Current members


Yahaira Naaldijk, PhD

Research Associate

Dr. Yahaira Naaldijk completed her PhD at the Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena, Germany, in the field of stem cell cryopreservation. In parallel, she investigated the use of stem cells as a therapeutic approach for Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, Dr. Naaldijk is a Research Associate in the Department of Anesthesiology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey. Under the mentorship of Dr. Sabine Hilfiker, PhD, her research focuses on the role of LRKK2 in Parkinson’s disease. This research has substantial clinical implications as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Prior to joining the Hilfiker Lab, Dr. Naaldijk served as a Research Fellow at the Institute of Chemistry at University of Sao Paulo under the supervision of Alexander Henning Ulrich, PhD and then as a Research Associate at Rutgers University under Pranela Rameshwar, PhD. Throughout her career, Dr. Naaldijk has published extensively across the fields of stem cell cryopreservation, purinergic signaling in psychiatric disorders, and neurodegenerative disease.

Likes: running, watching SciFi, listening to gothic music, going to bars and restaurants, traveling, meeting new people


Rachel Fasiczka

Graduate Student

Rachel grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She obtained her bachelor’s degrees in Biotechnology and in Biomedical Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology. She is interested in molecular biology and neurodegeneration with prior experience in Alzheimer’s disease research.

Likes: Hiking, reading, gardening, cooking


Besma Brahmia

Master´s Thesis Student

Besma grew up in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Cellular Biology and Neuroscience from Rutgers University. She is interested in the cell biology and histology of the nervous system, and has previous research experience in neuroimmunology. She would like to pursue a career in academic research focusing on neurodegenerative diseases. 

Likes: knitting, reading manga, gardening


Rollanda (Ro) Bernadin

Master´s Student

Ro is a non-traditional student, first earning her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Seton Hall University, then taking three gap years to teach English in South Korea. Upon returning, she completed a post-baccalaureate program in Biology at William Paterson University. During her tenure, she worked as a Research Assistant and developed an interest in neurodegenerative diseases, neurobehavioral disorders, the cannabinoid system, and molecular biology. She continues her education at Rutgers School of Graduate Studies to obtain her Masters in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in neuroscience.

Likes: Traveling, Wine, Sour beers, Reading, Anime


Miriam Tawfiles

Undergraduate Student

Miriam was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. She is currently working towards obtaining her bachelor's degree in Biomolecular Sciences with a Minor in Neuroscience and Math at NYU. Her favorite subjects are chemistry and math, and she is interested in the study of neurodegenerative diseases.

Likes: Reading, journaling, listening to music, knitting, watching movies 

Past members:

Ghata Nandi (2022), PhD rotation student

Emily Cooper (2021), PhD rotation student

Humza Farrukh (2021), M.D. with Distinction Thesis Program Student

Andrew Ordille (2021), Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship (FAER MSARF) student

Ayma Malik (2021), PhD rotation student

Peter Cho (2021), Master´s student

Oleta Sandiford (2020), PhD rotation student

Sara Law (2020), Master´s student

Jannat Begum (2020), Northeast Regional Alliance (NERA) MedPrep Scholar