticals as a Senior Scientist in Biology.

    Weiyi Tan, MD MPH

    Weiyi joined the Peterson lab in 2004 where he worked on Zebrafish vasculogenesis. He went on to receive his BS and MD from Duke University and his MPH from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is currently a resident at UCLA and interested in adult congenital heart disease, transitional care, and public health.

    Tjakko van Ham, PhD

    Tjakko started his postdoctoral research in the Peterson lab in May 2009, after finishing his PhD in genetics/molecular biology at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG) in the Netherlands. He is interested in using the zebrafish to model aspects of human neurodegenerative diseases, such as protein aggregation, and to employ a chemical biology approach in the zebrafish to find small molecule modulators of neurological phenotypes. Tjakko returned to the RUG in 2012 where he is setting up a new zebrafish facility and continuing his research.

    Brian P. Walcott, MD

    Brian received his undergraduate degree from Seton Hall University and his MD from Loyola University in Chicago. While completing his neurosurgery residency, Brian spent some time in the Peterson lab, from 2011-2013.

    Nuo Yang

    Nuo was a member of the Peterson Lab from 2006 to 2007 and worked on MicroRNAs in kidney development.

    Joanna Yeh, PhD

    Joanna joined the Peterson lab in July 2003 after earning her PhD at Yale University from the Department of Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology. While in the Peterson lab, she developed a zebrafish model for studying hematopoietic reprogramming caused by a leukemia oncogene and identified chemical suppressors that rescue the oncogenic effect in vivo. Joanna is now a principal investigator starting her own lab in the MGH CVRC.

    Shipeng Yuan, MD

    Shipeng graduated from the Tianjin Medical School in China. He studied early developmental biology as a Postdoctoral Fellow with Dr. Gary C Schoenwolf at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In 2000, He pursued further postdoctoral training on the molecular genetic control of cardiovascular development with Dr. Mark C. Fishman at the MGH CVRC. Later, in 2002, he joined the Peterson lab investigating the molecular pathways involved in the formation and function of the heart by a chemical genetic approach. Shipeng is currently an Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Assistant in Biology at the Diabetes Research Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital.

    C. Leif Inouye

    Leif is currently an undergraduate student at Tufts University. He joined the Peterson Lab in the Summer of 2014 as a student intern.