Our Team

Lab Directors

Eric Courchesne, Autism Center of Excellence director

Eric Courchesne, PhD
Professor, UCSD Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
Co-Director, UCSD Autism Center of Excellence

Eric Courchesne is one of the world’s leading experts on the neurobiology of autism. He is the overall director and principle investigator of the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence, and is also the director of the UCSD Autism Center’s MRI Project on early brain development in autism.

His research and the Center are dedicated to uncovering the brain bases and genetic causes of autism. Current MRI studies of autism aim to identify the brain structures that are abnormal at infancy in autism and to discover patterns of abnormal early brain growth.

Current functional brain imaging techniques (“fMRI”) are used to establish links between autistic symptoms and the brain sites responsible for them. His studies of frontal cortex microstructure seek to identify abnormal developmental changes in microstructure and gene expression from early childhood to adulthood in autism.

Recognized through publications in journals such as Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), his work has significantly contributed to scientists’ understanding of the biological bases of autism, and has been the source of new insights on the functional role of the frontal lobes and cerebellum.

Dr. Courchesne is frequently invited to lecture at major conferences and symposia and he has also made numerous media appearances, including as a featured guest on U.S., Canadian, Japanese, French, and British public TV science programs. His discoveries have also been featured in newspapers and magazines around the world, including Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

He is a member of several advisory boards, including Autism-France and the Autism Society of America. Dr. Courchesne’s studies have resulted in over 170 publications.

His research is supported through grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the Cure Autism Now Foundation, the NICHD Developmental Brain and Tissue Bank at the University of Maryland, the Harvard Brain Bank and the Autism BrainNet (formerly the Autism Tissue Program).


Karen Pierce

Karen Pierce, PhD
Professor, Department of Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego (UCSD)
Co-Director, UCSD Autism Center of Excellence

Dr. Pierce has been studying autism for the past 20 years and is a leading expert on the neural and clinical phenotype of ASD.  Her research spans a range of topics from early screening and detection to eye tracking and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).  Her early detection approach that focuses on mobilizing pediatricians, called the 1-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach, has identified several hundred ASD toddlers around the 1st birthday and has resulted in rapid treatment access. Using eye tracking and brain imaging technology within this early-detected population, Dr. Pierce’s work has revealed unusual patterns of eye gaze and brain activity that helps elucidate the behavioral and biological heterogeneity of ASD.  

Dr. Pierce has been invited as a keynote speaker on the topic of autism at both national and international conferences. Her work is published in high-impact journals and has been highlighted in the public media including CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine. Her research is funded by both NIH as well as private organizations such as the Simons Foundation.  

She has been honored by several awards and recognitions including US Department of Health and Human Services IACC Top 20 Research Paper, Autism Speaks Top 10 Research Paper, and the San Diego Health Hero Award.


Research Team

Lisa Eyler

Lisa T. Eyler, PhD
Professor, Department of Psychiatry

Dr. Eyler received her undergraduate degree from Duke University in 1991 and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996. After a post-doctoral fellowship in geriatric psychology, she joined the faculty of the VA Desert-Pacific Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) and then was appointed as faculty in the UCSD Department of Psychiatry. She is now an Professor in the Psychiatry Department and Clinical Research Psychologist in the MIRECC program for which she serves as Associate Director of the Neuroimaging Unit. Dr. Eyler is also a faculty member in the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and the Stein Institute for Research on Aging. She is chair of the Psychiatry Department Chair’s Advisory Committee on Diversity Issues and chair of the UCSD School of Medicine’s Standing and Promotions Committee.

Dr. Eyler's research focuses on understanding individual differences in cognitive and emotional functioning using structural and functional brain imaging and blood-based biomarkers.  She is a co-investigator in the Autism Center of Excellence at UCSD and is involved in studies that aim to discover a bio-behavioral fingerprint of autism at a very young age by combining neuroimaging, behavioral, and genetic measures in infants and toddlers at risk for autism to improve diagnostic and prognostic predictions and better understand the developmental causes of the disorder. She is also Principal Investigator of an NIMH-funded project which aims to examine whether brain structure and function appear to age more rapidly among individuals with bipolar disorder and how this may relate to increasing cognitive deficits with age. Additional research just beginning in her lab will examine how patterns of cognitive change over time relate to patterns of mood instability and blood-based immune markers in bipolar disorder. Finally, Dr. Eyler has an interest in healthy aging and has conducted studies examining the relationship of cognitive and emotional success to brain function and blood-based biomarkers among healthy seniors, and she is a co-investigator on the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging MRI study which aims to understand genetic and environmental contributions to brain aging and its association with cognitive and emotional functioning.


 Srinivasa Nalabolu Srinivasa Nalabolu, PhD
Sr. Clinical Research Data Manager 


Dr. Srinivasa Nalabolu is Senior Clinical Research Data Manager for ACE, UCSD. As a member of a multidisciplinary team (comprised of clinicians, statisticians, clinical research associates and project managers), he oversees data management activities on clinical trials for the Clinical Operations of the Autism Center. From project start-up to database lock, he manages the monitoring of clinical trials data for completeness, accuracy and consistency, ensuring data meets quality standards. The Data Manager is responsible for assuring data integrity and compliance as well as managing data capture, editing, and transfer activities, and works closely with staff of campus database resources to design and implement novel databases.

Dr. Nalabolu is a bioinformatics scientist with a broad background in data mining & data integration of various biological databases for product development, genomics, proteomics and database administration. He has extensive experience in designing, implementing and managing business and social innovation platforms to enable collaboration, crowd sourcing and electronic data capture within and across organizations.


 Cindy Carter, research psychologist at the Autism Center of Excellence Cynthia Carter Barnes, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
PSY 26108


Dr. Barnes (Cindy) has been at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence since early 2004, and has worked with children with autism and their families for 19 years. Before joining the laboratory, she worked as a parent trainer and also served as the Director for Children's Hospital's Autism Intervention Center.

Dr. Barnes received her master's and doctorate degrees in Educational Psychology with emphasis in Developmental Disabilities from UC Santa Barbara, where she was trained in the Koegel Autism Center under the renowned autism treatment researcher, Dr. Robert Koegel.  She is versed conducting developmental and psychological evaluations of the individuals participating in our research, and providing referrals and resources for early intervention.  She also is an author and co-author on a number of manuscripts, and heads the team in making sure our studies are in compliance with UCSD Human Protections Program regulations.


 Debra Cha, Clinical Psychologist Debra Cha, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
PSY 25684


Dr. Debra Cha is a licensed clinical psychologist at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology with an emphasis in children and families. Her clinical experiences have predominantly focused on identifying and treating children with autism. Prior to joining the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence, she supervised and coordinated the delivery of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services, which included screening and identifying young children at-risk for autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Cha is bilingual (Korean) and is passionate about delivering culturally competent services. Her current role at our agency includes conducting developmental evaluations.




 Yaqiong Xiao, Ph.D.
Yaqiong Xiao, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Yaqiong Xiao is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence. She received her Ph.D in Psychology from Leipzig University (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences), Germany in 2017. Yaqiong's research has focused on investigating: 1) Brain development in preschool children and its relation to language processing and development using the resting-state fMRI approach, 2) The neural basis of social cognitive processes in typically developing children and children with ASD using both task and resting-state fMRI approaches. Currently, she aims to exploring the abnormal brain basis of early social and language development as well as altered brain organization during task and rest in toddlers with ASD.
Linda Lopez, pediatric phlebotomist at the Autism Center of Excellence

Linda Lopez
Pediatric Phlebotomist

Ms. Lopez has 12+ years experience as a phlebotomist and also spends her time assisting the psychologists and working with our Spanish speaking families.

Mo Shir, SPARK Clinical Coordinator  
Mojeeb "Mo" Shir
SPARK Clinical Coordinator

Mo received his B.S. in Physiology and Neuroscience after graduating from UC San Diego in 2018. He joined the ACE team in the fall of 2018 as the SPARK study coordinator. Mo oversees outreach and recruitment, and assists families with the enrollment process and saliva collection. He has a breadth of experience working with special needs and diverse populations and aims to apply to medical school in the near future to pursue his goal of becoming an Emergency Care Physician.


Lauren Kupis, tfMRI Coordinator
Lauren Kupis
tfMRI Coordinator/Clinical Assistant Program Coordinator


Lauren Kupis graduated from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and a minor in Biology. Lauren has been with the lab since 2015 and has been involved with Data Entry and as a Clinical Assistant. At ACE, Lauren is currently the fMRI study coordinator and works on fMRI data analysis and processing, scheduling, and is overseeing the clinical assistant program. Lauren plans on pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology and to specialize in developmental neuropsychology. Her research interests include developmental disorders and potential biomarkers in the brain, MRI research in discovering differences in brain functioning and processing in children with developmental disorders compared to typically developing children, treatment and early intervention, and maternal immune activation during pregnancy. Lauren is also a trained ABA therapist. 
 
 

Christie Pham, service clinical research coordinator Christie Pham
Clinical Research Coordinator

Christie Pham graduated from UC San Diego in 2017 with a B.S. in Cognitive Science with a specialization in Neuroscience and a minor in Business. She has been a member of the ACE lab since 2016. Christie is interested in developmental psychology, particularly in the realm of relationships, attachment styles, and emotion in respect to both typically/atypically developing children, and is currently involved in many ACE lab activities such as data analysis, maintaining communication with the Pediatrician network, and data management/presentation for internal lab purposes. 
 

Collaborators

 Dr. Michael V. Lombardo

Michael V. Lombardo, Ph.D., directs the Laboratory for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LAND) at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Rovereto, Italy. LAND's mission is to better understand how individuals differentiate across multiple levels (e.g. genomics, neural systems, cognition, behavior) and how this information can be utilized to make strides towards personalized medicine for patients and families affected with neurodevelopmental conditions.


 Dr. Evan Eichler

Evan E. Eichler, Ph.D., received his doctorate degree in Molecular Genetics from Baylor College of Medicine in 1995. He is the Principal Investigator of the Eichler Lab as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Washington where he investigates the organization of duplicated and repetitive DNA and their role in contributing to de novo deletions and duplications associated with intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, and other genomic disorders. He aims to understand the evolution, pathology and mechanism(s) of recent gene duplication and DNA transposition within the human genome. He and his team have developed novel computational and experimental methods to characterize genetic variation within both unique and highly duplicated regions in the genome. 

He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received several awards, including the Allen Distinguished Investigator AwardCurt Stern Award from the American Society of Human Genetics, and the Newcomb Cleveland Prize among many others.

Ilan Dinstein, post doctoral at the Autism Center of Excellence Alysson R. Muotri, Ph.D., is a professor at the School of Medicine at the University of California in San Diego. He received his Ph.D. in Genetics in 2001 from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. He moved to the Salk Institute as a Pew Latin America Fellow in 2002 for postdoctoral training in neuroscience and stem cell biology. His research utilizes neural stem cells, human and other primates' pluripotent cells, and several molecular tools to model and explore fundamental mechanisms of brain development, such as brain evolution and Autism Spectrum Disorders. His lab has developed a number of techniques to culture human neurons for basic research and drug-screening platforms. 

Dr. Muotri has been recognized with several awards, including the prestigious NIH Director's New Innovator Award, NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, Emerald Foundation Young Investigator Award, Surugadai Award from Tokyo University, Rock Star of Innovation from CONNECT, and the NIH EUREKA Award among others.


 Anders Dale, PhD founding co-director of the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory
Anders Dale, Ph.D., founding Co-Director of the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory, an interdisciplinary initiative of the Departments of Neurosciences and Radiology. He is highly skilled in the development and utilization of multimodality imaging technologies.

Within both departments, Dr. Dale is the designated point person for integrating the various modes and methods of collecting imaging data, including functional MRI (fMRI), magnetoencephalography (MEG), electroencephalography (EEG), and optical imaging.


His efforts are directed in three areas: continuing development and refinement of accurate and automated algorithms for evaluation subjects using multimodality approaches to data collection; statistical analysis of data; and conducting studies in animal models using optical imaging, high field fMRI, and electrophysiological recordings to enhance the interpretation of neuroimaging studies.

Ilan Dinstein, post doctoral at the Autism Center of Excellence Ilan Dinstein, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Psychology and Cognitive & Brain Sciences Departments at BGU. He received his PhD from the Center for Neural Science at New York University in 2010 and then completed post-doctoral training in the Neurobiology Department at the Weizmann Institute and the Psychology Department at Carnegie Mellon University. Since his arrival at BGU, he was awarded with an Alon Fellowship, the Sieratzki award for young neuroscientists, and the Toronto Prize for Excellence in Research.

His research focuses on the neurobiology of autism with a particular emphasis on early development. To date, Professor Dinstein has published over 35 papers in high-impact journals including Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Current Biology and others. He is the director of the National Autism Knowledge Center in Israel, which collects vital information from hundreds of children with autism and their families with the goal of improving autism diagnosis and treatment. The center brings together researchers and clinicians from a variety of universities and medical centers in Isreal and is funded by the Israeli Ministry of Science. 

Undergraduate Students

Emilee Elfsten
Emilee Elfsten 
   Tia Chen 
​ 
Jerry Castillo
Judy Mahmalji
Judy Mahmalji
Jennifer Kim
Jennifer Kim
Ankitha Kaki
Ankitha Kaki

Megan So

Delani Fish 


Previous Team Members

Tiziano Pramparo

Liz Bacon

Tiziano Pramparo, PhD
Associate Research Scientist






Liz Bacon, PhD, BCBA

Postdoctoral Researcher 
PSY 29317

Adrienne Moore Clelia Aherns-Barbeau

Adrienne Moore, PhD
Clinical Coordinator





Clelia Aherns-Barbeau
Lab Manager 

 

Mallory Barrett

Mallory Barrett, MLA
Clinical Lab Project Manager

Jessica Garcia

Jessica Garcia, PsyD
Research Psychologist

Mee Kyoung Kwon

Mee Kyoung Kwon
Then: Postdoctoral Scholar
Now: Assistant Professor
Division of General Studies, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology

Michael Datko

Michael Datko
Postdoctoral Researcher

Sunny Pence

Sunny Pence
Then: Lead Clinical Coordinator & Education Director
Now: Graduate Student, University of Colorado

Emily Yuen Emily Yuen, MPH
Then: Clinical Research Coordinator/ tfMRI Coordinator
Now: Medical school student
Erin Bower

Erin Bower
Clinical Coordinator

Hannah Kaplan
Kathleen Campbell, MRI lab assistant at the Autism Center of Excellence

Hannah Kaplan
SPARK Coordinator



Kathleen Campbell, M.D
Then: MRI Research Assistant
Now: Physician

 Nicole Gallagher, clinical coordinator and administrative assistant at Autism Center of Excellence

Nicole Gallagher, MPH
Clinical Liaison

 

.Roxana Hazin, clinical coordinator at the Autism Center of Excellence

Roxana Hazin
Clinical Coordinator

 

Steven Marinero

Steven Marinero
Then: MRI Laboratory Assistant
Now: Doctoral Student, Duke University

 Maisi Mayo, MRI lab assistant at the Autism Center of Excellence

Maisi Mayo
MRI Research Assistant

 Stephanie Solso, MRI lab assistant at the Autism Center of Excellence

Stephanie Solso
MRI Laboratory Assistant

Stuart Spendlove

Stuart J. Spendlove, PhD
Bilingual Research Psychologist

Julia Young, MRI lab assistant at the Autism Center of Excellence


Julia Young
MRI Laboratory Assistant