Meet the Rare Calvin team and hear more from some students who have been involved in rare disease research at Calvin University.

Current lab members


Carly Byrnes

Carly Byrnes

Summer 2019 – present

Carly is a rising sophomore, continuing to study biology with hopes of becoming a forensic scientist. This is her first year doing summer research, and she’s especially excited to be investigating rare diseases using a yeast model system. During this summer, Carly will be conducting various yeast mating assays to create a diploid model system for BCS1L-related rare diseases. Carly is excited to work with rare diseases because they’re fascinating to research, particularly because of the breadth of different rare diseases. Learning about rare diseases is also a great way to connect with people in the rare disease community and offer love and support.


Ryan German

Ryan German

Summer 2018 – present

Ryan is moving into his junior year at Calvin University studying biology with an interest in genetics and genetic counseling. This summer Ryan will be focusing on designing a CRISPR/Cas-9 system to generate precise knock in’s that will allow the Rare Disease Research Group to further study the development of mitochondrial rare disease related to BCS1L using zebrafish as a model organism.

Ryan studies rare disease because patients and families who are affected by rare genetic conditions often have very little information about the syndrome that they are diagnosed with due to lack of research. Ryan wants to be a part of the solution to make information more available for patients and families who want to further understand their condition and its implications for their life.


Elle Hazlett

Elle Hazlett

Summer 2019 – present

Elle is a rising junior this year at Calvin University, majoring in Film and Media Production. During her research, she will be developing a curriculum to teach children in grades K-5 about rare diseases, as well as developing patient stories and resources for Calvin’s rare disease website.

When asked why she wanted to study rare disease, Elle said, “I myself have several rare diseases and I know firsthand just how important rare disease research is. As a patient, I have done countless hours of my own research into my diseases, trying to understand and quantify what the vast majority of doctors have never even heard of. Although I love scientific research, I have discovered that my real passion lies in advocacy. When you have a rare disease, you have to be an advocate for yourself in order to survive in a world that you often don’t fit in to. Unfortunately, many people with rare diseases do not have a platform or are unable to have a voice to advocate for themselves. In such cases, gaps arise in understanding and empathy between the person affected by rare disease and those surrounding them—doctors, families, friends, and so on. I would like to be a part of helping to bridge that gap by using my own voice and experiences to help those like me.”


Isabel Johnson

Isabel Johnson

Summer 2019 – present

Isabel will be a Junior next year and this is her first summer in the Rare Disease Lab. She is a Biochemistry and Neuropsychology major and intends to pursue a career doing research in the field of Neuroscience. Her project this summer focuses on the mutations for one of the three rare diseases the lab studies, Björnstad Syndrome, investigating how these mutations affect the regulation of mitochondrial networks in yeast models. Rare Disease research fascinates Isabel because studying the impact of a loss of function can enable us to learn details about how a healthy cell functions that we would have trouble isolating otherwise. Additionally, the things we learn in our lab doing Rare Disease research can further drug development for patients living with these diseases, resulting in better quality of life and more information about these diseases becoming available.


Sara Knapp

Sara Knapp

Summer 2019 – present

Sara will be a senior at Calvin University in the fall, majoring in chemistry and minoring in French. This summer she will be studying new potential antibiotics created by the Barbachyn lab. These antibiotics will be tested for their abilities to inhibit bacterial growth, using both in vivo and in vitro models. Sara has always had an interest in biology and the pharmaceutical business, and desires to be part of the solution to the major growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


Luke Schellenberg

Luke Schellenberg

Summer 2019 – present

Luke is moving into his sophomore year at Calvin University studying biology with a premedical track. This summer, Luke will be focusing on designing behavioral assays that will test zebrafish for the symptoms of rare diseases allowing the Rare Disease Research Group to further study the development of rare mitochondrial diseases. When asked why he wanted to study rare disease, Luke said, “Disease Research has made a profound impact on my life. It helped save my mom’s life and keep our family functioning. I would love to give back in the same way and make that kind of difference in someone's life."


Past Team Members

  • Shannon Stewart
    • Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Summer 2018
  • Kalina Reese
    • Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Summer 2017 – Summer 2018
  • Regan Bond
    • Website Development
    • Spring 2018
  • Leah Baas
    • Launched Yeast Mitochondrial Model System
    • Spring 2017
    • Currently a research fellow at Imagenetics