Joseph Cheer, Ph.D., Principal Investigator |  Email

Joe’s jfcmain 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 receivedhis 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 associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where he directs graduate and undergraduate 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 bernese mountain dog.

Iness Gildish, M.S., Laboratory Manager | Email


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.

Jennifer Wenzel, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow | Email


Jen is interested in the neurochemical systems underlying positive and negative reinforcement, addiction processes, and goal-directed behavior.

In 2005, Jen completed her B.S. in Psychology at Arizona State University, where her interest in behavioral neuroscience developed while working as a research assistant in Dr. Janet Neisewander’s Laboratory. In the Neisewander Lab, Jen worked on a series of projects investigating the involvement of different dopamine receptor subtypes of the central nucleus of the amygdala in drug- and cue-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking behavior.

Following her undergraduate studies, Jen went on to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience and Behavior in Dr. Aaron Ettenberg’s Behavioral Pharmacology Lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At UCSB, her graduate work focused on the neurobiology underlying the opponent processes of self-administered cocaine. More specifically, she found that norepinephrine signaling in regions of the extended amygdala (i.e. the central nucleus of the amygdala and the bed nucleus of the stria teriminalis) is integral to the experience of the negative/anxiogenic, but not the positive/euphoric, effects of acute cocaine.

In the summer of 2013, Jen joined the lab of Dr. Joe Cheer at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as a postdoctoral fellow. Her current research explores the role of dopamine and endocannabinoids in avoidance behavior. Here at UMB, she will expand her technical training by studying dopamine signaling using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry and gain experience performing optogenetic investigations.

Dan Covey, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow | Email


In 2007, Dan completed his B.S. in Psychology at Illinois State University. Following his undergraduate studies, Dan completed an M.S. in Biology in Dr.Paul Garris’ lab at Illinois State University in 2010. His M.S. research demonstrated that electrical stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) elicits dopamine signaling in the rat striatum as measured by fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV). This work offers potential insight into the therapeutic effects of STN deep brain stimulation (DBS) for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease – a disorder arising from denervation of dopamine input to the striatum.

Dan continued his graduate studies under Dr. Paul Garris at Illinois State University and completed his PhD in Biology in 2013. His doctoral research activities focused on investigating the neural mechanisms by which amphetamine elevates dopamine signaling in discrete brain regions of the live rat. This work implemented real-time measurements of dopamine signaling with FSCV to demonstrate novel actions of amphetamine on vesicular dopamine stores in the dorsal versus ventral (i.e., nucleus accumbens) striatum. Dan also demonstrated in the anesthetized and freely-moving rat that the classic mechanism whereby amphetamine disrupts normal patterns of dopamine signaling and increases extracellular dopamine via an action potential-independent mechanism does not manifest in vivo. Rather, amphetamine acts similar to other abused drugs (e.g., cocaine, nicotine, and ethanol) in that a drug-induced increase in dopamine cell firing is required for amphetamine to elevate extracellular dopamine levels.

In the Winter of 2014, Dan joined the lab of Dr. Joe Cheer at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as a postdoctoral fellow. Here at UMB, he will expand his technical training by implementing optogenetic, transgenic and neural circuit mapping approaches to explore the role of dopamine and endocannabinoids in the temporal control of goal-directed behavior.

Natalie Zlebnik, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow | Email


Natalie graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in physiology and a BS in neuroscience in 2008. Following her undergraduate studies, she completed her PhD in neuroscience in the behavioral pharmacology laboratory of Marilyn Carroll, PhD, at University of Minnesota in 2014. Her research in the Carroll Lab investigated vulnerabilities and treatments for drug addiction using rodent self-administration models, and her doctoral thesis examined the effects of wheel running on cocaine relapse-related behavior and its neurobiological substrates. Natalie joined the Cheer Lab as a postdoctoral fellow in the summer of 2014.

At Cheer Lab, she is expanding her technical training to examine the endocannabinoid modulation of dopamine transmission during motivated behaviors using electrophysiological and optogenetic approaches.

Edith Hernandez, B.S., STAR-PREP Research Fellow | Email

Edith graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in 2017 with a B.S. in Psychology, a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a biomedical concentration, and a minor in Chemistry.

Edith worked with Dr. Ted Cooper at UTEP for 3 years, helping with StopLite, a smoking cessation program for light and intermittent smokers and assisting the A Smoke-Free Paso del Norte Initiative within El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. She then joined Dr. Eddie Castañeda and Dr. Katie Serafine’s labs where she became familiar with pharmacology and behavioral neuroscience in a series of projects focusing on Parkinson’s Disease, amphetamine sensitization, and the impact of diet on drug response.

Edith is now a Research Fellow with the STAR-PREP program at UMB, where she will expand her technical training in preparation for a combined MD/PhD program.

Tori Ayvazian, B.A., Research Technician | Email

Tori graduated from Ithaca College in 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology and minor in Neuroscience.



Brian Carson, B.S., Research Technician | Email

Brian graduated from Temple University in 2017 with a B.S. in Bioengineering and a specialization in Bioimaging.



Kimberly Fitzgerald, B.A., Research Technician | Email

Kim graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2015 with a B.A. in Biology and minor in Neuroscience.



Andrew Kim, B.S., Research Technician | Email

Andrew graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 2012 with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering.



Interested in joining the lab? Contact us about potential openings.