Joelle Straehla (she/her)

Charles W. (1955) and Jennifer C. Johnson Clinical Investigator
jstraehl [at]

Joelle Straehla is a pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, an Instructor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and a Charles W. (1955) and Jennifer C. Johnson Clinical Investigator at MIT's Koch Institute. She received her MD from Northwestern University in 2013, and in 2016 completed a residency in pediatrics at the University of Washington. In 2017, during her fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Straehla joined Paula Hammond's lab at the Koch Institute as a postdoctoral fellow, focusing her research on nanotechnology-based drug delivery platforms. She is board certified in general pediatrics and pediatric hematology/oncology, and her clinical practice is focused on the care of children with tumors of the brain and spinal cord. Her laboratory at the Koch Institute opened in Spring 2022. Outside of science and medicine, she enjoys spending time with her family, following her favorite sports teams, and reading science fiction.

Kimberly R. Bennett

Kimberly R. Bennett (she/her)

PhD Candidate, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology
kbenn [at]

Kimberly graduated from the University of California at Riverside with a B.S. in Bioengineering with Honors. During her undergraduate studies, she participated in a NSF IRES research experience at Tsinghua University, the NIGMS/NIH U-RISE (MARC U*STAR) research program, and was co-advised by Dr. Victor G.J. Rodgers and Dr. Byron D. Ford to investigate a small molecule therapeutic for ischemic stroke for her Honors thesis. Now a Medical Engineering and Medical Physics PhD Candidate in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Kimberly is co-advised by Dr. Paula Hammond and Dr. Joelle Straehla. Her research focuses on developing new nanocarriers to treat pediatric brain tumors and utilizes microfluidic devices to model blood-brain barrier vasculature in vitro. Kimberly has received numerous awards throughout her PhD, including the HHMI Gilliam Fellowship, Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, NSF GRFP, Tau Beta Pi Fellowship, and the Alfred P. Sloan Minority PhD Program UCEM Scholarship. When not in the lab, she enjoys going on walks to explore the city, trying new brunch spots, scrapbooking, and gardening.

Julianna Kenny-Serrano

Julianna Kenny-Serrano (she/her)

Research Associate
jkennyse [at]

Julianna graduated from Wellesley College with BAs in Neuroscience and Philosophy. She was first exposed to cancer research thanks to her participation in the Harvard Immunology Summer Program, where she researched gene therapies for pediatric blood disorders. Julianna was drawn to the Straehla lab because of its interdisciplinary focus and translational approach. During the next year, she will be focused on identifying gene targets that regulate nanoparticle uptake, as well as exploring key cellular transitions linked to metastasis. Julianna hopes to go on to pursue an MD/PhD, but in the meantime, she’ll enjoy her gap years spending time camping and hiking, or hosting board game nights with friends.

Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson (they/them)

Technical Associate
enelson2 [at]

Elizabeth Nelson graduated from Boston University with a BA in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Business Administration and Management. During their undergraduate career, they participated in several research programs and developed a strong passion for cancer research. Elizabeth joined the Straehla Lab in June 2022 where they will be focusing on identifying genetic factors related to nanoparticle trafficking. They also intend to pursue a PhD in Biochemistry after their gap years. In their free time, they enjoy walking their dog, spending time with friends, and learning to cook!

Michael Marand

Michael Marand (he/him)

Research Associate
marand [at]

Michael graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BS in Biochemistry and a minor in Business Administration. During that time, Michael trained in a pharmaceutical science lab that aims to engineer cells for localized drug delivery to different cancers. He also writes blog articles to share the latest developments in cancer research in an engaging manner accessible to general audiences. At MIT, Michael is jointly affiliated with the Hammond lab at MIT. His projects investigate nanoparticle drug delivery to brain tumors. Outside of work, Michael enjoys playing soccer and seeing theater shows.

Clara Yampanis (she/her)

Research Associate 
cyampani [at]

Clara graduated from Tufts University with a BS in biochemistry. She was first exposed to biochemistry research as an undergraduate in the Kritzer Laboratory, working on improving the sensitivity and readout of an assay for cytosolic penetration of biomolecules. Clara was interested in the Straehla lab’s work due to its focus on overcoming drug delivery challenges and accelerating the implementation of nanomedicine to change the landscape of pediatric cancer treatment for the better. For the next year and a half, she will be focused on growing her research skills and hopes to contribute to a better understanding of nanoparticle drug delivery to central nervous system tumors. Clara plans to pursue a PhD in biochemistry or a related field and, eventually, a career in cancer research. Outside of the lab, she enjoys time with friends, baking, reading, painting, and finding free treasures on Facebook.

Tessy Teboh

Tessy Teboh (she/her)

Undergraduate Student
tessyt1 [at]

Tessy is a senior at Wellesley College majoring in Biochemistry. She was first exposed to research through her independent study in the Radnakrishnan Lab, a computational chemistry lab at Wellesley College. There, she researched how the charges on ponatinib could be modified to ensure an effective treatment in Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Tessy joined the Straehla lab as part of her summer program with BCH/DFCI and has been working alongside Kimberly Bennett. She has a keen interest in oncology and translational research and hopes to pursue an MD/Ph.D. post-graduation. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, reading novels, and binge watching Korean shows.

Nina Petulla (she/her)

Undergraduate Student
npetulla [at]

Nina Petulla is a second-year student at MIT majoring in Biochemistry. She was first introduced to research as a high school senior when she was accepted as a summer intern with the Zon Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital. Under the mentorship of Chloé Baron and Alicia McConnell, she studied the effects of different transcription factors on globin expression in zebrafish. Nina joined the Straehla Lab in January of 2023 through MIT’s UROP program. Although she is still exploring her options as a new undergraduate student, Nina has an interest in pursuing an MD/Ph.D. after college. Outside of academics, Nina is a member of the NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse team at MIT. She enjoys spending time with her teammates, dancing, crocheting, and taking day trips to the beach.

Zakiya Smith (she/her)

Undergraduate Student
zakiyas [at]


Zakiya Smith is a first-year undergraduate student at MIT. She plans to major in Biochemistry and Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and possibly pursue an MD/PhD. Zakiya joined the Straehla Lab in January 2024 under the mentorship of Kimberly Bennett. With an interest in oncology and drug development, she is also fascinated by neurobiology and genetics. Outside of her passion for scientific inquiry, Zakiya finds joy in baking, arts and crafts, and binge-watching Netflix shows with friends!