Dr. Jonathan Sexton, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy, Medicinal Chemistry

Faculty Lead, Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research, MICHR, Drug Repurposing


Jonny Sexton has expertise in translational medicine, drug discovery and development with a specific focus on chronic liver diseases including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). He is also trained in quantitative biology, high-throughput screening, medicinal chemistry, big data mining and multivariate statistical analysis and animal models of diseases relating to diabetes and obesity. Jonny also engages in entrepreneurial activities and is the founder of Curl Bio LLC , a startup designed to perform drug development for NAFLD and NASH.

Jonny is the faculty lead of the center for drug repurposing at Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research (MICHR) and possesses a bioactive drug library of approximately 6,000 compounds. This center takes on a collaborative approach in drug repurposing and the service is available to all labs in the University of Michigan.

The Sexton lab has strong extramural funding in the form of continuous NIH funding in the areas of human metabolism, diabetes, metabolic syndrome & animal models of human diseases including an active R01 and a previous R01 from NIDDK.


Laboratory Staff:

Tracey Schultz

Laboratory Manager


Mother Tracey is a loving, funny and wise woman that splits her life between Ann Arbor (as a Research Assistant Tech Lead) and Detroit (as a new millenium hippie). Tracey refused to accept the term “Grandma” when her grown daughters began their families and so, the name Mother Tracey was born. Tracey has become an integral component of Michigan Medicine with 15 years of employment in the department and over 20 years of experience working with viruses, bacteria, parasites, and now drug repurposing in mouse models. Tracey holds a Bachelors of Science in Cytogenetics from Eastern Michigan University and a Bachelors of Science in Forensic Investigation from Wayne State University.


Jesse Wotring, PhD


Dr. Jesse Wotring grew up in Clinton, Michigan and graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Professional Biochemistry. At Eastern, Jesse trained under Dr. Ingo Janser where he studied chalcones and their potential as antitumor agents. Jesse also worked at Cayman Che

mical Company in the forensic chemistry department doing organic synthesis of fentanyl analogs. In the Sexton lab, Jesse focuses on high-content imaging based drug repurposing for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and SARS-CoV-2. Outside of the lab, Jesse enjoys the Detroit Pistons and dank food.


Graduate Students:

Sophia Meyer

PhD Student, Medicinal Chemistry


Sophia comes to us from Purdue University where she graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Science. Throughout her time at Purdue, Sophia trained under Dr. Zhong-Yin Zhang where she gained experience in chemical synthesis and pharmacological evaluation of novel protein tyrosine phosphatase inhibitors. As she started graduate school during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sophia hopes to settle into life in Ann Arbor as well as better establish her research interests in the Sexton lab. In the meantime, you can find her on her road bike zooming through Ann Arbor or otherwise enjoying the outdoors.


Khadija Shafiq

PhD Student, Medicinal Chemistry


Khadija Shafiq is a Southern California native who graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology and a minor in Chemistry. As an undergraduate, she investigated the efficacy of HSV vaccines in Dr. Jill Adler-Moore’s immunology laboratory. Khadija also worked with Dr. Tim Cernak at University of Michigan to develop alternative synthetic methods from the coupling of primary amines and carboxylic acids. She is now co-mentored between Jonny and Roland Kersten (natural products) as she focuses on the biosynthetic exploration of plant RiPP natural products from BURP domain cyclases, and high content screening of such plant natural products. Khadija loves being in nature and having food adventures when not in the lab.


Sean McCarty

PhD Candidate, Medicinal Chemistry


Sean McCarty grew up in Columbia, IL, a small suburb of St. Louis. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology. During his time at UIUC, Sean studied under Prof. Scott E. Denmark and focused on generating new chemical techniques for synthesizing silicon heterocycles. His current research includes performing medicinal chemistry on drug-like molecules that target diabetes and developing methods for applying AI in pathology.





Charles Jian Zhang

PhD Candidate, Medicinal Chemistry


Charles is the lab’s sneaker and fashion connoisseur from Los Angeles and received his Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology with a minor in Chemistry from Cal Poly Pomona. Charles also holds a Master of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Western University of Health Sciences. Charles now studies iPSC-derived liver systems with emphasis on liver inflammation and drug-induced liver injury and designs novel imaging techniques on the side. As an undergraduate, Charles worked with his university’s Disability Resource Center and gained particular interest in supporting students with learning disabilities and hopes to put in place more encompassing support for all disadvantaged students. He believes current teaching methods are excruciatingly limited in student outreach and are unsuitable for a large subset of students.



Samuel K Handelman, PhD

Assistant Research Professor, Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Director – Clinical Informatics, Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research, MICHR, Drug



Samuel Handelman is an interdisciplinary biologist and data scientist who applies multi-omics approaches and biochemical models to drive precision/personalized-therapy and to discover novel drug targets and indications. Dr. Handelman directly translates these molecular, mechanistic and population-genetic models into testable hypotheses in the Michigan Electronic Health Record. Real understanding of the molecular basis of human pathophysiology goes all the way to the clinic. Therefore, anything less than clinical translation indicates a failure of biological understanding.


Reid Fursmidt

Laboratory Technician


Reid Fursmidt is from West Bloomfield, MI and was the resident lab technician here in the Sexton Lab from 2018 to 2020. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2017 with a degree in Cellular and Developmental Neuroscience. He then went on to receive his masters here at the University of Michigan studying Molecular and Integrative Physiology. During his time at our lab, his focuses were on machine learning and the use of artificial intelligence in high-content screening applied to treating NAFLD, diverticulitis, and IBD. Reid is now pursuing his career as an MD.



Anya Amin

Undergraduate Researcher


Anya Amin is from Walled Lake, Michigan and earned her business degree at the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan. Anya is currently pursuing a medical degree at University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences.


Namrata Kadambi

Undergraduate Researcher


Namrata Kadambi (Nami) is earned her bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience at University of Michigan. She joined the Sexton Lab in the fall of 2019 and is currently pursuing a medical degree at Northwestern University. In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading, playing tennis, and eating ice cream.




Ilya Kovalenko, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow


Carla D Pretto-Kernahan, CNA

Research Lab Specialist Intermediate, Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology


Carla focuses on assay development for drug repurposing and discovery with over 20 years of experience in academia and industry. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Genetics and is currently pursuing an Associate Degree in Nursing. Her personal interest lies in targeting mental health disorder, is an active advocate for mental wellness and is Co-Chair of the Washtenaw County Health Department Steering Committee; a member of the Livingston and Washtenaw Counties Transgender Task Force, the Dexter School District Reproductive Health Advisory Committee, and the Association for Children’s Mental Health; a mentor for the WCC STEM Scholar Program; and a participant in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the University of Michigan. Carla loves the outdoors and has discovered a passion for rock and ice climbing and an appreciation of the camaraderie, determination, and resiliency of these athletes. She enjoys spending time with her family and feels fortunate to be able to experience climbing together with them.