PEOPLE 2021-11-11T16:40:55+00:00


Joseph Cheer, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator


Joe’s  main interests lie in the elucidation of the neurobiological effects of cannabinoids in both natural and drug-induced reinforcement. Joe graduated from Universidad de los Andes (Bogota, Colombia) with a B.S in Biology in 1996. He joined the Laboratory of Neurobiology and Experimental Microsurgery at the Colombian Neurology Foundation where he worked for 1 year investigating CNS regeneration using oncogene-tranfected cells and sciatic nerve co-grafts in motor cortex-lesioned animals. Joe received his Ph.D from the University of Nottingham (Neuroscience Section of the School of Biomedical Sciences) under the direction of Profs Charles Marsden and Dave Kendall and Dr Rob Mason. Joe’s graduate research focused on the behavioral and electrophysiological effects of cannabinoids.

Joe’s first postdoc (2000-2002) was spent in Sam Deadwyler’s laboratory (Wake Forest University School of Medicine) where he conducted research on multiple single-unit electrophysiology in freely moving organisms. Joe joined Mark Wightman’s lab as a post doc in fall 2002 at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). There, he established the use of a microelectrode that allows for the simultaneous measurement of single-unit activity and dopamine release via fast-scan cyclic voltammetry.

Joe is currently a tenured professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he directs undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral projects related to several neurophysiological and neurochemical aspects of endogenous cannabinoid signaling in intact systems.

In his spare time Joe likes to enjoy the outdoors with his two daughters, his wife and his rescue dog, Rusty.

Iness Gildish, M.S.

Laboratory Manager


Neurobiology and psychology became Inna’s main interest during high school and she knew she wanted to be a researcher in this area. Inna earned her B.S in Molecular Bio-Chemistry from Technion, Haifa, Israel in 2008. During her studies at the Technion she met prof. Kobi Rosenblum whose research in taste learning and memory mechanism dazzled her so she decided to continue her education in his lab.

A year later she joined prof. Kobi Rosenblum’s lab in Haifa University as a M.S. student. During this time she worked with transgenic mice to determine how regulation of translation elongation involved in taste memory formation and its consolidation. By using behavioral, molecular, and imaging techniques, she was able to make progress in understanding the relationship between regulation of protein synthesis during memory consolidation and behavioral output. Inna joined the Cheer Lab in December 2011 to learn about electrochemical and neurophysiological recordings in behaving animals, and to better understand the endocannabinoid system.

Inna’s future goals are to complete a Ph.D. in neuroscience. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching movies, photography and traveling.

Miguel Angel Lujan Perez, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow


Miguel earned his B.Sc. in Psychology from University Jaume I, Castellon, Spain in 2014. During his undergraduate studies, Miguel participated as an undergraduate research staff in Dr. Laura Font’ and Dr. Raul Pastor’s lab at the Department of Basic and Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology. Following his B.Sc. studies, Miguel completed an M.Sc. in Neuroscience at the Dr. Olga Valverde’s Neurobiology of Behaviour Group in the University Pompeu Fabra and the University of Barcelona, Spain in 2016. His M.Sc. research was focused on the consequences of synthetic cathinone adolescent exposure in the reinforcing effects of cocaine in adulthood. During this period, Miguel mastered the mouse intravenous drug self-administration paradigm.

In 2016, Miguel joined Dr. Olga Valverde’s lab at University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. There, he was awarded with a Research and Docent Staff scholarship by the Ministry of Education of the Spanish Government to develop his Ph.D. studies in Biomedicine. In 2020, Miguel obtained his Ph.D., focused on understanding the viability of cannabis derivative substances (mainly cannabidiol) as a therapeutical strategy to reduce cocaine consumption and excessive reinforcement.

In October 2020, Miguel joined Dr. Joseph Cheer’s lab at the University of Maryland as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Here, he will investigate the pharmacological and physiological basis of motivation in a transgenic mouse model of reinforcement learning, with a particular emphasis on endocannabinoid signaling using electrophysiological and optogenetic approaches.

Lan-Yuan Zhang, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow


Lan-Yuan Zhang graduated from the Peking University in 2015 with a degree of B.S. and received a recommendation to enroll in the Ph.D. program with exemption from admission exams. His graduation study focused on exploring the endocannabinoid regulation of synaptic and astrocytic glutamate release in the accumbens core during cocaine withdrawal.

In 2018 Lanyuan received scholarship support for a two year exchange program to explore the functional impact astrocytic activities to reward seeking processes at Cheer lab at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

In July 2020, Lan-yuan received his Ph.D. degree in neuropharmacology from Peking University. Soon after his graduation, Lan-Yuan joined Dr. Joseph Cheer’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow to continue his research.

As for laboratory skills, he is well trained in rodent cocaine self-administration procedures, attentional set-shifting task, whole cell patch-clamp recording and in vivo fiber photometry.

Antonio Figueiredo, B.S.

Graduate Researcher


Antonio graduated in 2016 from the University at Buffalo with a B.S. in
Biological Sciences, concentrating in Neuroscience and Cellular & Molecular
Biology, and a B.A. in Chemistry. Upon graduating, he accepted a research
position at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions under Dr.
Panayotis Thanos. Antonio’s research investigated the role of fatty acid-
binding proteins as transporters of endocannabinoids. This experience helped
shape Antonio’s interest in examining the intersection of endocannabinoids
and disorders of motivation.

To further his training, Antonio joined the University of Maryland School of
Medicine’s Science Training for Advancing biomedical Research Post-
baccalaureate Research Education Program (STAR-PREP). Under the
guidance of Dr. Joseph Cheer, Antonio learned various techniques to
measure neuronal signaling and neurotransmitter release in vivo. This
experience continued to build on his understanding of motivation and reward

Currently, Antonio is a Ph.D. candidate under Dr. Cheer’s mentorship.
Here, he continues his research investigating the role of cannabinoid type 1
receptors on hippocampal-cholinergic terminals in regulating motivation.
Following his Ph.D. training, Antonio wishes to pursue a post-doctorate
fellowship and become a principal investigator.

Rebeca Howell, M.S.

Graduate Researcher


Becca is currently a graduate student in the MSTP program. She previously earned her B.A. in Psychology and M.S. in Neuroscience from McGill University.

She worked several years as a technician at UT Health San Antonio and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation before starting medical school. During her master’s she gained experience with in vivo single unit recordings of neurons in the monoaminergic nuclei as well as behavioral testing. As a research technician she gained extensive experience studying synaptic physiology in the cerebellum, particularly looking at how presynaptic receptors modulate neurotransmitter release using in vitro electrophysiological techniques. Later she moved to the substantia nigra and studied how firing properties of dopamine neurons change with age.

In her spare time she enjoys going to the beach, playing piano, compulsive knitting and spending time with her husband, son and 6 lbs chihuahua. 

Andrew Kim, B.S.

Research Technician


Andrew graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 2012 with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering.

In the Cheer Lab, Andrew studies pathogenic mechanisms and therapeutic strategies for Huntington’s disease (HD). He works to elucidate the cortical and striatal network dynamics with the progression of HD in rodent models using in-vivo calcium imaging, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, and electrophysiology. Additionally, he assesses pharmacological and gene-based approaches as potential therapies for HD.

He plans to pursue a career in medicine and aspires to develop impactful tools to enhance patient care.

Outside the lab, Andrew enjoys playing music, refining his coffee game, and spending quality time with friends and family.

Sean Ryan, B.S.

Research Technician


Sean graduated from Roanoke College in 2018 with a B.S. in Biology and a concentration in Neuroscience.

During his time at Roanoke, Sean worked as a researcher in the Lassiter Lab studying developmental biology and endocrinology in zebrafish. For his senior thesis, he designed and implemented new equipment and protocols that enabled the Lassiter lab to generate genetic models of human disease using CRISPR/Cas9. After graduation, Sean moved on to the Connectome Annotation Team at Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus, working on the FlyEM project. The team utilized advancements in electron microscopy, machine learning, and neuroanatomical visualization to help create the largest neural wiring diagram to date in any organism.

Sean joined the Cheer Lab in November 2020 and is currently working on a project analyzing the effects of monoacylglycerol lipase inhibition on motivation and dopamine activity in the nucleus accumbens using fiber photometry.

In the future, Sean plans to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience or genetics.

Reana Young-Morrison, B.S.

Research Technician


Reana graduated from University of Vermont in 2020 with a BS in Neuroscience and a BA in Spanish.

During her undergraduate studies Reana she did clinical research with Autism. For her senior thesis she developed a project aimed at understanding language processing and comprehension in Autism. The study focused on determining an individuals ability to distinguish between phonemes and complex tones. Understanding differing levels of attenuation and MMN amplitudes sought to demonstrate and pinpoint language deficits in Autism.

In the future she hopes to attend graduate school for a PhD in neuroscience.

Sam Comito

Undergraduate Volunteer


Sam is a senior at the University of Maryland studying Neurobiology and Physiology.

At the University of Maryland, Sam volunteered at an on campus lab where he studied the evolution of self-fertile hermaphroditism using Caenorhabditis elegans. He is also involved with many other on-campus organizations such as One Tent Health, UMD Help Center, and Maryland Mentor Corps.

Sam joined the Cheer Lab as a volunteer in June 2021 and works with Natalie Zlebnik and Samantha Miller in researching how THC affects adolescence and impulsive behavior in adulthood.

Jennifer Houston

Undergraduate Volunteer


Jennifer is a senior studying Physiology and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She transferred from the University of Pittsburgh in 2019, where she studied Neuroscience and minored in French.

Currently, Jennifer is a certified EMT and joined the Cheer lab in the summer of 2021. She works with Sean Ryan and Dr. Zhang on their research involving MAGL inhibition of reward pathways and 5HT modulation of reward circuits.

In the future, Jennifer hopes to attend medical school to specialize in Neonatology.

Mary Mae Robinson

Undergraduate Volunteer


Mary Mae Robinson is a junior at the University of Maryland who is studying Physiology and Neurobiology.

For the past two years of her undergraduate education, she has been studying bioengineering with a focus in therapeutics. In the past, she has participated in public health research that aimed to study the adherence to cancer screening protocol by Baltimore populations. Volunteering in the Cheer Lab is Mary Mae’s first experience working in a lab.

Her future goals include attending medical school and one day working as a physician.

Nikhil Reddy

Undergraduate Volunteer


Nikhil is a junior at the University of Maryland studying Neurobiology and physiology. Nikhil volunteers at a UMD research lab studying the effects of substance abuse on the brain. Nikhil is also involved with other UMD organizations such as Peer to Peer and Doctors without borders.

Nikhil joined the Cheer Lab as a undergrad volunteer in August of 2021 and plans to stay on the research team eventually pursuing medical school.

Mohib Hussain

Undergraduate Volunteer


Mohib is a Junior at the University of Maryland majoring in Neurobiology and Physiology.

At the University of Maryland, Mohib volunteers in an on campus Hearing and Brain Lab where he helps perform EEG testing on elderly patients with hearing loss. He is also involved with on-campus organizations such as American Chemical Society, American Medical Student Association, and Muslim Student Association.

In the future , Mohib hopes to attend medical school specializing in neurology.

Jessica Klein

Undergraduate Volunteer


Jessica is a sophomore studying Physiology and Neurobiology at the University of Maryland, College Park. 
Through the University of Maryland, Jessica is on a research team studying the host pathogen interactions between different genetic knockout strains of Escherichia coli and bacteriophage. Currently, her research team is studying how the knockout of the ΔthrA gene in E. coli affects the replication of T2 and T4 bacteriophage in varying conditions. Under the mentorship from Dr. Jessica O’Hara, Jessica and her team are studying the implications of this genetic knockout on the synthesis of L-serine, thus affecting the replication of the bacteriophage. 
Recently joining Cheer Lab in September of 2019, Jessica is in the midst of learning the fundamental aspects of behavioral neuroscience research. She is working alongside Samantha Miller and Erin Beebe in efforts to study the effects of THC and Ritalin administration in adolescent rats and development of impulsivity in adulthood.  

Interested in joining the lab? Contact us about potential openings.


Years Alum Current Position
2009 – 2011 Carien Lansink, Ph.D. Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam
2009 – 2012 Giovanni Hernandez, Ph.D. Jasper Research Fellow, University of Montreal
2010 – 2013 Roger Cachope, M.D. Director of Systems Neurobiology, CHDI, adjunct Assistant Professor, UMSOM
2010 – 2013 Erik Oleson, Ph.D. Associate Professor, University of Colorado, Denver
2013 – 2014 Thibaut Sesia, Ph.D. Group Leader, University of Cologne
2013 – 2019 Jen Wenzel, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, University of San Diego
2014 – 2020 Dan Covey, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Lovelace Research Institute, University of New Mexico
2014 – 2021 Natalie Zlebnik, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, University of California, Riverside