PEOPLE 2023-01-17T16:54:45+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. 

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.

Ella M. Rocha, B.S.

Research Technician


Having spent most of her childhood following her dad while he completed his PhD in Biochemistry, Ella grew in love with science and dreamt of becoming a scientist. Following this path she was awarded a scholarship (in a cooperation between Brazil-Peru governments) to pursue her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Sciences at the Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo – UNIFESP. Where she has the joy to be the first foreign student enrolled in this program to successfully graduate in Biomedical Sciences.

During her undergrad Ella received the PROMISAES fellowship and because her passion for science she joined from her first year as a volunteer researcher and rotated in laboratories of the Department of Physiology, Biophysics, Pharmacology and in the Center for Development of Experimental Models (CEDEME-UNIFESP). These allowed her to accumulate as much experience as possible, until she was captivated by the study of behavior and substance use disorders. For her senior thesis she carried out a project aiming to evaluate if environmental enrichment could reverse the high impact that food restriction stress has over behavioral sensitization in substance abuse disorder.

In her spare time, Ella enjoys her family, photography and learning more everyday about animal behavior.

Himani Puri

Undergraduate Volunteer


Himani is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park as a Neurobiology & Philosophy major and Philosophy minor.

Himani works as a research volunteer at Sinai Hospital in the orthopedic department, analyzing patient charts and data. She also has had clinical experience in hospice care and internal medicine in Baltimore, MD. She is involved with UMD organizations like AMSA and Pre-Health Global Brigades. Being a volunteer in the Cheer Lab is her first research lab experience.

In the future, Himani hopes to attend medical school and holds an interest for pediatrics and anesthesiology.

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.

Sarah Ngo

Undergraduate Volunteer


Sarah is a senior at the University of Maryland, College Park studying general biology.

She works as a medical assistant at Patient First and a medical scribe at Johns Hopkins Orthopedics. This is her first research experience and hopes to gain experience and knowledge about research and neuroscience. She is involved in on-campus organizations like Terps for Change. She hopes to attend medical school one day.

Rheanna Bissett

Undergraduate Volunteer


Rheanna is a sophomore in the Honors Program at the University of Maryland, College Park studying Public Health Sciences.

On campus, Rheanna is involved in the Alpha Lambda Delta honors society, national society of collegiate scholars, and plays on the club lacrosse team. Off campus, she is the head of fundraising for an annual humanitarian trip to Puerto Rico and leads the assembly and distribution of medical supply kits to the elderly population of Culebra, a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Rheanna also volunteers at her local End Hunger Food Pantry in Calvert County, Maryland.

This is Rheanna’s first research lab experience and she is very excited to stay on the research team. In the future, Rheanna hopes to attend medical school and explore different specialties.

Bridget Young

Undergraduate Volunteer


Bridget is a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park studying Neurobiology and Physiology with a double minor in Spanish and Health, Humanities and Medicine. 

On campus Bridget is involved in different volunteer activities as a peer mentor and tutor for children K-6 for the CARE organization and En Camino. She has had clinical experience at GBMC in various pediatric departments. This is her first research experience and she hopes to learn more about the research process as well as gain knowledge about neuroscience as a whole.

In the future, Bridget hopes to attend medical school. 

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