Current D-SPAN Awardees

Cohorts: 2018 | 2017

2018 D-SPAN Scholars


Ismail Ahmed Headshot

Ismail Ahmed
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 phase: University of Pennsylvania | Sponsor: Feng Gai, Co-Sponsor: Virginia Lee

Ismail Ahmed did his undergraduate studies at The City College of New York where he studied Biochemistry and carried out research in protein design as an NIH MARC scholar. After graduation, Ismail spent a gap year before graduate school as an NIH PREP scholar in structural biology and biochemistry research at Case Western Reserve University. Ismail is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics. Ismail’s dissertation work focuses on the development and use of unnatural amino acids as spectroscopic probes for biological spectroscopy and microscopy. Recently, Ismail and his colleagues designed the smallest visibly fluorescent amino acid which was inspired to be a compliment to when fluorescent proteins are too big. Ismail is highly interested in using such spectroscopic probes to understand amyloidogenic proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases both in test tube and in the cellular environment. Given Ismail’s diverse scientific background, he embarks on a career to study the brain using a multidisciplinary approach which lies at the interfaces of structural biology, chemistry and molecular biology.


Yanair Alonso Caraballo

Yanaira Alonso Caraballo
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor | Sponsor: Carrie Ferrario, Co-Sponsor: Jill Beckerc

Yanaira Alonso-Caraballo completed a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences at the University of Puerto Rico at Ponce, where she was part of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. The following year she conducted research in the lab of Dr. Jill Becker through the University of Michigan Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) in Ann Arbor. She is now a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Dr. Carrie Ferrario. Her studies combine behavioral, biochemical, and electrophysiological approaches to understand how ovarian hormones influence motivation and the potential role of diet-induced glutamatergic plasticity in the nucleus accumbens of female rats. Her long-term career goal is to lead a successful research program that tackles fundamental questions about the neurobiology of motivation in females. She is deeply committed to mentorship, and to sustaining and advancing diversity in STEM education. To that end, she is a founding member of the University of Michigan chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the outgoing Vice-President. 


Abraham Beyene Headshot

Abraham Beyene
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California Berkeley | Sponsor: Markita Landry, Co- Sponsor: Linda Wilbrec

Abraham Beyene is a fourth-year graduate student in chemical and biomolecular engineering at University of California, Berkeley. Abraham received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he was a Meyerhoff and MARC scholar. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Abraham worked as a chemical engineer for ExxonMobil before returning to graduate school in 2015. In graduate school, Abraham became interested in developing novel fluorescent tools for applications in neurobiology. His graduate thesis work with Professor Landry is focused on developing a near-infrared fluorescent non-genetically encoded nanosensor for a critical neurotransmitter molecule, dopamine. In addition to new tool development, he is interested in applying the tools he develops to investigate the neurobiology of diseases that involve modulatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.


Jose Cano Headshot

Jose Cano
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Texas El Paso | Sponsor: Karine Fenelon, Co-Sponsor: Michael Kenney

Born and raised in the US-Mexico borderland, Jose C. Cano first attended school in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. He then graduated cum laude with a B.Sc. in Biology from University of Texas at El Paso. During this period, he was trained in transmission electron microscopy techniques. Currently, Jose is a Ph.D. candidate in his fourth year at the Biological Sciences Program with a focus in neuroscience. Under the mentorship of Dr. Karine Fénelon, Jose investigates neural substrates and pathways underlying sensorimotor gating, a pre-attentive processing mechanism, using electrophysiological recordings and optogenetic manipulations in mice. Following his Ph.D., Jose plans to obtain a post-doctoral training position with the ultimate goal of becoming a PI at an academic research institution. His research interest is in further understanding neural substrates and cellular mechanisms dysregulated in neurological disorders affecting the Hispanic population, such as schizophrenia and generalized anxiety disorders. In May 2018, he was awarded an NIH Blueprint Diversity Specialized Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Advancement in Neuroscience (D-SPAN) Award (F99/K00).


Rose Creed Headshot

Rose Creed
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: Matthew Goldberg, Co-Sponsor: Lori McMahon

Rose Creed completed her undergraduate degree at Stetson University where she received a bachelor’s of science in Biology. While there she participated in many research opportunities including an NSF REU fellowship at Duke University with Dr. Warren H. Meck. In pursuit of a doctoral degree, she joined the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the fall of 2014 and started studying genetic models of Parkinson’s disease in the laboratory of Matthew S. Goldberg the following year. After becoming proficient in a myriad of technical approaches, she decided to explore the role of alpha synuclein in PINK1-linked PD pathogenesis. While designing and planning experiments to understand alpha synuclein’s importance in PINK1-linked PD, she decided to assess potential functional changes using striatal electrophysiology under the additional mentorship of Dr. Lori L. McMahon. During the graduate career, Rose has been involved in enhancing the graduate experience of her peers by participating in several committees, such as year-end assessment and neurobiology student seminar selection committees. Additionally, she has an active role in the NINDS R25-funded UAB Roadmap Scholars Program where mentors other Neuroscience graduate students. 


Valerie Estela Headshot

Valerie Estela
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Rebecca Burwell

Valerie Estela got her Bachelor’s of Science in biology from Lehigh University. While there, she worked in the lab of Dr. Murray Itzkowitz studying the influence of female size on male aggression and mate preference in the convict cichlid, Amatitlania nigrofasciata. Following graduation, Valerie worked at WIL Research, a contract research organization, conducting preclinical trials within their Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology department for several years. There she studied the impact of drugs and chemicals on fertility, reproduction, and development, especially neurological development. Valerie is currently a graduate student in Dr. Rebecca Burwell’s lab at Brown University, where she studies learning and memory using in vivo electrophysiology in rats during a spatial memory task, specifically targeting the hippocampal and parahippocampal cortices. Using these techniques, she aims to shed light on how the postrhinal cortex participates in encoding contextual environmental information in conjunction with the hippocampus.


Katherine Eyring Headshot

Katherine Eyring
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: New York University School of Medicine | Sponsor: Richard Tsien

Katie Eyring is a Ph.D. candidate in New York University’s Neuroscience Institute. Her dissertation research is supervised by Dr. Richard Tsien and focuses on the actions of oxytocin, a behaviorally and clinically relevant neuromodulator, in the hippocampus. Katie obtained her B.A in Neuroscience from Wellesley College in 2014. Katie’s first research experience at Wellesley led her to pursue internships at the National Institutes of Health and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, before joining the graduate program at NYU. While Katie’s scientific projects have ranged from the study of consciousness to developing novel therapies for pancreatic cancer, her current interests are in neuromodulation and social behavior.


Serena Kaye Kinley-Cooper Headshot

Serena-Kaye Kinely-Cooper
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Medical University of South Carolina | Sponsor: DeAnna Adkins

Serena-Kaye Kinley-Cooper is a graduate student at the Medical University of South Carolina and a graduate of the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. Serena-Kaye’s doctoral research with Dr. DeAnna Adkins focuses on filling the gap in the current understanding of how brain stimulation can enhance recovery from stroke. This has involved conducting studies that investigate how and when brain stimulation interacts with brain injury and how we can use this understanding to optimize stimulation to enhance functional recovery. Her current research interests focus on answering long-standing questions involving the activated pathways after brain stimulation that produce the improvements seen with concurrent stimulation and rehabilitation.


Tony Larkin Headshot

Tony Larkin
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor | Sponsor: Daniel Clauw, Co-Sponsors: Richard Harris and George Mashour

Tony Larkin is a doctoral candidate in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Michigan. He received a B.S. in Biology with Honors from Morehouse College in 2013. During this time, under the mentorship of Daniel Hummer, Ph.D., he conducted behavioral neuroscience research, focused on studying the neural mechanism of photic entrainment on circadian rhythms in Syrian Hamsters.  At the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, he is currently developing skills and training associated with functional connectivity and graph theoretical analyses of data acquired through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). Co-mentored by Richard Harris, Ph.D. and George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., his graduate work is focused on adopting a network approach to understand how multiple brain regions interact as a complex functional system. Ongoing analyses include identifying network mechanisms of hypersensitivity among chronic pain patients and healthy individuals.


Kristine Lyon

Kristine Lyon
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Harvard University | Sponsor: Susan Dymecki

Krissy Lyon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in Neuroscience at Harvard University where her dissertation research examines the functional properties and circuitry of a population of dopamine-responsive serotonin neuron central to the modulation of social behavior. Her long-term research interests are to investigate how individual neurons interact in complex neuronal circuits to give rise to social behavior. She received her B.A. from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR and is the recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship. She is a director of Harvard's Women in Neuroscience group and enjoys teaching for Harvard's Native American High School Summer Program.


Garbriela Manzano Nieves Headshot

Gabriela Manzano Nieves
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Brown University | Sponsor: Kevin Bath, Co-Sponsor: Christopher Moore

Gabriela Manzano Nieves received a B.S. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras Campus. As an undergraduate she worked in Dr. Gregory J. Quirk’s lab investigating the role of the infralimbic prefrontal cortex in conditioned fear extinction and memory recall. As a graduate student in Dr. Kevin G. Bath’s lab she studies the developmental consequences of early life stress in a mouse model. Early life stress (ELS) is known to significantly impact neuronal development, with implications for cognitive and emotional development. While a great deal of work has focused on the link between ELS and affective development, less is known regarding the mechanisms underlying the relationship between ELS and disturbances in memory function. Knowing when and how ELS affects the development of memory systems will be critical for identifying the impact of memory on behavioral development and elucidating the mechanisms by which childhood experiences alter neuronal circuits. To study the effects of ELS, she uses mice exposed to maternal bedding restriction stress (from P4-P11) and control-reared animals. To assess possible mechanisms and effects of ELS on specific neuronal populations and brain structures she uses a combination of molecular, systems, and behavioral techniques.


Jennifer Martin Headshot

Jennifer Martin, PhD
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: State University of New York at Buffalo | Sponsor: David Dietz, Co-Sponsor: Fraser Sim
K00 Phase: State University of New York at Buffalo | Sponsor: Zhen Yan

Jennifer Martin is a fourth-year graduate student at the State University of New York at Buffalo in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the laboratory of Dr. David Dietz. She joined the University at Buffalo after receiving her Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from St. John Fisher College, where she studied the role of estrogen receptor antagonists to act as antifungal agents. Her current thesis project aims to understand the role of glial cells, specifically the oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, in preclinical models of opiate addiction and relapse.


Monique Mendes Headshot

Monique Mendes
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Rochester | Sponsor: Anna Majewska

Monique Mendes is originally from Kingston, Jamaica. She received her degree in Biology from the University of Florida. Monique came to the University of Rochester in search of a robust neuroscience program that focused on glial biology and a collaborative environment. In the laboratory of Dr. Ania Majewska, Monique is researching how specific brain cells, microglia, undergo a process called self-renewal. Microglia are the brain’s immune cells and have long been appreciated for their critical roles during brain injury and disease. Recent studies, however, show that microglia maintain brain homeostasis by supporting developing neurons and remodeling neural circuitry during development. Despite their importance in the brain, very little is known about how microglia sustain themselves after they enter the brain during development. Monique’s dissertation research is specifically designed to investigate how molecules, such as P2Y12 (a purinergic molecule that promotes blood clotting) and CX3CR1 (a protein that facilitates immune cell adhesion and migration), affect microglial development and maturation. Using a sophisticated two-photon microscope imaging system, she is tracking microglial renewal dynamics after pharmacological manipulation. The results from this study will significantly expand our understanding of how microglia regulate brain development in both normal and diseased circumstances such as Autism and Schizophrenia.


Stephanie Noble Headshot

Stephanie Noble, PhD
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Yale University | Sponsor: Todd Constable, Co-Sponsor: Dustin Scheinost
K00 Phase: Yale University | Sponsor: Dustin Scheinost

Stephanie Noble is a fourth year PhD student in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Yale where she is working on improving reliability and validity of fMRI statistical methods. Her research interests lie at the intersection of human neuroscience, data science, and computational methods. Before starting her PhD, she majored in Chemical Engineering at Princeton, went on to co-found Yale-based neuroscience startup goBlue, then worked as a technical consultant at Source Signal Imaging (now part of Cortech Solutions). Stephanie is now a student in the lab of Dr. Todd Constable, where she has addressed a number of open questions regarding test-retest reliability of functional connectivity. Her ongoing dissertation research is aimed at complementing the field’s recent focus on specificity of fMRI activation analyses with a characterization of its sensitivity. Throughout her careers in academia and industry, Stephanie has received a number of awards, including the NSF GRFP and the NIH DSPAN F99/K00. In addition to her research, Stephanie is passionate about visual art and supporting fellow Latina women in STEM. 


Chicora Olier Headshot

Chicora Oliver, PhD
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Temple University of the Commonwealth | Sponsor: Scott Rawls
K00 Phase: Emory University | Sponsor: David Weinshenker 

Chicora Oliver is pursuing a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Temple University where her research examines chemokine modulation of synthetic cathinones (“bath salts”) and structural plasticity. Chicora discovered research when she was awarded an NIMH Career Opportunities in Research training grant as an undergraduate. Her undergraduate research was conducted at Columbia University and examined PKMζ regulation during memory reconsolidation. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, Chicora completed a postbaccalaureate fellowship at the NIH. There she worked with Dr. Jacqueline Crawley on mouse models of autism and with Dr. Elisabeth Murray on economic choice behavior in rhesus macaques. Chicora then entered a Ph.D. program in the Department of Psychology at Temple University. During her second year, Chicora was awarded a NIDA training grant to support her research on substance abuse. So far, Chicora has published nine peer-reviewed articles on her research as an undergraduate, postbaccalaureate fellow, and graduate student. She has also filled many service, teaching, and mentoring roles that promote minority inclusion in scientific research. As a D-SPAN awardee, Chicora will continue gaining the experiences necessary to successfully pursue a career as an independent neuroscience investigator.


Aaron Sampson Headshot

Aaron Sampson
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Diego | Sponsor: Terrence Sejnowski

Aaron Sampson is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of California, San Diego’s Neurosciences Graduate Program working in Dr. Terrence Sejnowski’s laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. A member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Aaron was born in Norman, Oklahoma and grew up both there and in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. After completing an undergraduate degree in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Aaron worked as a research technician in Dr. Patrick Purdon’s laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital studying the mechanisms of general anesthesia. Since coming to UC San Diego for graduate studies, his focus has been on developing novel techniques for the analysis of neural data. Working with Dr. Claudia Lainscsek in the Sejnowski laboratory, he is applying delay differential analysis and related tools to EEG and human intracranial recordings to study the neurophysiology of sleep as well as disorders such as schizophrenia and epilepsy.


Kaela Singleton Headshot

Kaela Singleton
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Georgetown University | Sponsor: Maria Donoghue, Co-Sponsor: Elena Silva

Kaela S. Singleton is a fourth year PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program of Neuroscience at Georgetown University (GU). Her research interests lie in understanding the cellular and molecular processes that generate a well-organized and precisely functioning nervous system. As an undergraduate at Agnes Scott College, Kaela was a recipient of the Blueprint Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences (BP-ENDURE) award, allowing her research experiences at Emory, Vanderbilt and Georgia State University. As a graduate student, Kaela’s thesis research investigates how transcription factor function changes both across developmental time and between species. Kaela has won spots on two GU T32s in integrative neuroscience and neural injury and plasticity to further her research endeavors. She has co-authored five scientific manuscripts, presented her research at eight local and national conferences, and continues to be active in the neuroscience community through teaching and outreach. Under the F99/K00 award, Kaela aims to continue her scientific and professional development at GU, and obtain a postdoctoral fellowship at an institution that celebrates diversity, innovative science, and has a history of producing successful independent researchers.


Mario Zubia Headshot

Mario Zubia
2018 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California, San Francisco | Sponsor: Lily Jan

Mario Zubia is a PhD candidate in biomedical sciences in the lab of Lily Jan at the University of California, San Francisco. His work focuses on investigating the role of TMEM16F, a lipid scramblase, in microglial function in physiology and disease. Specifically, he studies how TMEM16F affects microglial extracellular vesiculation and what effect this has on the propagation of pathogenic proteins in tauopathy. Prior to his graduate studies, he completed a Bachelor of Science in biology from the California Institute of Technology. There, he studied genetic drive systems as a technique to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, as well as investigated the interaction between the CNS and the immune system in Huntington’s disease. Mario’s research interests lie in exploring neuroinflammation in neurodegeneration and uncovering new therapeutic targets to tackle neurodegenerative disease.

2017 D-SPAN Scholars

Justin Brantly Headshot

Justin Brantley
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Houston | Sponsor: Jose Contreras-Vidal

Justin Brantley is a Ph.D. student and research assistant in the Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain Machine Interfaces at the University of Houston. He studies able-bodied individuals and lower limb amputees to understand the involvement of peripheral and central nervous signaling in lower limb movements and the effect of limb loss on the brain. He uses simultaneously recorded electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG), and full body motion capture to study brain, muscle, and kinematic patterns during multi-terrain walking and isolated limb movements. He is using the information to develop a closed-loop brain and muscle based neural-machine interface for the control of a powered lower limb prosthesis. In addition, he is interested in projects at the interface of arts, science, and engineering, and has co-led an investigation into the neural basis of aesthetic stimulation and creativity by evaluating the cortical dynamics of art viewers in an unconstrained non-traditional laboratory environment. Justin was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University and a M.S. in biomedical engineering from the University of New Mexico. In his free time, Justin enjoys rock climbing and the outdoors, experimenting in the kitchen, and playing his guitar. 


Austin Coley Headshot

Austin Coley
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Drexel University | Sponsor: Wen-Jun Gao

Austin A. Coley is a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Wen-Jun Gao’s laboratory in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at Drexel University. he received his B.S. from North Carolina Central University and his M.S. from Case Western Reserve University. The laboratory investigates the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in learning, working memory, emotional control and sociability. They aim to understand the molecular and functional underpinnings of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. Austin’s research focuses on postsynaptic density 95 (PSD-95), a highly abundant protein that is involved in excitatory synaptic transmission, synaptic maturation and plasticity in the central nervous system. However, the effects of PSD-95 deficiency on the synaptic function of prefrontal neurons remain unknown. His project aims to explore how the absence of PSD-95 affects synaptic maturation and function, as well as connectivity and function of the prefrontal cortex by using state-of-the-art techniques, including whole-cell patch clamp recordings, western blotting, optogenetic stimulation, and behavioral analysis. These results will provide novel insights on the roles of PSD-95 deficiency in understanding the development of prefrontal cortex and associated neuropsychiatry disorders.


Serra Favila Headshot

Serra Favila
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: New York University | Sponsor: Jonathan Winawer, Co-Sponsor: Brice Kuhl

Serra Favila is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at New York University, where she studies the neural bases of visual perception and long-term memory. Prior to graduate school, Serra was a research assistant in Dr. Anthony Wagner's lab at Stanford University, where she investigated hippocampal mechanisms supporting memory in younger and older adults. She earned her B.A. in human biology from Stanford in 2011. Serra is broadly interested in how perceptual experiences are transformed into long-lasting, flexible memories and in how these memories are used to guide intelligent behavior. Her dissertation research, supervised by Drs. Jonathan Winawer and Brice Kuhl, uses functional neuroimaging and quantitative models of vision to characterize the neural mechanisms that support these forms of cognition in humans. In the future, she hopes to integrate electrophysiology measurements into her research to understand how memory signals are propagated across cortex on a fine temporal scale.


Nathaniel Harnett Headshott

Nathaniel Harnett, PhD
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: David Knight, Co-Sponsors: Farah Lubin, Adrienne Lahti, and Jerzy Szaflarski
K00 Phase: McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School | Sponsor: Kerry Ressler, Co-Sponsors: Diego Pizzagalli, Milissa Kaufman

Nathaniel G. Harnett, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the Neurobiology of Fear laboratory at McLean Hospital, led by Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Harnett earned his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham under the mentorship of David C. Knight, Ph.D. Dr. Harnett’s research investigates the neural mechanisms that mediate susceptibility to trauma and stress-related disorders such as PTSD. To this end, Dr. Harnett leverages multimodal neuroimaging techniques with individuals recently exposed to trauma to elucidate neural circuitry linked to acute and long-term posttraumatic stress. Ultimately, the goal of his research is to develop predictive and preventative neuroscience-based techniques to reduce the prevalence of trauma and stress-related disorders.


Alex Hendricks Headshot

Alexa Hendricks, PhD
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Wake Forest University Health Sciences | Sponsor: Debra Diz

Alexa S. Hendricks is from East Brunswick, New Jersey, and received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Lehigh University, class of 2013, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. With numerous opportunities to pursue research during her undergraduate studies, she developed an interest in biomedical/translational topics and is pursuing her Ph.D. in neuroscience at Wake Forest University. Alexa’s dissertation investigates adult autonomic dysfunction and hypertension with fetal exposure to betamethasone, a drug commonly used to prevent respiratory distress syndrome in premature infants. Her project uses a sheep model to look at the role of the brain renin angiotensin system and oxidative stress. During her Ph.D., Alexa completed a Master’s in Business Administration from Wake Forest’s Working Professional’s Evening MBA program. In the fall of 2018, Alexa will expand her training in cardiovascular disease at Wake Forest as a postdoctoral fellow studying the cerebrovascular contributions and risk factors in Alzheimer’s disease pathology.


Leana Hernandez Headshot

Leanna Hernandez, PhD
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California Los Angeles | Sponsor: Mirella Dapretto, Co-Sponsor: Daniel Geschwind
K00 Phase: University of California Los Angeles | Sponsor: Michael Gandal, Co-Sponsor: Andrew Fuligni

Dr. Leanna Hernandez is a postdoctoral researcher at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Through multidisciplinary research, her work investigates how genetic, environmental, and experiential factors impact neurodevelopmental trajectories with a focus on childhood and adolescence. Her predoctoral work characterized how cumulative genetic risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affects functional brain connectivity and social-emotional behavior in youth with and without ASD. As a postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Hernandez investigates how polygenic risk for immunophenotypes affect structural brain development during childhood and adolescence and the downstream consequences on multiple psychiatric phenotypes (e.g., autism, schizophrenia, depression).  To do so, she employs a variety of methods including neuroimaging, genomic analyses, and statistical modeling. She is particularly interested in leveraging longitudinally acquired multimodal data to examine neurobiological and phenotypic heterogeneity. The overall goal of Dr. Hernandez’s research is to use an interdisciplinary approach, integrating data across multiple levels of analysis (genes, brain, behavior), to identify the causes and consequences of mental illness, and ultimately, to contribute to the development of biologically informed interventions targeted to high-risk children and adolescents.


Stephanie Herrlinger Headshot

Stephanie Herrlinger, PhD
​2017 D-SPAN Scholar
​F99 Phase: University of Georgia | Sponsor: Jianfu Chen, Co-Sponsors: Amy Merrill, Lee Niswander, and Steven Stice
K00 Phase: Columbia University and Zuckerman Institute | Sponsors: Joseph Gogos and Atilla Losonczy

Stephanie Herrlinger graduated from the University of Rochester majoring in Molecular Genetics with a Distinction in Research. Her PhD work at the University of Georgia has focused on brain development and neural progenitor cells (NPCs), studying the factors that contribute to both normal NPC behaviors and their disruption. She and her colleagues established a mouse model for Zika virus-induced microcephaly using intracerebral inoculation and found that that the Zika virus is capable of causing microcephaly and extensive brain damage. These include neuronal cell death, reduced NPC cell cycle progression, microglial and astroglial activation, disrupted neurovascular development and blood brain barrier leakage. Their following study found that an older lineage of the Zika virus was actually more virulent and damaging than a recent isolate associated with the recent outbreak. Stephanie has additionally been studying the post-transcriptional regulation of NPCs through examining the role of the RNA-binding protein Lin28. She has found that Lin28 function promotes protein synthesis, and without this process NPCs exhibit reduced cell proliferation and precocious differentiation, ultimately resulting in microcephaly and neural tube defects. She is currently working to determine the mechanism by which Lin28 drives this capacity.


Nadia Khan Headshot

Nadia Khan
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Wisconsin-Madison | Sponsor: Avtar Roopra
K00 phase: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai | Sponsor: Tristan Shuman

Nadia Khan is a Ph.D. candidate in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). She is currently a member of Dr. Avtar Roopra’s lab, where she characterizes the role of a histone modifier named Enhancer of Zeste Homolog 2 (EZH2) in epilepsy. Prior to graduate school, Nadia earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a research scientist at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center with Dr. Steven J. Gray. While at UW-Madison, Nadia has received a number of awards to present her research both in the US and abroad from organizations such as SACNAS, the CURE Epilepsy Foundation, and the UAB Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars program. In 2017, she was inducted into the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society. Outside of the lab, Nadia is involved in science outreach activities such as being a course instructor for the Pre-Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program and is an active member of the SciMed GRS Peer Mentoring Committee. Nadia’s long-term goal is to become a tenured professor at an R1 university and begin her own lab studying the relationship between seizures and the development of neurological disorders.


Keven Laboy Juarez Headshot

Keven Laboy-Juarez, PhD
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California Berkeley | Sponsor: Daniel Feldman
K00 Phase: Harvard University | Sponsor: Bence Ölveczky

Keven Laboy’s main interests lie in understanding how neural circuits in the brain’s cortex process sensory information. Currently, he uses a combination of electrophysiological and computational tools to determine how neurons in primary somatosensory cortex (S1) represent complex tactile stimuli. His research has shown that S1 neurons provide extremely accurate representations of vibrotactile sequences through precise spike timing and fast sensory integration. He has also shown that S1 neurons preferentially code for Braille-like patterns of tactile stimulation rather than simple point-stimulation. In the future, he will use optical and genetic tools to monitor and manipulate neural circuits during active sensation. His goal is to establish how cortical circuits integrate motor and sensory information to support perception and flexible behavior.


Alberto Lopez Headshot

Alberto Lopez, PhD
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of California-Irvine | Sponsor: Marcelo Wood
K00 Phase: Vanderbilt University | Sponsor: Erin Calipari, Co-Sponsor: Roger Colbran

Alberto Lopez graduated from Duke University in 2011 with a B.S. in Neuroscience. He worked for two years under Dr. Thomas Kash at UNC Chapel Hill studying the neural mechanisms behind anxiety and alcoholism. He began graduate school at UC Irvine in 2013 through the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (INP) and joined the Wood Lab later that year. In the Fall of 2018, Alberto will join the Calipari lab at Vanderbilt University as a D-SPAN post-doctoral fellow under Dr. Erin Calipari. Alberto’s research focuses on understanding the neural circuits that drive drug-seeking behavior. Specifically, he is interested in investigating the epigenetic mechanisms that are alter circuit function which, ultimately, underlie relapse behaviors.


Kirsten Schoonover Headshot

Kirsten Schoonover
​2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: University of Alabama at Birmingham | Sponsor: Rosalinda Roberts

Kirsten Schoonover grew up in a rural, small town in West Virginia. Science was not largely emphasized in her hometown, and she thought she wanted to grow up to be a lawyer. However, after two and half years as a psychology major at West Virginia University, she enrolled in a Biological Foundations of Behavior class. She fell in love. Kirsten joined a neuroscience lab studying Alzheimer’s disease, and soon decided she wanted to be a behavioral neuroscientist. She was exposed to several different aspects of behavioral neuroscience and was able to obtain a job as a research associate in a second lab studying the neural engineering of orthotics for individuals who had suffered a stroke. Between the two experiences, she knew she was in the right field. After an Abnormal Psychology class, she became fascinated with serious mental illness. Later, Kirsten enrolled in UAB’s Behavioral Neuroscience Ph.D. program, and joined a lab studying schizophrenia using postmortem tissue. She felt like she had found her passion. Now, she studies the genetic regulation of copper homeostasis in schizophrenia and will soon be graduating. She hopes to continue her studies of schizophrenia during a postdoctoral position.


Clarissa Valdez Headshot

Clarissa Valdez, PhD
2017 D-SPAN Scholar
F99 Phase: Northwestern University at Chicago | Sponsor: Dimitri Krainc
K00 Phase: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center | Sponsor: Marc Diamond

Clarissa Valdez is a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience PhD program at Northwestern University. Her interests in cellular mechanisms of disease began as an undergraduate at Pomona College where she studied Molecular Biology and was awarded HHMI and Merk-AAAS summer fellowships to pursue her undergraduate thesis research project. Under the supervision of Dr. Dimitri Krainc, Clarissa is currently conducting her PhD thesis which is focused on identifying cellular mechanisms driving neurodegeneration in Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD) caused by mutations in progranulin using patient iPSC-derived neurons. While at Northwestern, she has also been awarded the NIH CLIMB Fellowship and was previously nominated to the T32 Mechanisms of Aging and Dementia Training Grant. She also continues to share her passion for encouraging younger students to pursue careers in science as a member of the Committee for Underrepresented Minority (URM) Affairs in the Northwestern Neuroscience PhD program.