Lab Members


Tao Lab - 2018


Jianning Tao, PhD

Dr. Tao received his doctor of philosophy degree in biochemistry/developmental biology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, TN, where he performed his dissertation work in the laboratory of Dr. John Cunningham at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Subsequently, Dr. Tao performed postgraduate work in the laboratory of Dr. Brendan Lee and Dr. Dennis Roop at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, in the departments of Molecular and Human Genetics and Molecular and Cell Biology, first as a postdoctoral fellow and then as an assistant professor. Currently he is a principal investigator and primary faculty member in Cancer Biology & Immunotherapies group at Sanford Research and an assistant professor at the Department of Pediatrics of the University of South Dakota School of Medicine.


Fang Fang, PhD

Dr. Fang received her doctor of philosophy degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2010. Before joining the Tao Lab at Sanford Research, she worked with Dr. Fei Liu at School of Dentistry, University of Michigan to study the roles of autophagy as well as mTOR signaling in physiological and pathological bone development. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow in the Tao Lab at Sanford Cancer Biology & Immunotherapies Group and her focus is to study the genetic pathways that affect skeletal development and diseases.


Ashley VanCleave

Ashley received her Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, IA. During her undergraduate career, Ashley worked on a project looking at IDO expression in macrophages treated with prairie turnip extracts. As a laboratory technician in the Tao Lab, she works on a variety of projects, including assisting in the characterization of mouse models of human osteosarcoma and human osteosarcoma cells.


Haydee Torres - Graduate Student

Haydee graduated from Villanova University with a B.A. in Psychology, and received a B.S. in Biology from St. Thomas University in Miami, FL. She is a Ph.D. candidate in the Biochemistry program at South Dakota State University working on her dissertation in the Tao laboratory. Haydee uses both in vitro biochemical and cellular, and in vivo genetically-engineered mouse models to study molecular mechanisms underlying osteosarcoma development. Cross-species molecular analysis demonstrates that the mouse osteosarcoma tumors closely resemble their human counterparts, validating the animal models as an accurate representation of human disease. Currently, she focuses on elucidating novel Notch interacting partners that are critical for the formation of Notch 1 nuclear complexes, and will examine the roles of these effectors in osteosarcoma initiation, progression and metastasis in a mouse model of human disease.


Mykayla Palmer – Undergraduate researcher

Mykayla is an undergraduate student at the University of South Dakota working toward a BS in Medical Biology with emphasis in Chemistry and Psychology. After graduation, she plans to attend medical school. Mykayla joined the Tao lab in summer 2018 as a SPUR scholar student, and is currently working part-time in the lab to investigate the properties of human and mouse Osteosarcoma Cancer Stem Cells and the effects of therapeutic drugs (e.g. mTORC1 inhibition by Rapamycin).

Lab Alumni

Ralph Helmuth – 2017 SPUR scholar student; Current: Undergraduate at Dakota Wesleyan University

Kirby Rickel – Associate in the Tao Lab from 2015-2017. Current: Graduate student at University of South Dakota

Baylee Slevira – 2017 SPUR Scholar from Beloit College. Current: Undergraduate at Beloit College

Eric Fogarty - 2016-2017 PhD Rotation Graduate Student from basic biological sciences program at University of South Dakota; Current: Graduate student at University of South Dakota

Paige Bosshardt- 2016 Sanford Program for Undergraduate Research; Current: Undergraduate at University of Northwestern St. Paul

Kaitlyn Dorn- 2016 BRIN Summer Scholar from Augustana University. Current: Medical student at University of South Dakota

Shimara Gunawardana- 2015-2016 PhD rotation student from biochemistry program at South Dakota State University; Current: Graduate Student at South Dakota State University

Tao Lab - 2017

Tao Lab - 2016

Tao Lab

Tao Lab - 2015