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Human Genetics Branch Human Genetics Branch


Genetic Basis of Mood and Anxiety Disorders (GBMAD) staff photo

Nirmala Akula, MS, PhD, Bioinformaticist

Dr. Akula received a masters in biotechnology from India in 1997. She then came to USA and earned a masters in biology from Illinois Institute of Technology in 2001 and a masters in computer science from University of Chicago in 2002. She graduated with a PhD in bioinformatics from George Mason University in January, 2010. She has been working on the genetics of major mood disorders since 2000. She conducts genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and analyzes next-generation sequencing data. She recently developed a software tool, Network Interface Miner for Multigenic Interactions (NIMMI) that identifies susceptible networks/ pathways using GWAS data.

Emily K. Besançon, LICSW, LPC, Clinical Research Coordinator

Emily K. Besançon earned a masters degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan.  Prior to working with the Human Genetics team, she worked clinically in the District of Columbia with youth and families who have mood and behavioral diagnoses. Here, she also worked as a family therapist and then as a supervisor of a team which addressed youth with sexual offending behaviors. She began her career working with previously homeless adults, many of whom had co-occurring diagnoses. A significant amount of her experience has included working cross culturally including with British, Australian, and asylum seeking populations. Additionally, Emily has worked in private practice and with youth involved in the foster care system.

Meghan C.C. Blattner, MA, Clinical Researcher

Meg is a psychologist working part-time on the clinical team. On her other days, she is completing her APA internship at George Mason University Counseling and Psychological Services in Fairfax, VA. This is the final requirement for completing her PhD in Counseling Psychology from Boston College. Prior to her current roles, Meg has worked clinically with children, families, and adults in community mental health, schools, inpatient psychiatric settings, and university counseling. Additionally, Meg has a passion for community-based work and has spear-headed initiatives, many around Out-of-School Time programming for youth, and has worked as a consultant and researcher on several projects. She also holds a master's degree in Mental Health Counseling and a bachelor's degree, both also from Boston College.

Winston R. Corona, MS, Biologist

Mr. Corona was born in Chile and obtained a degree in engineering in 1981 from the University of Chile in Santiago. After coming to the United States he obtained a B.S. degree in environmental sciences and marine biology in 1995 from the University of the District of Columbia, and in 2005 he obtained his M.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His interest in research involving pure sciences began in 1984 after traveling around the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile. This brought him to NIH to work as a special volunteer in 1999. He is co-author of five publications.

Theresa B. DeGuzman, BS, Database and Sample Inventory Manager

Ms. DeGuzman is primarily involved in managing the lab’s sample inventory and administering the receiving database. She also assists with regulation compliance as well as graphic design and artwork. She has been with the NIMH Intramural Program since 1998 where she previously worked as a research assistant for the Laboratory of Clinical Science. She prepared clinical data on OCD and other comorbid disorders for analysis and did some of the preliminary statistical analysis. She designed, structured and administered her previous lab’s main clinical sample database and mouse database. She received her BS in Psychology degree from Letran College, Manila, Philippines.

Sevilla Detera-Wadleigh, PhD,Staff Scientist

Sevilla D Detera-Wadleigh’s (MS, PhD Biochemistry) research has focused on the genetics of mood disorders. To identify potential susceptibility regions for bipolar disorder she performed genome-wide linkage scan in multiply affected pedigrees, initiated and assembled the first large genome scan meta-analysis, involving many investigators in multiple countries. She has been involved in genome-wide association studies for bipolar disorder. She cloned neurobiologically relevant genes including rat MAPK (ERK1), human CALM 2 and human glucocorticoid receptor gene and characterized its promoter. She also cloned IMPA2, which encodes myoinositol monophosphatase, an enzyme known to be inhibited by lithium. In line with her interest in systems genetics of bipolar disorder, recently she generated molecular interaction networks which revealed enriched pathways for lithium-responsive genes and bipolar disorder candidate genes. She is pursuing studies on cellular modeling of bipolar disorder through induced pluripotent stem cells and is involved in a collaborative effort with the Institute for Systems Biology to perform whole genome sequencing in multigenerational multiply affected bipolar pedigrees to identify disease-segregating variants.

Girma W. Hawariat, PhD, Statistician and Quantitative Geneticist

Dr. Hawariat received his BS in Biology from Haile Sellassie University, Ethiopia and MS and PhD degrees in quantitative genetics from Texas A&M University. He did his postdoctoral training in quantitative genetics at The University of Wisconsin-Madison and a second postdoctoral training in molecular/cellular biology in The College of Medicine of The State University of New York at Syracuse. He served as a research scientist in molecular/cellular biology of cancer at The George Washington University Medical Center (Children Hospital) and as an assistant Professor in the same area in The College of Medicine of The Uniformed Services University of The Health Sciences. Dr. Hawariat has authored and co-authored 16 papers.

Liping Hou, PhD, Visiting Fellow

Dr. Hou received a B.S. in Public Health from the Tongji Medical College in 2004 and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology and Biostatistics from the Peking Union Medical College in 2009. He then moved to the Battelle Center for Mathematical Medicine of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children&'s Hospital to attend his post-doctoral training, where he worked on data analysis of genetic studies of Specific Language Impairment or Autism, and conducted a simulation study about using a 52 SNPs panel for population stratification correction. He joined our group in August 2011. His current research work involves analysis of high-throughput genetic data such as those generated from genome-wide association and next-generation sequencing studies.

Xueying Jiang, MD, PhD, Biologist

Ms Jiang received her M.D. from XinJiang Medical School in China in 1988, and her PH.D. in pharmacology at Chinese Academy of Medical sciences& Peking Union Medical College Peking in 1994. She completed her postdoctoral training at Department of Pharmacology, University of Maryland. From 2001 to 2006, she worked as a research assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), and participated in several research projects conducted by both National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and USUHS. Then she worked as a research scientist at the NIAAA/ NIH, Section of Molecular Neurogenetics in Laboratory of Neurogenetics for 2 years. She joined our group at the end of 2008.

Layla Kassem, PhD, PsyD, Psychologist

Dr. Kassem completed her doctorate in clinical psychology in 1993. She completed her postdoctoral training in Boston and Chicago. She is currently working on two projects. The first is at NIMH/NIH, at the Genetics of Mood and Anxiety Disorders Section, and the second is at the University of Chicago in the Committee on Human Development. Her interests include genetics of chronic psychiatric disorders and cultural issues in diagnosis and treatment. Her main responsibilities at NIMH include family interviews, and the analysis of clinical data. Her work at University of Chicago includes cross-cultural research on psychiatric disorders and their phenotypes as well as the interface between traditional healers and trained psychotherapists, and the evolution of the field of psychiatry in Lebanon and Egypt.

Fabiana L Lopes, MD, PhD, Research Fellow

Fabiana L. Lopes received her MD, Medical residency in Psychiatry and Masters degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. She did her PhD in collaboration with Universita Vita-Salute, San Raffaele-ville Turro, Milan. She started her activities at NIMH/NIH in May 2014 as a Visiting Post Doctoral Fellow, from a collaboration of CNPq (Brazil) and NIH, to work on a project of Genome Wide Association in Panic Disorder. Fabiana is joining the HGB as a Research Fellow and her interests include the genetic bases of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in South American Isolated Populations.

Carol Markey, BA, Technician

Ms. Markey graduated from the University of Michigan. She joined the NIMH intramural program in 1993. Prior to that she worked in a biochemistry laboratory on developing procedures to measure damage to neuronal DNA and the progression of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. She has been working on genetic disorders since 1995. From 1995 to 1998 she was part of the Unit on Molecular Clinical Investigation in the Clinical Neurogenetic Branch. During that period she was involved in a schizophrenia genetic study. In 1998, she joined the NIMH Laboratory of Genetics. She participated in genome-wide genotyping studies of complex trait diseases including breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, and schizophrenia. She also worked on the compilation of a G protein-coupled receptor library for the Mammalian Gene Collection. She joined the group in July of 2005.

Christopher Song, BA, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow, Research Assistant

Christopher Song received his B.A. from Pomona College in Molecular Biology. He joined the McMahon lab in August 2016 where he studies the genetic basis of bipolar disorder using cellular models. After his time at the NIMH, Christopher plans to apply to medical school.

Lexie Wille, BS, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow, Research Assistant

Lexie received her B.S. in Biology and Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She joined the NIMH intramural program in June 2016, and plans to obtain her PhD in Counseling Pychology after her time at the NIMH.


Stephanie A. Cardenas, BA, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow, Research Assistant

Ms. Cardenas received her B.A. from Williams College in Psychology and German Language and Literature. She joined the NIMH intramural program in June 2014, and is currently working on understanding the role played by neurocognition in euthymic bipolar patients and their family members. She plans to pursue further education in social and/or clinical psychology after her time at the NIMH.

David Chen, MD, Clinical Research Fellow

Dr. Chen is an ABPN-Certified Psychiatrist specializing in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Having graduated from University of Rochester School of Medicine, he completed his adult psychiatry residency at University of Maryland/Sheppard Pratt as chief resident in 2007. Thereafter he completed his Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Children's National Medical Center. In July 2009, Dr. Chen was awarded the 2009 American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Lilly Pilot Research Award. His project focuses on pediatric onset bipolar disorder. He joined the lab in July 2009.

Kenan Courtney, BS, Postbaccalaureate IRTA Fellow, Research Assistant

Kenan received his B.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Biology. He joined the NIMH intramural program in June 2015, and is currently investigating the role of circadian genetics in mood disorders. Kenan plans on obtaining a Master’s degree in Public Health after his time at the NIMH.

Gonzalo Laje, MD, MSc, Associate Clinical Investigator

Dr. Laje received his MD from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina in 1995 and a Master of Health Sciences in Clinical Research from Duke University. He completed his training in general psychiatry at New York University/ Bellevue Hospital in New York City, and trained in child and adolescent psychiatry through the combined program NIMH/ Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University. Dr. Laje has been the recipient of multiple awards in the fields of psychiatry and child psychiatry from the NIH, NIMH, American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP). Dr. Laje is a member of the Editorial Board of the Child Psychiatry and Human Development journal and sits on the advisory boards of The Madison House Autism Foundation and Parents and Researchers Interested in Smith-Magenis Syndrome (PRISMS). He is also a member of the Genetics in Psychiatry Section of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) and an Associate Member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. He joined lab in 2005. His research interests include pharmacogenetics and psychiatric aspects of genetic disorders.

Eleanor Murphy, PhD, Research Fellow

Dr. Murphy is a licensed psychologist and research scientist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in 2003. She completed postdoctoral training in psychiatric epidemiology at The Mailman School of Public Health, and Department of Psychiatry – Columbia University. Her research interests center on gene-environment interaction in mood and anxiety disorders, and racial and ethnic mental health disparities. Dr. Murphy joined the lab in March 2011, and currently works on several projects investigating the role of genetics in the etiology and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders in African-Americans.

Thomas Schulze, MD, Professor of Psychiatric Genetics, University of Goettingen, Germany

Thomas G. Schulze studied medicine in Germany, the USA, and Catalonia. He trained as a psychiatrist and held positions in Germany (Bonn, Mannheim) and the USA (Chicago, IL; Bethesda, MD; Baltimore, MD). At the NIMH, he served as the Assistant Director of Clinical Research within the Unit on the Genetic Basis of Mood and Anxiety Disorders from 2008 until 2010. In July of 2010, he was appointed Professor of Psychiatric Genetics at the University of Göttingen in Germany. He is also on Faculty at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland (USA).

Dr. Schulze’s research focuses on genotype–phenotype relationship in psychiatric disorders. At the University of Göttingen, he coordinates a 4 million € center grant on genotype-phenotype relationships and the neurobiology of the longitudinal course of psychosis ( ). To study the genetic basis of response to lithium treatment in bipolar disorder, he organized the international Consortium on Lithium Genetics ( ), which comprises several research groups from Europe, North and South America, Asia, and Australia.

He has authored more than 130 papers in leading journals. He is the 2006 recipient of the Robins-Guze-Award of the American Psychopathological Association (APPA), the 2006 recipient of the Theodore-Reich-Award of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics (ISPG), the 2007 recipient of the Future Award of the German Society of Bipolar Disorders, and the 2009 recipient of the Hans-Jörg-Weitbrecht Award for Clinical Neuroscience of the German Psychiatric Association.

Jens R. Wendland, MD, Group Leader, Roche Pharmaceuticals, Bern, Switzerland

Dr. Wendland received his M.D. degree from the University of Würzburg, Germany, in 2003. He completed an internship in adult psychiatry and joined the NIMH in 2004. His initial work at the NIMH was focused on the genetics of obsessive compulsive disorder and of the serotonin transporter. After joining our group, he was primarily involved in bipolar disorder genetics studies and analyses of the brain transcriptome. He moved to his current position in 2010.