PEOPLE 2021-07-19T17:14:18+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.

Sheila Antonagi Engi, Ph.D.

Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow


Sheila graduated in Biology Sciences from the São Paulo State University (UNESP, São Paulo, Brazil) in 2009. After, joined Prof. Cleopatra Planeta´s lab to study and investigate the mechanisms related to cocaine and anabolic addiction and cardiovascular complications in adolescent and adult animals in her Master´s Degree; later, she investigated the protective central and cardiovascular effects of exercise in ethanol consumption disorders in her Ph.D. Degree. She obtained her Master´s (2012) and Ph.D. Degree (2016) in Physiological Sciences from the Federal University of São Carlos, SP/Brazil.In 2017 started her first postdoc in Prof. Fabio Cruz´s lab (Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil) and investigated the effects of cannabidiol treatment using cell culture and different animal behavioral protocols for ethanol consumption disorders.In 2020 joined Prof. Joseph Cheer´s lab to investigate the effects of cannabinoids during the adolescence and its consequences in cocaine-seeking and consumption in adult animals using fiber photometry technique.

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.

Samantha Miller, B.A.

Research Technician


Samantha graduated from Miami University in 2018 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Spanish.

During her time at Miami University, Samantha worked with an undergraduate research team in the Broadening Undergraduate Research Program directed by Dr. Jennifer Quinn. The student-led project assessed the effects of early life stress (acute versus chronic) on behavioral flexibility and compulsivity with alcohol as a reward in mice. Samantha also worked under Dr. Matthew McMurray investigating the effects of oxytocin on impulsive decision-making in rats.

Sam joined the Cheer Lab in October 2018 as a research technician. She currently works with Dr. Natalie Zlebnik on a project examining adolescent THC and Ritalin exposure and its impact on impulsive behavior in adulthood.

In the future, Sam hopes to attend graduate school to obtain a MPH in health policy.

Lakota Watson, B.A.

Research Technician


Lakota graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2018 with a B.A. in Neuroscience and a B.A. in Psychology.

During her time at CU, Lakota worked with Dr. Marie Banich studying adolescent mood and cognition and assisted in behavioral tasks during fMRI and MRS sessions with teens and their parents. The project she worked on focused on GABAergic signaling in the PFC, mood, and behavior. It evaluated connections between overall cognition and brain activity and psychological state in adolescents with a genetic risk for mood disorders.

She joined the Cheer Lab in October 2018 as a research technician. Presently, Lakota works with Dr. Jen Wenzel and Dr. Joseph Cheer on two projects. Her primary project examines the role of endocannabinoid mediation of oxytocin and its effects on prosocial behavior in mice. She employs both a Pavlovian social distress task and in vivo calcium imaging to quantify such effects. Additionally, Lakota continues Dr. Wenzel’s work in elucidating the role of the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway in active avoidance. 

In the future, Lakota hopes to attend graduate school and obtain a Ph.D. in neurobiology.

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.

Sumeyye Karakas

Undergraduate Volunteer


Sumeyye is currently a senior studying Neuroscience and Spanish at the University of Maryland, College Park.

She graduated from Montgomery College in 2020 with a General Studies STEM A.A. Outside the lab, Sumeyye works as a CNA and volunteers as a crisis counselor for the Trevor Project.  In the future, she hopes to attend medical school and eventually work as a humanitarian doctor and clinical researcher.

Thach-Vu Nguyen

Undergraduate Volunteer


Vu is currently a junior studying biochemistry at the University of Maryland, College Park.

In June 2018, Vu joined as a volunteer at the Cheer Lab, learning the foundations of behavioral research. Since becoming a member, Vu has co-presented a poster on the role of corticostriatal projections in impulsive choice behavior. He currently works closely with Lakota to investigate the progression of neuronal activity during a social distress task using calcium mini-endoscope imaging of mice in a Pavlovian paradigm.

Vu is also the author and team liaison of Team ACID, an undergraduate research group in the Gemstone Honors College at the University of Maryland. Team ACID developed a novel treatment model aiming to promote prosocial behavior in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Under the mentorship of Dr. Nishanth Sunny, the team looks to microdose an analogue of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in a mouse model of ASD and apply social and anxiolytic behavioral assays such as a partition test with a conspecific and an elevated zero maze to assess the efficacy of the model. Additionally, they will examine the modulation of endogenous serotonergic receptors to further deconstruct the observed behavior.

In his free time, Vu enjoys being a live-in volunteer at the College Park Volunteer Fire Department. He plans to pursue a career in medicine and politics.

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