Laboratory Members

Radha Ayyagari, Ph.D.

Laboratory Chief | Shiley Eye Institute

Dr. Ayyagari and her research group are performing studies on molecular genetics and therapeutics of retinal degenerations. This includes retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other retinal diseases with a genetic basis. These studies involve cloning disease genes, understanding the molecular mechanism underlying the disease process, identification of potential therapeutic targets and developing therapies. She also heads molecular diagnostic testing at the Shiley eye center. She is funded by the National Eye Institute, the Foundation for Fighting Blindness and Research to Prevent Blindness. Dr. Ayyagari is participating in laboratory and clinical studies of these diseases with the Jacobs Retina Center group. She has published extensively in this area and is an internationally recognized expert in this field.

Dr. Ayyagari has a joint appointment in the Department of Pathology, UCSD. She is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the foundation fighting blindness, National diagnostic genotyping network (NEI), Indo-US joint working committee (NIH).

Shyamanga Borooah, Ph.D.

Visiting Project scientist


Shyamanga is a physician-scientist who will soon be taking up a faculty position at Shiley Eye Institute.  He completed his medical training at Imperial College London before finishing a residency in Ophthalmology.  He undertook two clinical fellowships in Medical Retina and Uveitis with a specialization in inherited retinal dystrophies.

During his residency, he also completed a Ph.D. in regenerative ophthalmology at the MRC center for regenerative medicine, Edinburgh as a Rowling scholar.  He developed a novel model of macular degeneration using patient-derived human induced pluripotent stem cells.  For his post-doctoral training, he joined Dr. Ayyagari’s lab after being awarded a Fulbright-Fight for Sight Postdoctoral Scholarship to investigate treatments for macular degeneration which pursued translation strategies identified from his doctoral studies.

The main focus of his work is to develop novel therapies for currently untreatable visually disabling retinal disease using patient-derived stem cells, viral-mediated gene therapy, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing, and programmable base editing.  The ultimate aim is to translate these laboratory discoveries to robust sight-saving treatments to benefit patients.

Outside of work, Shyamanga enjoys traveling, hiking and sailing as well as enjoying the natural beauty that California has to offer with his family.

Angel Soto Hermida, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Angel Soto, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral researcher with research and clinical interests that focus on the molecular genetics of retinal diseases and genotyping studies of inherited retinal diseases. Angel graduated from the University of Vigo, Spain with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and a Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences from University of A Coruña, Spain. He received his Ph.D. from the University of A Coruña, Spain, in 2015, for his work on the role of the mitochondria in the Osteoarthritis disease. He joined the Ayyagari Lab as a Postdoctoral Scholar in 2015. Outside of the lab, he likes to play soccer and take a walk on the beach. Also, he likes photography, hiking, going on road trips, traveling to new places, and spending time with family and friends.


Marina Voronchikhina, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Marina Voronchikhina completed her MD degree at Russian State Medical University in Moscow (Russia), then she did angiogenesis-related research at Columbia University in New York (US). Marina Voronchikhina did her Ph.D. degree at the University of California in Riverside (Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology program). Next, she completed one year of postdoctoral research associated with breast cancer and breast density at UCSF. Currently, Marina works in Dr. Ayyagari’s laboratory at UCSD studying inherited retinal genetic diseases in mouse models.

Anil Chekuri, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Researcher.

Anil Chekuri obtained his Ph.D. degree from the University of Hyderabad India. His research interests include understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in health and disease. His broad research goal is to identify common molecular mechanisms underlying age-related and inherited retinal degeneration and thereby design therapeutic targets for the treatment of retinal dystrophies.

His work in Dr. Ayyagari’s lab includes identification and functional characterization of genes involved in retinal degeneration using mouse models and thereby design therapeutic strategies using CRISPR/Cas9 system and viral vector-mediated gene therapy.

Besides work, Anil loves traveling and spending time with family.

Pooja Biswas

Visiting Graduate Student, UCSD.

Pooja graduated with her B.Sc. in Genetics from the University of Kalyani, India in 2008. Then she attended VIT University in India for her M.Sc. in Biomedical Genetics in 2010.  She also worked as a project trainee at the National Institute of Immunohematology studying Cytogenetics in aplastic anemia patients. She joined the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, University of Kalyani as a project fellow to study homology modeling of cancer protein p53 (2011-2012).

Pooja joined the Ayyagari lab in May of 2012 as a visiting graduate student. For her studies in Ayyagari lab, she is using bioinformatics tools and in house developed data analysis pipelines and analyzed the whole exome and whole genome sequences of more than 600 patients to identify the underlying cause of inherited retinal dystrophies. She has generated genome edited mouse models and cell culture models for retinal diseases.  Further, she is using cell models generated by differentiating patient iPSC to appropriate retinal cell types to understand the biochemical pathways leading to retinal degenerative diseases.  She has been utilizing Base editing to introduce mutations identified through her studies to generate cell models. Her studies described the involvement of four novel genes in retinal pathology and currently focusing on identifying additional novel disease-causing genes and understanding the mechanism underlying retinal pathology.

Besides her work, she loves traveling and finding new and good restaurants. Her basic principle is to keep smiling.

Megan Bliss, B.S.

Research assistant

Megan recently completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and has joined Dr. Ayyagari’s team as a lab assistant is aiming to gain experience and develop technical skills before hoping to continue her studies as a Ph.D. candidate. She is eager to be part of a team seeking solutions and therapies to address the problem of retinal degeneration and looks forward to the learning to come.

Outside of the lab, Megan takes every opportunity to enjoy the Southern California sunshine at the beach and on hiking trails. She is an avid ballroom dancer and, when not outdoors, spends her free time on the dancefloor.

Rachel Poleman

Laboratory Manager

Rachel is working on her bachelor’s degree in Human Biology, and minoring in Psychology and Studio Art. At the Shiley Eye Institute, she is researching genes linked to retinal degeneration. Her goal is to identify the mutations that cause eye disease and blindness. Outside of the lab, she enjoys painting, swimming, and rock climbing.