Sarah E. Sheppard, MD, PhD, MSTR

Lead investigator, Unit on Vascular Malformations
Phone: 240-578-5047

Deena Zeltser, MD

Deena Zeltser headshot.
Staff Clinician 

Dr. Zeltser received a B.A., cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, with a major in the history and sociology of science and a minor in religious studies. She received an M.D. from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, in 2005. 
After completing her residency in pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Children’s Memorial Hospital (currently known as Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago), Dr. Zeltser worked as a pediatric hospitalist at community hospitals in Chicago and its nearby suburbs. In 2010, she returned to Washington, DC, where she worked as a pediatric hospitalist at Children’s National Medical Center and at Holy Cross Hospital.

Dr. Zeltser joined NICHD in January 2017 as a pediatric staff clinician in the Office of the Clinical Director. She provides clinical support to NICHD research teams. She began working with Dr. Sheppard in 2022.

Dr. Zeltser was born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland. She now lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband and two children.

Kwabena Aboagye

Kwabena Aboagye headshot.
Postbaccalaureate fellow

Kwabena is a postbaccalaureate fellow at the NICHD working on Dr. Sheppard’s clinical research program studying lymphatic anomalies. His focus includes, participant recruitment, and screening, as well as extraction and analysis of clinical data. Kwabena is a recent graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in biology and a minor in Chemistry. Prior to arriving at the NIH Kwabena worked as a Pharmacy technician and as a Patient care Associate at The Ohio State University. Kwabena is eager to continue his path toward becoming an MD-PhD. In his free time, Kwabena loves playing basketball and soccer, as well as weightlifting.

Jill Dayneka

Jill Dayneka headshot.
Special Volunteer

Jill is a Research Special Volunteer at the NICHD studying novel treatments and supportive care for vascular anomalies. She started working with Dr. Sheppard studying vascular anomalies as a part of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Comprehensive Vascular Anomalies Program in 2021 and has studied treatment practices for Kaposiform Hemangioendothelioma, KLA, and other complex vascular anomalies. She is in her final year of an MD/MPH at Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA, and after graduation, she will be starting residency in Internal Medicine. Her current research goal is to expand understanding of fertility challenges for individuals with vascular anomalies, both due to and independent of treatments received, in efforts to improve counseling prior to treatment initiation. She spends her free time hiking with her husband and dog, trying a new recipe, or reading a good book.

Ben Sempowski (he/him/his)

Ben Sempowski headshot.
Postbaccalaureate fellow

Ben is a postbaccalaureate research fellow in the Sheppard lab studying complex lymphatic anomalies using a translational model to understand the mechanisms of these anomalies which inform more effective treatments. He recently graduated Davidson College with a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Neuroscience where he worked in the research lab of Dr. Barbara Lom studying the development of the central nervous system in Zebrafish. Ben is excited to take the next step in his journey towards an MD/PhD degree. In his free time you will find Ben cooking, baking bread, or exploring the DMV!

Christopher Marshall

Christopher Marshall headshot.
Research Specialist 1

Chris is a research specialist with the Sheppard Lab. He has 9 years of experience in the NICHD zebrafish facilities where he formerly worked as the Animal Health Specialist and more recently as the Technical Trainer for the husbandry team. Prior to working with zebrafish, Chris studied organismal biology and ecology at Towson University where he received his B.A. in Biology in December 2011. During his time at Towson, he interned with the Maryland Department of the Environment in a lab that specialized in habitat assessments. His current goal is to transition his knowledge of zebrafish and the NICHD program into a role which directly supports the research of the Sheppard lab while also developing his own skills as a researcher. He is an avid outdoorsman, a DC sports fan, and a proud father of two.

Luciana Daniela Garlisi Torales, MD

Luciana Daniela Garlisi Torales headshot.
Visiting Post-doctoral Fellow

Daniela is a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the Sheppard lab. She is an international medical graduate from Paraguay, and received her MD in 2022 from Facultad de Ciencias Medicas – Universidad del Pacifico. Her passion for research started in her second year of medical school when she worked with medicinal plants. She studied the impact of COVID-19 on medical education in Latin America. She is passionate about empowering other students to do research in Latin America. She is interested in doing clinical research in her country in the future.

Andrea Bowling, MSN, APRN, FNP-C

Andrea Bowling headshot.
Nurse Practitioner

Andrea Bowling is a Family Nurse Practitioner who has been with NIH for the past 4 years. She initially began working for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), working in neurosurgery with adults with incurable pain, then at National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) with adult genetic disorders before moving to Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). She works with the Unit on Vascular Malformations on a natural history study for patients with lymphatic anomalies and also consults on other clinical protocols. She obtained her MSN from Georgetown University, and her RN from Stevenson University and is currently in the process of obtaining her DNP as a Psych Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. She has always loved research and would like to become a principal investigator, working on research dealing with the psychosocial perspective of patients with chronic illnesses. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.

Georgia Krikorian

Georgia Krikorian headshot.
Postbaccalaureate Fellow

Georgia is an OITE-PEP postbaccalaureate fellow at the NICHD examining lymphatic vasculature development and underlying mechanisms of lymphatic anomalies, particularly using organoid modeling and the bench-to-bedside model. Before joining the NICHD, she studied at Smith College in Northampton, MA where she received her B.A. in Biochemistry in May 2022. Her passion for research was established during her undergraduate career in the laboratory of Michael Barresi, where she studied the regulation of radial glia development during neurogenesis in zebrafish. She is motivated to pursue an MD-PhD degree program and career as a physician-scientist where she hopes to utilize the tools of basic research to innovate new treatment modalities for complex conditions.  

Scott Paulissen, PhD

Scott Paulissen headshot.
Researcher - Lab Manager

Scott is the lab manager and a researcher in the Sheppard lab. His work focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms causing KRAS-related central conducting lymphatic anomaly. He also studies the causes and progression of capillary malformations with undergrowth using the zebrafish equivalent of the mammalian forelimb, the pectoral fin. Scott is a developmental biologist who completed his post-doctoral fellowship in Brant Weinstein’s lab at NICHD, focused on the development and pathways responsible for the forelimb vasculature in zebrafish. Prior to arriving at the NIH, he received his bachelor’s degree at Nevada State College in Biology, and later received his PhD in molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts - Boston in the lab of Linda S Huang. He has wide ranging interests including but far from limited to, history, movies, a fairly eclectic range of music, sports, and playing with his daughter.


Kamyab Pirouz

Kamyab Pirouz headshot.
Summer Intern (2022)

Kamyab is a summer intern examining genetic causes of CCLA. He is a third-year honors student studying biology at Northeastern University in Boston. His career goal is to one day become a physician and travel the world helping patients in underserved and underprivileged communities. Kamyab was born in Iran, moved to Ottawa, Canada at the age of 2, and then moved to Bethesda, MD at the age of 5. Kamyab loved the childhood he had here, and grew up with an immense passion for soccer, a sport he still plays competitively to this day. He enjoy outdoor activities, trying random things he has not done before, and spending time with friends and family. He will be graduating from Northeastern in December 2023 and aims to begin medical school the following year.

Dhyanam Shukla

Dhyanam Shukla headshot.
Postbaccalaureate Fellow (2022-2023)

Dhyanam is a postbaccalaureate fellow working at NICHD trying to understand the complexities of CCLA in zebrafish models. He graduated from Rutgers University in 2021 with a B.A. in Cellular Biology and Neuroscience and a minor in Psychology. His interest in research stemmed as an undergraduate when he studied congenital muscular dystrophy at the Child Health Institute, and ever since then he has been passionate about learning developmental biology, neurobiology, and zebrafish research. In his free time, he loves to cook, bake, look after many plants and explore DC. Dhyanam will be attending graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kristina Woodis

Kristina Woodis headshot.
Postbaccalaureate Fellow (2022-2023)

Krissy is a postbaccalaureate fellow working at the NICHD examining lymphatic anomalies in zebrafish. She recently graduated from Elon University with a B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Foundational Medical Science and a minor in Psychology, where she studied the involvement of the gut-brain axis in epilepsy in zebrafish. She is passionate about studying neurobiological disorders in the zebrafish model and is eager to apply this knowledge clinically. Her career goal is to become a physician-scientist. In her free time, Krissy loves to practice yoga, read, cook, and enjoy time outside with friends. She will be attending medical school at The George Washington University.

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