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Our Team

Dr. Paula Desplats
Dr. Paula Desplats
Principal Investigator
Assistant Professor
Departments of Neuroscience and Pathology Principal Investigator
Assistant Professor Departments of Neuroscience and Pathology

Dr. Brian Spencer
Dr. Brian Spencer
Assistant Project Scientist

Dr. Spencer’s research focus is the 1) degradation and clearance of aggregating protein in the brain and 2) delivery of therapeutic proteins and nucleic acids for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.  My investigations into the accumulation and potential therapeutic targets of Aß for Alzhieimer’s disease and ?-synuclein for Parkinson’s disease and other synucleinopathies has lead to a focus on the protein degradation pathway in the cell.  I have spent many years investigating the endosomal and autophagy pathway of protein degradation and found targets for therapeutics.
The second major focus of my research is the delivery of therapeutics to the CNS from the blood.  Delivery of therapeutic proteins to the brain is a significant hurdle in the translation of bench-side research to bedside treatment.  Intra-venous delivery of a recombinant protein or peptide followed by widespread distribution in the CNS is the ideal approach for many neurological disorders that require dispersed therapeutic delivery. Recent attempts to delivery recombinant proteins and peptides to discrete structures in the CNS have met with some success using viral vector delivery or convection delivery; however, these approaches require stereotaxic injection through the skull and are likely best limited to single or few structures in the CNS. I have characterized a 39 amino acid LDL-receptor binding domain from Apolipoprotein B that when fused to a target protein, facilitates transport from the blood to the CNS.
Dr. Elvira Valera MartinDr. Elvira Valera Martin
Assistant Project Scientist

I am a project scientist focused on the study of multiple system atrophy (MSA) and related neurodegenerative disorders. I am currently investigating the mechanistic involvement of microRNAs in the MSA pathology, and exploring potential therapeutic alternatives for this devastating disease. Other research interests include the use of immunotherapies for neurodegenerative disorders, and targeting neuroinflammation as a disease-modifying alternative for synucleinopathies. When I’m not in the lab I like running marathons, playing videogames, and cuddling with my cat.

MSA is a fatal, rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by motor, autonomic and non-motor deficits associated with oligodendroglial accumulation of a-synuclein (a-syn). The mechanisms through which a-syn accumulates in oligodendroglial cells, resulting in neurodegenerative pathology, are not completely understood. One possibility is that failure in intracellular clearance mechanisms could lead to the accumulation of a-syn that propagates from neuronal and/or other glial cells. We have recently found that specific microRNAs (miRNAs) that are altered in patients and in transgenic animal models of MSA also regulate the expression of genes involved both in intracellular vesicle sorting and misfolded protein clearance. We hypothesize that miRNA dysregulation in MSA might inhibit proper endocytic vesicle sorting, which in turn results in defective a-syn clearance and accumulation within oligodendrocytes. Our objectives are to better understand the mechanisms through which alterations in vesicle sorting and autophagy-inhibiting miRNAs are involved in the pathological accumulation of a-syn in MSA oligodendrocytes, and to evaluate the potential value of modulating miRNAs as a novel therapeutic approach for MSA.

Dr. Changyoun Kim
Dr. Changyoun Kim
Visiting Postdoctoral Scholar

Changyoun is interested in studying pathological roles of Toll-like receptors in Parkinson’s disease, and identifying characteristics of different a-synuclein fibril strains. He moved to NIA intramural programs to continue working with Dr. Masliah.​

Dr. Changyoun Kim Dr.Hodaka Yamada
Visiting MD
Dr. Jerel Adam Fields
Dr. Jerel Adam Fields
Postdoctoral Scholar

As a biomedical researcher, much of my work has focused on delineating molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration. This work began during my Ph.D. program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, and has continued throughout my 3+ years of postdoctoral work at the University of California, San Diego. My future research plans include extending previous discoveries, such as: 1) C/EBPß-mediated gene regulation during neuroinflammation; 2) how HIV proteins affect the function (autophagy and mitochondrial dynamics and biogenesis) of bystander neurons in the brain and targeting these mechanisms via therapeutics and 3) Somatic hypermutation (APOBEC, cytodine deaminases, retrotransposons) contribution to neurodegeneration.

Dr. Jennifer Mott

Jennifer Mott
Aloha, I am a recent graduate from UC San Diego with a major in general biology and minor in psychology. I had initially become interested in the topic of circadian rhythm from courses relating to its significant correlations with physiological diseases and psychological disorders. This has led me to be a part of the Desplats lab since March of 2015. I hope to incorporate my major and minor background in the research field, as my interests include neuroscience and clinical psychology. I see many more years of school ahead of me, as I plan on going to graduate school in biology and farther down the line, a career in the research field. In my spare time, I enjoy going to see live music/theater performances, taking strolls around in search for the best coffee, and playing with my golden retriever. As a native of South Korea, a resident of Hawaii, and a graduate of UCSD, I am excited to see where I will be residing next.
Jeffrey Metcalf

Jeffrey Metcalf
Research Assistant
Lab Manager

Jeff Metcalf is involved in research with HIV Associated, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease Dementias. He is also the Laboratory Manager, Safety Officer, and Tissue Bank Manager. Importantly he is the organizer of the Lab Happy Hours and fun time!!​
Dr. Margarita FoxMargarita Fox
Administrative Assistant

As the administrator, Maggie assists with ordering, human resources, and reimbursements.
Taeyeon (Jessica) Kim Taeyeon (Jessica) Kim
Undergraduate student

I am a 3rd year Human Biology major in Sixth College from San Diego. I joined the Desplats lab in the middle of my freshman year and my curiosity was sparked by working with geriatric-psych patients at a local hospital - since then I have become increasingly interested in neurodegenerative diseases. Currently in the Desplats lab, I am exploring the link between insulin resistance in the brain and Alzheimer’s Disease. In my free time I enjoy spending time with my family, golfing, reading and going to the beach with friends! My future plans include the BS/MS program, medical school and moving somewhere with seasons!
Gabriel Martinez

Gabriel Martinez
Undergraduate student
Everett Williams

Everett Williams
Carlsbad High School student intern

In the lab I assist with simple procedures, observe and learn lab techniques, and assemble databases of research from PubMed. I run Cross Country and Track for Carlsbad High School, play the piano, and enjoy surfing in my spare time.  I am currently working to complete my Eagle Scout Project for Boy Scouts.  My future plans are to attend a four-year university and discover what I want to do with my life after that.​
Ethan Boutelle Ethan Boutelle
Ethan studies at San Dieguito Academy HS and has joined the lab to complete a summer internship in 2016, learning data mining, bibliography searching and also helped us with western blot and other bench assays.​


BS/MS Roxana Wiswell
Roxy came to the lab to pursue her Honor Thesis project (BISP196) at which she excelled. Not only we loved to have her around, she also became so engaged on her project that decided to continue into the BS/MS program. The results of her work were presented at the 2016 Alzheimer’s Association International meeting in Toronto. MS Roxy has been accepted at Med School in N.Y.C.!!! Good luck Roxy…we will miss you.

Peter Cronin
Soon after obtaining his B.S. from Boston College, Peter came to the lab looking to gain experience in the bench and interested in neuroscience. He brought a lot of energy and his experience in the industry to our bench. During the 2+ years Peter was in the lab we grew and expand and started some fascinating projects in circadian biology. Hi precision in pipetting is still unsurpassed. We will not have made to here without you!
Peter decided to fuse his passion for science and brewery and is now Quality Technician at AleSmith Brewing company ?

Michelle Lee
Michelle also completed a BISP199 in the lab, and stayed way after her academic credits were completed working on chromatin remodelers. She helped us with many other projects and added energy and fun to the bench work!

STAR students: Heather Ngo and Stephen Doan
Heather and Steven spent a summer in the lab as part of the High School Summer Training in Aging Research (STAR) from the UCSD Center for Healthy Aging. We enjoy a lot having both around and they did a terrific job parsing sequencing data! Steven later continued as intern in the lab and received full scholarship to study at Yale!!! Kudos to our bright students…

Dr. Pruthul Patel
Pruthul worked in our lab for almost 2 years, completing BISP199 projects until he graduated and was admitted to USC where he completed his Medical degree! Way to go Dr. Patel!

Dr. Scott Roberts
Scott completed a BISP199 in our lab and heled us with many other projects as undergrad. He recently graduated from Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine and is currently completing an Emergency Medicine Residency at Adena Regional Medical Center in Chillicothe Ohio. So proud of our students!!!

Elizabeth Coffee
Elizabeth was one of the first students in the lab. She spent a summer with us as part of the Amgen Scholar program ( from UCSD. She co-authored a paper and meeting abstracts as the result of her hard work.