Our lab

Lab members

Laura Fonken – Principal Investigator
Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Fonken completed her PhD in Neuroscience in Dr. Randy Nelson’s laboratory at The Ohio State University. Laura’s dissertation research focused on the effects of nighttime light exposure on physiology and behavior. Next, Laura completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Dr. Steven Maier’s laboratory in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the Maier laboratory, Laura’s research focused on understanding how heightened neuroinflammatory responses contribute to mood disorders and cognitive impairments with aging. Current research in her laboratory focuses on endogenous (e.g. circadian rhythms) and exogenous (e.g. infection and injury) factors that influence neuroimmune function across the lifespan.



Ruizhuo Chen – Graduate Student

Ruizhuo is a first year graduate student in the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology. She is currently investigating the effects of early-life light at night exposure on susceptibility to immune challenges and mood disorders. Outside lab, Rachel likes to see musicals and practice cooking.






Kevin Sanchez – Graduate Student

Kevin is a first year graduate student in the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology. He completed a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Physiology at Florida State University. He is currently studying the mechanisms by which estrogen deficiency and resulting neuroinflammation can lead to the development of mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. Kevin’s interests outside of lab include painting and going on hikes with his dog.





Neha Betrabet – PharmD Student

Neha is a current second year Pharm. D student at The University of Texas College of Pharmacy. She is currently investigating the effects of M. vaccae on the neuroinflammatory system in aged animals. She hopes to continue in this area of research and explore the circadian related experiments that are going in lab. Neha’s interests outside of lab include practicing Bharatanatyam, which is a form of Indian classical dance, and kickboxing.





Jacqueline Gavin – Pharm.D. Candidate for 2021

Jackie completed a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology at California Polytechnic State University, Pomona in 2016. Her interest in immunology and biopharmaceuticals has expanded with her participation within the Pharmacology and Toxicology Department at the University of Texas under the supervision of Dr. Laura Fonken. Jacqueline’s current work within the College of Pharmacy’s Honor Program focuses on the effects aging has on the brain and immune system as well as its link with T cell regulation.




Aidan Weitzner – Undergraduate Research Assistant

Aidan is an undergraduate in Biomedical Engineering and Plan II Honors, who started in the lab last Fall. In her free time she loves to read and is interested in stop animation.







Ranjani Anirudhan – Undergraduate Research Assistant

Ranjani is a sophomore majoring in Biochemistry at the University of Texas.







Research opportunities

Dr. Fonken is interested in meeting and working with individuals who would like to contribute to innovative neuroscience, immunology, and pharmacology research. Motivated applicants for undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral research positions are encouraged to contact her.


Past team members at the University of Colorado. From left to right: Emma Hampson, Renata Daniels, Asni Solomon, Heather D’Angelo, and Laura Fonken.