• Lab party at the Zempleni residence
    Lab party at the Zempleni residence, summer 2019.
  • Lab members in the facility
    Lab members in the obesity prevention center’s research core facility.
  • Potluck at the Zempleni residence
    Potluck at the Zempleni residence.
  • Alice, Sonal, and Fang at the fellowship ceremony
    Alice, Sonal, and Fang at the fellowship ceremony hosted by UNL’s Agricultural and Research Division.
  • Holiday Party 2017
    Holiday Party 2017
  • Holiday Party 2019
    Holiday Party 2019
  • Members of the Zempleni la

    Members of the Zempleni lab and families in 2009.

  • Announcing the NIH grant award

    Announcing the NIH grant award for the Nebraska Center for Obesity Prevention!



Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Leverton Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0806, USA

(402) 472-3270


Our laboratory is interested in natural nanoparticles (“exosomes”, diameter ~100 nanometers) that play an important role in cell-to-cell communication and the regulation of metabolism. Communication is achieved by the exosome-dependent transfer of regulatory molecules such as microRNAs from one cell to another. For example, exosomes may travel from the adipose tissues to the liver and regulate genes therein. Traditionally, exosomes and their microRNA cargos were believed to originate exclusively in endogenous synthesis.

ECT mouse

We have pioneered a line of discovery in exosome research by demonstrating that exosomes and microRNAs do not originate exclusively in endogenous synthesis but may also be absorbed from milk. Current focus areas in our laboratory focus on the role of exosomes in human milk in the neurological development in infants, interactions between milk exosomes and the gut microbiome and the use of milk exosomes in the delivery of drugs to brain tumors.


Lab Members


Janos Zempeni, Willa Cather Professor of Molecular Nutrition
Director of the Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases through Dietary Molecules

Janos Zempleni earned a Ph.D. in nutrition sciences from the Justus-Liebig University in Germany and received postdoctoral training in pediatric nutrition (University of Innsbruck Medical Center, Dr. Burkhard Mangold), nutritional biochemistry (Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. Donald B. McCormick) and molecular and cell biology of biotin (Arkansas Children’s Research Institute and Medical Center, Dr. Donald M. Mock). Dr. Zempleni joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2001 where he rose through the ranks and now is a Willa Cather Professor of Molecular Nutrition and founding director of the NIH-funded Nebraska Center for the Prevention of Obesity Diseases through Dietary Molecules.


Peerzada Mumtaz, Postdoctoral Associate
Tajamul (Taj) earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Jaipur National University, India. Taj studies the bioavailability of bacterial extracellular vesicles in mice, and factors conducive to the selection of genetic variants in gut bacteria.

He joined our group in April 2021.

Javaria Munir, Postdoctoral Associate  

Javaria earned a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from Soonchunhyang University in South Korea. She studies the delivery of therapeutic RNA to brain tumors by bovine milk exosomes, and the roles of maternal exosomes and microRNA biogenesis on postnatal growth and development in mice.

Qamar Taban, Postdoctoral Associate  

Qamar earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from University of Kashmir, India. She was a CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) Fellow from 2016-2021. Qamar studies the pharmacokinetics of milk EVs in human and animal models and effects of milk EVs on purine metabolism.
She joined our group in May 2023. 

Pijush Kumar Paul, Postdoctoral Associate  

Pijush received his Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Prince of Songkla University, Thailand. He has more than 8 years of pre- and postgraduate experience in nanomedicine. He joined our group in June 2024 and is spearheading projects that focus on the treatment of Prader-Willi syndrome.

Anh Pham, Laboratory Manager  

Anh Pham, currently enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is working towards a bachelor's degree in actuarial science. Concurrently, he serves as a part-time lab manager, overseeing lab maintenance and ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local regulations.

Alice Ngu, PhD Student 
Alice earned a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics in the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She utilizes genetics protocols to engineer cells that secrete milk exosomes with enhanced delivery of RNA therapeutics to brain tumors.

Alice received the John and Louise Skala Fellowship by the Agricultural Research Division, University of Nebraska-Lincoln ($5,000) in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Leila Setayesh, PhD Student  
Leila earned a M.S. in Nutrition Science from the Tehran University of Medical Science, Iran. She investigates the effects of storage on human milk exosomes and their miRNA cargo. She also studies the effects of human milk and formula on bacterial communities in fecal cultures from infants.
Barbie Zaman Wahid, PhD Student  
Barbie earned a BSc in Microbiology from the University of Guelph, Canada. She investigates the selection of bacterial communities and genetic variants by milk exosomes in adults. She also plans to use exosomes to deliver CRISPR/Cas9 for therapeutic genome editing in the future.
Michael Bailey, Undergraduate Student  

Michael is currently enrolled in B.S (Nutrition Science) at UNL with a minor in Biomedical Sciences. He is investigating dynamics of exosome secretion and uptake to enhance their therapeutic efficacy.

Former Lab Members (Postdoctoral Fellows)

  • Rocio Rodriguez-Melendez (3/1/2002 – 2/28/2005 & 2/1/2007 – 8/31/2010)
  • Anna M. Oommen (1/15/2004 – 6/30/2005)
  • Subhashinee “Samudra” K. Wijeratne (5/8/2006 – 3/2013)
  • Gabriela Camporeale (6/1/2006 – 10/15/2006)
  • Baolong Bao (9/10/2007 – 9/30/2009)
  • Toshinobu Kuroishi (10/1/2008 – 04/01/2011)
  • Mahendra P. Singh (6/1/2010 – 5/31/2012)
  • Sridhar Malkaram (6/28/2010 – 7/14/2012)
  • Yong Li (7/1/2010 – 8/30/2012)
  • Zhongji Han (10/1/2011 – 9/30/2013)
  • Wenlei Zhuo (2/1/2012 – 4/30/2012)
  • Sonia Manca (7/8/2015 – 12/31/2017)
  • Deborah Fratantonio (8/3/2016 – 7/31/2018)
  • Bijaya Upadhyaya (8/22/2016 – 7/15/2019)
  • Wei “Vivien” Zhao (4/16/2018 – 7/31/2020)
  • Haichuan “John“ Wang (4/15/2020 – 3/31/2023)
  • Shu Wang (7/1/2019 – 6/30/2023)
  • Nipun Varukattu Babu (5/9/2022 – 7/1/2023)

Former Lab Members (Doctoral Students)

Nagarama Kothapalli (3/2003 - 5/2006)
PhD: "Roles of histone biotinylation in the cellular response to DNA breaks"

Current position: Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma

Gabriela Camporeale (8/2003 - 5/2006)
PhD: "Identification of amino acid residues in human histones that are targets for biotinylation by holocarboxylase synthetase and biotinidase"

Current position: Research Scientist at CONICET in Argentina 

Yap Ching Chew (5/2005 - 8/2008) 
PhD: "Repression of long terminal repeats by histone biotinylation"

Current position: Director of Epigenetics Technologies at Zymo Research, Inc. in Irvine, CA.

Yousef Hassan (7/2005 - 8/2009)
PhD: "Identification of proteins interacting with holocarboxylase synthetase in human cells"

Current position: Staff Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Department: Guelph Food Research Centre

Jing Xue

Jing Xue (8/16/09 – 8/15/2013)
PhD: "Epigenetic synergies among holocarboxylase synthetase, biotin, and methyl donors"

Current position: Data Scientist with Goodyear in Akron, OH

Dandan Liu (8/16/10 – 5/7/2014)
PhD: "From histone modifications to gene repression – epigenetic regulation by holocarboxylase synthetase-containing repression complex and FAD-dependent lysine-specific demethylase"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.

Daniel Camara Teixeira (8/16/10 - 12/23/2014)
PhD: "Developing novel research tools for biotin research"

Current position: Professor of Practice in Nutrition and Metabolism in the Health Sciences Center, University of Fortaleza, Brazil

Scott Baier (1/1/11 - 5/15/2015)
PhD: "Bioactivity of cow’s milk microRNA in humans"

Current position: Senior Director, Medical Strategy at Vaniam Group, Dallas, Texas

Elizabeth Cordonier (1/1/11 - 8/15/2015)
PhD: "Bioactive compounds in grape products"

Current position: Anatomy and Physiology Instructor in the community college system in Houston, TX


Ezra Mutai (1/1/15- 8/30/19)
PhD: "Bioavailability and biological effects of cow’s milk microRNAs in mammals"

Current position: Postdoctoral Teaching & Research Fellow in Nutrition and Biology in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University
Starting Fall 2021: tenure-track Assistant Professor of Food & Nutrition at Purdue University Northwest 


Mahrou Sadri (1/1/15 - 8/15/20)
PhD: "The intestinal processing of dietary exosomes and phenotypes of exosome depletion"

Current position: Senior Scientist, Capricor Therapeutics, Inc.


Fang Zhou (8/15/15 - 12/18/2020)
PhD: "Milk exosomes and microRNAs alter the gut microbiota and affect gut health and spatial learning in mice"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology (Ryan Flynn laboratory)


Sonal Sukreet (1/1/15 - 5/31/2021)
PhD: "Technologies to purify exosomes form bovine milk and alteration of milk exosome bioavailability in humans and rodents

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California-San Diego, Department of Neurosciences (Roberrt Rissmann laboratory) 


Di Wu (8/15/15 - 5/8/2021)
PhD: "Function and metabolism of mRNA and microRNA cargos in bovine milk exosomes in non-bovine mammals"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Department of Medicine-Oncology (William Y. Kim laboratory)  


Afsana Khanam (08/15/2017 - 8/14/2022)
PhD: "Transport mechanism and intracellular fate of bovine milk exosomes in murine macrophages"

Current position: Postdoctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University, Department of Neurology (Norman Haughey laboratory)


Former Lab Members (Master Students)

Rachel Daberkow (2001 – 2003) - Rachel Daberkow is currently employed with a health center for patients with eating disorders in Arizona.
Gabriela Camporeale (2001 – 2003) - After completing her Master’s thesis, Gabriela Camporeale continued her studies in my laboratory and received a Ph.D. degree (see above).
Sarah Scheerger (2001 – 2003) - Sarah Scheerger is currently enrolled  in the OD program.
Alice Kueh (2004 - 2005) - Alice Kueh is currently a Research Associate with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Yap Ching Chew (2004 - 2005) - After completing her Master’s thesis, Yap Ching Chew continued her studies in my laboratory and received a Ph.D. degree (see above).
Karoline Manthey (now Baldus) (2003 – 2005) - After completing her PhD at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, she is now a Lecturer at Coastal Carolina University. 
Keyna Kobza (6/05 – 5/07) - Keyna practices medicine in the Seattle, WA area.
Erin Smith (6/05 – 5/07) - Erin is currently the Supervisor of the Food Analysis Laboratory at Midwest Labs (Omaha, NE).
Valerie Pestinger (now Somani) (01/08 – 12/09) - Valerie obtained her PhD degree in Nottingham (UK). After working as a Biomarker Validation Scientist at the University of Birmingham (UK), she is now a Scientist at Bioglobe in Hamburg. 
Gaganpreet Kaur Mall (01/08 – 12/09) - unknown
Luisa Rios Avila (8/1/08 – 8/13/10) - Luisa is Staff Scientist in the Office of Dietary Supplements (NIH).
Dipika Singh (1/5/09 – 12/23/10) Dr. Angela Pannier (co-adviser) - Dipika for her M.S. studies. Dipika is employed as a Technician at the University of Nebraska for Medical Sciences.
Shingo Esaki (8/16/09 – 8/15/11) - unknown.
Wei Kay Eng (8/16/10 – 8/15/12) - Wei Kay is working as a Dietitian in the Kearney area, NE.
Jie Zhou (8/16/11 – 12/20/2013) - Jie enrolled in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Human Nutrition and Food Science at The University of Florida-Gainesville.
Rio Jati Kusuma (8/16/13 – 8/15/2015) - Rio accepted a position as a Lecturer at Yogyakarta University in Indonesia.
Katherine Howard (8/16/13 – 5/15/2015) - Kat has accepted a position as Dietitian at the Yankton State Hospital, Human Services Center in Yankton, South Dakota.

Tovah Wolf (1/3/14 – 8/15/2015) - Tovah is now an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University, Department of Health Sciences.
Ana Aguilar Lozano (8/15/15 – 12/15/2018) - Ana is a Research Scientist with Pfizer, Inc. in Mexico City.
Amy Leiferman (8/15/16 – 4/30/18) - Amy is now an Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Bryan College of Health Sciences, University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Pearl Ebea (8/15/17 – 8/13/2019) - Pearl entered the Ph.D. program in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida-Gainesville

Mojisola Ogunnaike (8/15/2019 – 8/2021) - Moji is now at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha (working on exosomes)



Amy Leiferman

Visiting Faculty

Jeff Schwehm, PhD (6/1/03 - 8/31/03) - Concordia University, Seward, NE
Petra Rust, PhD (9/20/07 – 11/19/07) - University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
Patricia Huebbe (6/19/2013 - 7/30/2013) - University of Kiel, Germany
Lanfang Wang (9/2016 – 8/1/2017) - Institute of Nutrition and Healthy Food, Department of Preventive Medicine, Tongji University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
Daniel Teixeira Camara (06/23/2018 - 08/03/2018) - University of Fortalzea, Brazil
Ting Chen (11/15/2021 - 11/15/2022) - South China Agricultural University, Guangzhou, China


Langfang Wang


In the News In the News

"Insights into Milk Exosomes in Nutrition and Drug Delivery" interview for Extracellular Vesicles and Circulating Nucleic Acids (August 2022)

USDA National Dairy Month Profile: Dr. Janos Zempleni (June 2022)

Milk Findings May Help Infants Worldwide (June 2020)

Nebraska research aims to boost milk as infection fighter (April 2020)

Smart cookies: Media day puts food-related experts at forefront (January 2020)

Center earns $11 million to continue obesity-prevention research (October 2019)

Publications Selected Publications


Mutai E, Ramer-Tait AE, Zempleni J. MicroRNAs in bovine milk exosomes are bioavailable in humans but do not elicit a robust pro-inflammatory cytokine response. BMC exRNA 2:2, 2020; DOI: 10.1186/s41544-019-0041-x


Zhou F, Paz HA, Shu J, Sadri M, Cui J, Fernando SC, Zempleni J. Dietary bovine milk exosomes elicit changes in bacterial communities in C57BL/6 mice. Am J. Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol 317:G618-G624, 2019; DOI: 10.1152/ajpgi.00160.2019

Leiferman A, Shu J, Upadhyaya B, Cui J, Zempleni J. Storage of extracellular vesicles in human milk, and microRNA profiles in human milk exosomes and infant formulas. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 69:235-238, 2019; DOI: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000002363

Zempleni J, Sukreet S, Zhou F, Wu D, Mutai E. Milk-derived exosomes and metabolic regulation. Ann Rev Anim Biosci 7:245-262, 2019; DOI: 10.1146/annurev-animal-020518-115300


Manca S, Upadhyaya B, Mutai E, Desaulniers AT, Cederberg RA, White BR, Zempleni J. Milk exosomes are bioavailable and distinct microRNA cargos have unique distribution patterns. Sci Rep 8:11321, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-29780-1

Aguilar-Lozano A, Baier SR, Grove R, Shu J, Giraud D, Mercer KE, Cui J, Badger TM, Adamec J, Andres A, Zempleni J. Concentrations of purine metabolites are elevated in fluids from adults and infants and in livers from mice fed diets depleted of bovine milk exosomes and their RNA cargos. J Nutr 148:1886-1894, 2018 [Editor’s Choice]; DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxy223


Wolf T, Baier SR, Zempleni J. The intestinal transport of bovine milk exosomes is mediated by endocytosis in human colon carcinoma Caco-2 cells and rat small intestinal IEC-6 cells. J Nutr 145:2201-2206, 2015 [Teresa A. Davis, Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Nutrition, has selected this article as the Editor’s Pick for Volume 145 Issue 10 of the journal. The article was featured on the journal website at http://jn.nutrition.org, and in the member newsletter.; DOI: 10.3945/jn.115.218586


Baier SR, Nguyen C, Xie F, Wood JR, Zempleni J. MicroRNAs are absorbed in biologically meaningful amounts from nutritionally relevant doses of cow’s milk and affect gene expression in peripheral blood mononuclear cells, HEK-293 kidney cell cultures, and mouse livers. J Nutr 144:1495-1500, 2014; DOI: 10.3945/jn.114.196436