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UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Training Program in Neuroscience

Student Profiles

Current Students

Shahriar Sheikhbahaei

Shahriar SheikhbahaeiI was born and raised to a warm and supportive family in Esfahan, a beautiful city in Iran. Finishing medical school, I immigrated to the United States in 2005 with the ambition to continue my education in a world-class university. The delays to get my medical credentials forced me to start my education in the U.S. from the scratch, an event that opened my eyes to the beauty of neurobiological research. I have received my Bachelor’s degree from University of California at Berkeley with honors in Molecular and Cell Biology with concentration on Neurobiology. During the course of my studying at Berkeley, I learned molecular neurobiology (at the Zucker Lab, University of California at Berkeley), developmental neurobiology (at the Rubenstein Lab, UC San Francisco), and computational biology (at the Hunt Lab, UCSF). The courses and research opportunities at UC Berkeley and UCSF have provided me with a broad range of knowledge in the biological science and made me aware that research into the mammalian brain fascinates me most. Particularly, I am interested in studying the interactions between neurons and glia.

For the purpose of this project, under the mentorship of Dr. Jeffrey Smith at NIH and Dr. Alexander Gourine at UCL, I will study the functional significance of the glial microenvironment in shaping the normal activity of CNS circuits. This collaboration will bring together a combination of in vivo, in situ, in vitro, and in silico experimental models, research methods and expertise to examine interactions of glia and respiratory neuronal networks. These approaches will allow novel in-depth study of how activities of rhythm-generating neural circuits within the brainstem respiratory network are controlled by astrocytic networks. Understanding more about the development and function of the glial cells might potentially make them suitable candidates for cell-based therapies in treatment of nervous system disease, including motor disorders. Since my arrival to the US, I have been dedicated to the prospect of further strengthening my skills and knowledge, in order to work on brain disorders as multidisciplinary issues and I believe the NIMH – UCL Joint Doctoral Training Program is an excellent environment to nurture my evolution to an independent neuroscientist.


Tara Zinnamon

Tara ZinnamonI’m a Chicago, Illinois native and attended Williams College, a small liberal arts college in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I graduated with a BA in Psychology with a concentration and Honors in Neuroscience after discovering my passion for neuroscience research early on. I went on to earn my Masters in Neuroscience from UCL after working with Dr Jennifer Linden during my MSc research project on hearing loss in a mouse model of schizophrenia. While deciding whether to do a PhD in Neuroscience I was a research scientist at Otodynamics Ltd., but almost immediately realized my desire to continue my research in schizophrenia.

Under the guidance of my supervisors Dr. Linden at UCL and Dr. Kuan Hong Wang at the NIMH, I’m researching cortical interneuron dynamics in the frontal and auditory cortices of the Df1/+ mouse model of schizophrenia. Through immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology and novel behavioral paradigms we hope to elucidate how genetic risk for schizophrenia and hearing loss interact to produce cumulative abnormalities in neuronal circuitry.


Shana Silverstein

Shana SilversteinI grew up in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and attended Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. I graduated with a B.A. in Neuroscience and a minor in dance. After working at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Dr. Ken Kosik researching novel long non-coding RNA in the brain, I moved to Washington, DC to pursue my MS at Georgetown University in Physiology and Biophysics with a concentration in Complementary and Alternative Medicine. After working for a year and a half in the cancer preventative laboratory of Dr. Fung Lung Chung at Georgetown, I returned to my original research passion, neuroscience. I joined the Laboratory of Behavioral and Genomic Neuroscience under the direction of Dr. Andrew Holmes as a Technical IRTA where I began studying the underlying circuitry involved in PTSD using optogenetics.

The UCL-NIH partnership is a wonderful avenue to cultivate a truly translational PhD project. With my supervisors Dr. Andrew Holmes (NIAAA) and Dr. Essi Viding (UCL) I will study the pathways involved in observational fear learning in mice and humans, respectively. Using techniques like optogenetics, immediate early gene activity, in vivo recording, and fMRI we hope to identify brain regions and directional circuits involved in vicarious learning. By using mice to model human pathologies, such as psychopathy or anxiety disorders, we can gain a better understanding of the deficient functioning at a molecular and mechanistic level in order to inform and direct better targeted therapies.


Jobert Vargas

Jobert VargasI graduated from University of California, Santa Cruz with honors, majoring in Neuroscience (B.S) and Psychology (B.A). As an undergraduate, I conducted research in laboratories with a wide range of disciplinary expertise. Under the tutelage of Dr. Jeremy Sanford, I studied how cis-acting elements can alter pre-mRNA splicing events. I also conducted research on facial and spatial perception with Dr. Nicolas Davidenko. Additionally, during my senior year I worked as a course assistant for the biochemistry lab, taught by my mentor Prof. Jeremy Lee, where I instructed my fellow undergraduates proper execution of biochemical techniques. During my time at UCSC, I caught the “research bug” and developed a deeply entrenched passion for neuroscience, which led me to pursue a career in research.

After graduating, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Lawrence Tecott in University of California, San Francisco where I studied how serotonergic circuits control energy homeostasis in mammals. While at UCSF, my keen interest in dementia led me to join the lab of Dr. William Seeley, whose research focuses on deciphering how prion-like proteins involved in neurodegenerative disorders cause the death of highly specific neuronal populations. Determined to expand my scientific training, I sought and received a Post- Baccalaureate Research Fellowship at the NIH. There, I conducted research on axonal trafficking and local processing of pre-miRNAs that control mitochondrial genes, in the laboratory of Dr. Barry Kaplan.

My diverse research endeavors made me realize just how critical collaboration and interdisciplinary approaches are in trying to understand neurological diseases. The UCL-NIMH Joint Graduate Program presents an excellent opportunity to be involved in an international collaboration between two highly distinguished neuroscience research institutes.

As a UCL-NIMH fellow, I am being trained by my co-mentors Dr. Richard Youle (NINDS) and Prof. Giampietro Schiavo (UCL). Currently, I am studying the clearance of damaged mitochondria in neurons, a process known as mitophagy. This process is especially disrupted in Parkinson’s disease and ALS. Thus, I hope that my research efforts will someday improve the quality of lives of people who suffer from neurodegenerative diseases.


Rachel Smith

Rachel SmithI graduated from Chapman University in Orange, CA in 2011 with a B.A. in Psychology and a budding passion for cognitive neuroscience. More specifically, I became interested in how the brain’s functional organization may determine how we perceive, interpret, and interact with the world around us. In addition, I was intrigued by the multitude of ways that this neural architecture could be aberrant, especially in the context of psychopathology.

After my B.A., I spent two years gaining clinical and technical experience in diagnostic electrophysiology, and became certified as a nerve conduction technologist by the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine. With the goal of refining my research interests and reacquainting myself with the evolving field of neuroscience, I then moved to London in 2013 to pursue a 2-year Master’s degree in Developmental Neuroscience and Psychopathology through UCL and Yale University. I conducted my thesis research with Prof. Hal Blumenfeld in Yale’s Clinical Neuroscience Imaging Center. There we used human electrocorticography (intracranial EEG) to investigate the spatial and temporal dynamics of conscious visual perception and subjective awareness.

I loved the empirical rigor and cross-institutional format of my M.Sc., so I was thrilled to learn about the UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Training Program in Neuroscience. I cannot think of a more ideal platform upon which to build productive collaborations and make meaningful contributions in the field. The quality of mentorship, availability of resources, and opportunities for intellectual growth are truly unparalleled.

With the co-supervision of Prof. Essi Viding at UCL and Dr. Alex Martin at NIMH, I will be using resting-state fMRI to explore the relationship between baseline brain activity and different measures of social and empathic functioning in both normal and clinical populations (with autism spectrum disorders or conduct problems with callous-unemotional traits). I hope to shed light on the extent to which functional connectivity within and between neural networks is associated with individual differences in social cognition and empathy, and how those network dynamics become disrupted in the aforementioned socio-affective developmental disorders.


Sara Kimmich

Sara KimmichI am fascinated by the brain’s ability to change itself. I am a neuroimaging researcher focused on neurofeedback, a non-invasive neurotherapy that allows subjects to gain control of their own brain responses via feedback of their brain activation in real-time. I graduated from University of California in 2015 with degrees in Cognitive Science and Political Science, where I began my early brain imaging career through two years of research funding as an NIH MARC Undergraduate Fellow. I researched gender dysphoria in the brain through a collaboration between the Center for Brain and Cognition and the B.R.A.I.N. Lab at UC San Diego, and spent a summer working at the MIT Gabrieli Imaging Lab where I became fascinated by the therapeutic potential of real-time neurofeedback. After college, I moved to Washington DC to become a NIH Post-Baccalaureate Fellow to investigate neurofeedback as a potential intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Now a graduate student in the UCL-NIMH Joint Doctoral Program, I work with Dr. Bandettini at the NIMH Section for Functional Methods to improve real-time fMRI signal processing, and with Dr. Geraint Rees in the Awareness lab at UCL to improve brain computer interfaces for neurofeedback.


Alumni

Raphael Kaplan - 2013

Raphael KaplanRaphael successfully defended his PhD thesis titled 'Brain oscillations and novelty processing in spatial memory' in summer 2013 under the supervision of Peter Bandettini at NIMH and Professor Neil Burgess at UCL. He is now finishing up a 4-year Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship and is using functional neuroimaging, electrophysiological recordings and computational modelling to investigate memory and decision-making.

Publications:

Kaplan, R., Horner, A. J., Bandettini, P. A., Doeller, C. F., Burgess, N. (2014). Human hippocampal processing of environmental novelty during spatial navigation Hippocampus. doi:10.1002/hipo.22264
Kaplan, R., Bush, D., Bonnefond, M., Bandettini, P. A., Barnes, G. R., Doeller, C. F., Burgess, N. (2014). Medial prefrontal theta phase coupling during spatial memory retrieval. Hippocampus. doi:10.1002/hipo.22255

Kaplan, R., Doeller, C. F., Barnes, G. R., Litvak, V., Düzel, E., Bandettini, P. A., & Burgess, N. (2012). Movement-related theta rhythm in humans: coordinating self-directed hippocampal learning. PLoS biology , 10 (2), e1001267. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001267

Doeller, C. F., & Kaplan, R. (2011). Parahippocampal cortex: translating vision into space. Current biology: CB , 21 (15), R589–591. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2011.06.023


Joseph Arizpe - 2014

Joseph ArizpeJoseph’s thesis, “Eye-movement studies of visual face perception”, was supervised by Professor Vincent Walsh at UCL and Dr. Chris Baker at NIMH.  He is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School studying developmental prosopagnosia (“face blindness”) in the lab of Joe DeGutis.

Publications:

Arizpe, J., Walsh, V., Yovel, G., Baker, C.I. (In Press). The categories, frequencies, and stability of idiosyncratic eye-movement patterns to faces.  Vision Research.

Arizpe, J., McKean, D.L., Tsao, J.W., Chan, W-Y., (2017). Where You Look Matters for Body Perception: Preferred Gaze Location Causally Contributes to the Body Inversion Effect.  PLoS ONE, 12(1): e0169148. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0169148

Arizpe J., Yovel G., Walsh, V., Baker C.I. (2016). Differences in looking at own- and other-race faces are subtle and analysis-dependent: An account of discrepant reports. PLoS ONE, 11(2): e0148253. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0148253

Arizpe, J. M., Walsh, V., & Baker, C. I. (2015). Characteristic visuomotor influences on eye-movement patterns to faces and other high level stimuli. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1027. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01027

Garside, P.*, Arizpe, J.*, Lau, C.I., Goh, C., Walsh, V. (2015) Cross-hemispheric Alternating Current Stimulation During a Nap Disrupts Slow Wave Activity and Associated Memory Consolidation. Brain Stimulation, 8(3) 520-527.
* Contributed equally

Mehoudar, E., Arizpe, J., Baker, C.I., Yovel, G. (2014).  Faces in the eye of the beholder: unique and stable eye-scanning patterns of individual observers.  Journal of Vision, 14(7):6, 1-11, doi:10.1167/14.7.6

Kim, P., Arizpe, J., Rosen, B.H., Razdan, V., Haring, C., Jenkins, S.E., Deveney, C.M., Brotman, M.A., Blair, J.R., Pine, D.S., Baker, C.I. Leibenluft, E. (2013) Impaired fixation to eyes during face emotion labeling in children with bipolar disorder or severe mood dysregulation.  Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience 38(6), 407-416. doi: 10.1503/jpn.120232

Arizpe J., Kravitz D.J., Yovel G., Baker C.I. (2012) Start position strongly influences fixation patterns during face processing: Difficulties with eye movements as a measure of information use. PLoS ONE, 7(2): e31106. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031106

Chan, W-Y., Kravitz, D.J., Truong, S., Arizpe, J., Baker, C. (2010) Cortical representations of bodies and faces are strongest in commonly experienced configurations. Nature Neuroscience 13, 417- 418


Kathryn Mills - 2015

Kathryn Mills, Ph.D.Kate successfully defended her PhD thesis titled "Social development in adolescence: brain and behavioral changes" in spring 2015 under the supervision of Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at UCL and Jay Giedd at NIMH. For her doctoral work, she was awarded the British Neuroscience Association Postgraduate Prize.

Following her PhD, Kate was a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon Health & Sciences University in Portland, OR, USA and then a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR, USA. Beginning in September 2018, she will be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Oregon.

Publications:

Tamnes CK, Herting MM, … Mills KL (2017). Development of the cerebral cortex across adolescence: A multisample study of interrelated longitudinal changes in cortical volume, surface area and thickness. Journal of Neuroscience, 37(12), 3402-3412.

Mills KL, Goddings AL, Herting MM, … & Tamnes CK (2016). Structural brain development between childhood and adulthood: Convergence across four longitudinal samples. NeuroImage, 141, 273-281.

Mills KL (2016). Possible effects of Internet use on cognitive development in adolescence. Media and Communication, 6(3).

Bell V, Mills KL, Modinos G, & Wilkinson S (2017). What can psychosis tell us about social cognition? Altered social agent representation as a factor in the formation of positive symptoms. Clinical Psychological Science, 1-14.

Mills KL, Dumontheil I, Speekenbrink M, & Blakemore S-J (2015). Multitasking during social interactions in adolescence and early adulthood. Royal Society Open Science, 2(11), 150117.

Mills KL (2014). Effects of Internet use on the adolescent brain: despite popular claims, experimental evidence remains scarce. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(8), 385-387.

Mills KL, & Tamnes CK (2014). Methods and considerations for longitudinal structural brain imaging analysis across development. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 9, 172-190.

Mills KL, Goddings AL, Clasen LS, Giedd JN, & Blakemore S-J (2014). The developmental mismatch in structural brain maturation during adolescence. Developmental Neuroscience, 36(3-4), 147-60.

Blakemore S-J, & Mills KL (2014). Is adolescence a sensitive period for socio-cultural processing? Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 186-207.

Mills KL, Lalonde F, … & Blakemore S-J (2014). Developmental changes in the structure of the social brain in late childhood and adolescence. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(1), 123-131.


Kyle Jasmin – 2015

Kyle JasminKyle’s thesis, “Functional brain imaging studies of two-person vocal interaction”, was supervised by Sophie Scott at UCL and Alex Martin at NIMH, and was successfully defended in 2015. The work used fMRI to investigate speech, language, and social processing in individuals with autism and controls, using novel real-time social interaction paradigms. Since the PhD, he has undertaken 2 postdoc positions, one at UCL that used fMRI to examine perception of non-native speech rhythms, and another at Birkbeck College again that also used fMRI as well as behavioral methods, to examine speech perception in individuals with congenital amusia, a disorder of pitch processing.

In May 2017 Kyle was awarded an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, a major research funding organization in the UK. This 3-year fellowship, to be carried out at Birkbeck, University of London, is intended to bridge the transition to a permanent academic research position. His fellowship project aims to uncover how abstract auditory concepts like musical pitch are learned and represented in the brain.

Publications during and since the program:

Jasmin K. et al. (Under Review). Social interactions, auditory streams, and hemispheric asymmetries.

Jasmin K. et al. (Submitted). Redundancy makes speech robust.

Jasmin K. et al. (In Prep) Increased neural synchrony in autism during naturalistic conversation.

McGettigan, C, Jasmin K. et al. (2017) You talkin’ to me? Communicative talker gaze activates left-lateralized superior temporal cortex during perception of degraded speech. Neuropsychologia.

Jasmin, K. M., et al. (2016) Cohesion and joint speech – right hemisphere contributions to synchronized vocal production. The Journal of Neuroscience.

Mellem, M, Jasmin K et al. (2016) Sentence processing in anterior superior temporal cortex shows a social-emotional bias. Neuropsychologia.

Gijssels, T, Casasanto L, Jasmin K. (2016) Speech accommodation without priming: the case of pitch. Discourse Processes.

Evans et al. (2014) Does musical enrichment enhance the neural coding of syllables? Neuroscientific interventions and the importance of behavioral data. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Casasanto, D. and Jasmin K. (2012) The Hands of Time: Temporal Gestures in English Speakers. Cognitive Linguistics.

Jasmin, K & Casasanto, D. (2012) The QWERTY Effect: How typing shapes the meanings of words.


Benjamin Suarez Jimenez - 2016

Benjamin Suarez JimenezIn April 2016, Ben defended successfully his thesis titled: “The Role of Spatial Location in Threat Memory: Modulation of Learning and Discrimination,” supervised by Dr. Neil Burgess at UCL and Drs. Daniel Pine and Christian Grillon at NIMH. The work used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and virtual reality to study brain mechanisms of location-specific learning of threat and discrimination within a single environment. Currently, he is a T32 NRSA post-doctoral research fellow at Columbia University under the mentorship of Dr. Yuval Neria where he continues to use virtual reality to study location-specific contextual threat learning and discrimination focusing in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorders.

In 2017 Ben was awarded the Irving Institute Pilot grant and the NYSPI Imaging Pilot grant at Columbia University. Additionally, he earned the NARSAD Young Investigator Award to continue his research in PTSD.

Publications during and since the program:

Suarez-Jimenez B, Balderstone N, Bisby JA, King JA, Pine DS, Burgess N, Grillon C, Ernst M. Location-specific threat learning deficits in clinical anxiety. (Paper in preparation). 

Suarez-Jimenez B, Albajes-Eizagirre A, Neria, Y Harrison BJ, Radua J, Fullana MA. Neural signatures of fear learning abnormalities in PTSD: a meta-analysis of fMRI studies. Manuscript submitted for publication in Molecular Psychiatry.

Lazarov A, Suarez-Jimenez B, Tamman A, Falzon L, Zhu X, Edmondson DE, Neria Y (2018). Attention to threat in posttraumatic stress disorder using eye-tracking methodology: A systematic review. Manuscript submitted for publication in Clinical Psychology Review. 

Zhu X, Suarez-Jimenez B, Helpman L, Markowitz JC, Papini S, Lowell A, Milad M, Schneier F, Lindquist M, Wager T, Neria Y (2018). Prolonged Exposure Treatment Changes Amygdala and Hippocampus Functional Connectivity in PTSD. Manuscript submitted for publication at Depression and Anxiety.

Markowitz JC, Gerber A, Zhu X, Suarez-Jimenez B, Lazarov A, Mann JJ, Neria Y (2018). Anterior Hippocampal Volume May Moderate Psychotherapy Outcome in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: An Exploratory MRI Study. Manuscript submitted for publication in Psychological Medicine. 

Suarez-Jimenez B, Bisby JA, Horner AJ, King JA, Pine DS, Burgess N (2018). Linked networks for learning and expressing location-specific threat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 201714691.

Helpman L, Zhu X, Suarez-Jimenez B, Lazarov A, Monk C, Neria Y (2017). Sex Differences in Trauma-Related Psychopathology: a Critical Review of Neuroimaging Literature. Curr Psychiatry Rep 19(12):104.

Lowell AM, Suarez-Jimenez B, Helpman L, Zhu X, Durosky A, Hillburn A, Schneier F, Gross R, Neria Y (2017). 9/11-Related PTSD Among Highly Exposed Populations: A Systematic Review 15 Years After the Attack. Psychological Medicine 14: 1-17.

Lazarov A, Zhu X, Suarez-Jimenez B, Rutherford B, Neria Y (2017). Resting-State Functional Connectivity of Anterior and Posterior Hippocampus in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research 94: 15-22.