Team Members

Principal Investigator

Andrea Comba Ph.D.–Assistant Professor

Dr. Andrea Comba graduated in Biological Sciences and obtained her Ph.D. in 2013 from the National University of Cordoba, Argentina. Her doctoral project focused on the anti-tumoral mechanism of essential fatty acids in the transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of the transcription factor glioma-associated oncogene 1 (GLI1), a molecule originally identified as amplified in brain tumors. This graduate project involved international collaboration with the Schulze Center for Novel Therapeutics at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. After completing her Ph.D. thesis, she undertook her first postdoctoral training in the field of Neuro-oncology in 2014 at the Biological Chemistry Research Center of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Argentina. During this time, she led a research project that studied the anti-carcinogenic role of posttranslational modifications of Calreticulin in glioma tumors. In 2016, Andrea joined the University of Michigan, Department of Neurosurgery as a postdoctoral trainee in Dr. Castro-Lowenstein’s laboratory, and by 2021, she was promoted to the position of Research Investigator. Since the initiation of her post-doctoral training, Dr. Comba has been dedicated to identifying novel self-organized structures called “Oncostreams”. These structures are areas of mesenchymal transformation that act as anatomical drivers of high-grade glioma growth and invasion. She found that COL1A1 inhibition is an actionable target with translational relevance for glioma treatment. Her project aims to elucidate the functions and molecular mechanisms underlying mesenchymal and self-organized growth patterns of malignant gliomas and their interactions with the tumor microenvironment. Moreover, she headed other projects that investigated the immune modulation of the glioma tumor microenvironment, and she collaborated on various projects within the lab, including the Phase I Clinical Trial of combined cytotoxic and immune-stimulatory therapy for gliomas (NCT01811992). In 2020, Andrea received the AACR Scholar-in-Training Award for early-career scientists in recognition of meritorious proffered research work. Andrea is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology, Division of Neuropathology, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is an Associate Scientist Member of the Neuro-oncology Program at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Comprehensive Neuroscience Center. The goal of Dr. Comba’s laboratory research projects is to identify novel targets that regulate the growth, mesenchymal transformation, and invasion of brain tumors. Ultimately, her aim is to translate these experimental findings into novel therapies. Outside of the lab, Andrea enjoys spending time with her husband, friends, and her lovely dog. She practices yoga and has a passion for cooking. She also loves nature and outdoor activities such as hiking, relaxed walks in natural settings, swimming, and camping.

Lab Members

Durgadevi Selvam-Ph.D. Student

She was always intrigued towards science from her childhood and was amazed by the complexity of our biological system that balances our life as a whole. This curiosity gradually evolved into an intellectual passion in high school, when she decided that her career path would center on understanding and contributing to the field of biomedical advances that constantly strives to improve our lives. With this mindset, she put in great efforts in academics and was selected to pursue bachelor’s degree in medicine and bachelor’s degree in surgery in Mahatma Gandhi Medical college and Research institute, India.  Durga realized that she was more drawn towards deciphering the unknowns that always posed complex scenarios in disease manifestations. This propelled her to seek opportunities to conduct research in translational medicine, immediately after completing her bachelor’s degree. For this to happen practically, she had to choose a discipline in her postgraduate medical education that would allow protected time for a didactic curriculum, combining research and clinical duties. Hence, she chose MD in Pathology in Saveetha Medical college and Research institute, India as her concentration in postgraduate training. It was during this time, she was fortunate to not only learn and conduct independent research in the laboratory for her dissertation research on p16ink4a expression and HPV-induced carcinomas of the head and neck, but also participate in other research projects on infectious diseases. Durga has participated in several seminars at top national universities and has presented several papers and posters. Her long-term goal was always to obtain excellent graduate school training and use the training as a physician-scientist. Durga started pursuing her PhD at UAB in the GBS program in the Pathobiology, Pharmacology and Physiology theme in 2023 and joined Dr. Comba’s lab in 2024. In her free time, Durga likes to sing, play video games, and travel. She loves animals and loves to make new friends. Friends and Family always helped her to balance her life to calm the nerves and stay well-grounded while coping with academic rigors.

Melika Razavi Hashemi- Ph.D. Student

Melika’s interest in biology began when her mom gave her a miniature microscope as a birthday gift when she was a child (she still has it!). Over time, her curiosity about DNA and its influence on human traits led her to pursue a career in genetics. Melika still finds joy in microscopy. During her undergraduate studies in Cellular and Molecular Genetics Sciences, she worked in medical diagnostics at Takhte-Tavous medical laboratory. Under the guidance of Dr. Allahbakhshian, a hematologist, and Dr. Farzaneh Jadali, a renowned expert in cancer pathology, she gained valuable insights into diagnosing chromosomal abnormalities. Eager to connect medical diagnostics with cutting-edge research, Melika pursued her M.Sc. in Biology-Genetics, completing her thesis at the Pasteur Institute of Iran under the supervision of Dr. Sadat and Dr. Vahabpour. Her research focused on unraveling the role of miRNA in the Jak/Stat signaling pathway within Jurkat cells. After graduating, Melika was offered an exciting opportunity by Prof. Hossein Keyvani, Vice Chancellor of Research at Iran University of Medical Sciences. She became the supervisor of the molecular genetics department at Firoozgar Hospital, focusing on diagnosing mutations related to leukemia and miscarriages. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, they were among the first volunteer labs for diagnosis and research about this virus. Melika considers this experience during the pandemic a golden achievement in her career, reflecting her commitment to serving others during challenging times. Driven by a thirst for deeper research and academic excellence, Melika started pursuing her Ph.D. at UAB in the GBS program in the Genetics, Genomics, & Bioinformatics theme in 2023 and joined Dr. Comba’s lab in 2024 to pursue her research interest in the Neuropathology Division. In her free time, Melika enjoys spending time with her family and friends, painting, listening to classical music, and playing piano. She also loves traveling to visit different countries to explore their cultures, visiting historical architecture, and exploring art museums.

Ailin Zhyrgalbekova-Research Assistant

Ailin is a research assitant who is pursuing her master’s in biotechnology. She joined the lab in January 2024 as a master’s student volunteer and accepted the position as research assistant in June 2024.

She completed her bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where she started having a desire to study molecular biology for cancer research. She joined the Comba lab because she wanted to expand her experiences and knowledge by volunteering.

She is originally from Kyrgyzstan where she grew up in a large family with six siblings. Her parents wanted to give all of their children a good education, which led Ailin to the Turkish Lyceum and being able to speak four languages since an early age – Kyrgyz, English, Russian and Turkish. These experiences taught Ailin adaptability and gave her a multicultural upbringing. When not in the lab, Ailin likes to spend her free time with friends, hiking and, of course, go shopping and trying not to spend a lot of money.

Reid Hale – Undergraduate Volunteer

Reid Hale is a sophomore at UAB double-majoring in Cancer Biology and Spanish. He is originally from Memphis, Tennessee but was raised in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated high school in 2022 from Jemison High School in Huntsville, AL where he did cross country. He typically did the long distance running such as the 5k runs. He is using the opportunity of working in the lab to help decide if he wants to do research with his degree or use his degree to go to medical school. Dr. Comba’s lab is the first lab that he has worked in. He decided to do research in cancer because it is still such a prevalent disease and majority of types of cancer still are untreatable. He is getting a degree in Spanish because he believes that it is important to know, since the language is becoming widely spoken in the United States. He ultimately decided on the University of Alabama at Birmingham because of the amount of research opportunities offered and the exceptional medical school. In his free time, he enjoys running and hiking.

Former Lab Members

Katelynn Shockley – Researcher III

Katelynn earned her Bachelor of Science (BS) in Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2019. She started this degree at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama where she worked with Dr. Roger Campbell on a research project that was focused on green chemistry and trying to dispose of waste material in an environmentally friendly way. During her time at UAB, she worked in Dr. Thane Wibbels’s lab on his research project of temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) in Kemp’s Ridley Sea turtles. She later went on to get her Master of Science (MS) in Biotechnology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2021. During her master’s program, she worked with Dr. Tino Unlap on a research project for Sars-CoV-2 that studied the transcription and translation of the virus in order to keep it from replicating. After the completion of her masters, she worked for LabCorp in a reference lab processing chemistry samples for a year and a half. Before moving to the LabCorp hospital lab setting where she worked in Chemistry, Hematology, Urinalysis, Coagulation, and the Microbiology departments. She left there and joined Dr. Andrea Comba’s Lab in August 2023 as a researcher. Her passion is in the research lab setting and not the diagnostic lab setting. She has had a goal of working in Neuro Research since the very unexpected passing of her 8-year-old niece from a neuro condition. She has been able to fulfill that goal by taking the position of Researcher III for Dr. Comba’s lab in the Neuropathology Division of the Pathology Department at UAB. She feels like she has come home since she has received both degrees from UAB and now she is working for UAB. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and family as well as her four pets (2 dogs and 2 cats). She loves to cook all different cuisines and loves to read. She also enjoys teaching and has been tutoring people in varying subjects at various education levels since she was in high school.

Simrit Shawla – Undergraduate Volunteer

Simrit Shawla is a senior undergraduate student at UAB. She is majoring in Cancer Biology with a minor in Healthcare Management. She is certified by the Alabama Board of Pharmacy and got her certification as an NCCT Phlebotomist Technician as well. Her plans after receiving her bachelor’s degree are to get a Master in Business Administration in Healthcare Management at UAB and to continue to do research. She started a campaign to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and the prevalent cause of the disease which is stress. There were many fundraisers and community events to allow people to spread the message to the surrounding communities. The community awareness goal was met, and the campaign is still effective today! Simrit is also fluent in 3 languages: Hindi, Punjabi and English. She is originally from Suwanee, GA, and has one brother. When she goes home to visit her family, she loves to take her dog named Fifa out on walks to the park and sometimes on hikes. In her free time, she enjoys reading and journaling about her day.  She is involved in Birmingham’s Blazin Bhangra which is a hip-hop Indian dance form where they perform in various competitions across the nation. She is currently captain and has been working endless hours alongside her co-captain to create unique choreography to present at many competitions around the United States. She is also involved in other UAB cultural organizations like the South Asian Organization and the Indian cultural association. She truly enjoys getting to learn about her culture and hosts various events for the different festivals that are in her culture.