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Meet Our Team

Robert M. Anthenelli, M.D. • Director

Robert M. Anthenelli, M.D.Dr. Anthenelli is a Professor and the former Interim Chair, Executive Vice Chair, and Vice Chair for Veterans Affairs, respectively, in the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry where he directs the Pacific Treatment and Research Center (Pac-TARC).

He earned his baccalaureate degree from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed his internship in internal medicine at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore, and his psychiatry residency training at UCSD and the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Additional post-doctoral training included a two-year fellowship in addiction psychiatry research funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Dr. Anthenelli was formerly a Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine where he founded and directed the Center for Treatment, Research & Education in Addictive Disorders and the Addiction Sciences Division. He also directed the Substance Dependence Program at the Cincinnati VA which was awarded the Department of Veterans Affairs, Undersecretary for Health’s Award as a Clinical Program of Excellence in Substance Abuse and was selected as a National Tobacco Cessation Clinical Resource Center.

Dr. Anthenelli has been selected among the Best Doctors and Top Psychiatrists in America. He is an Associate Editor of Current Psychiatry and serves on the editorial advisory boards of the Journal of Addiction Medicine Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 

The overarching theme of Dr. Anthenelli’s research is to develop improved treatments for tobacco, alcohol and stimulant dependence by better understanding the neurobiology of the disorders. Support for his research is provided by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute on Drug Abuse, University of California Office of the President’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, and various industry sponsors.

Benjamin McKenna, Ph.D. • Clinical Psychologist

Benjamin McKenna, Ph.D. Dr. McKenna is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry and a Staff Psychologist at the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System where he serves as Coordinator for the Mood Disorders Clinic. 

He received his B.S. in Psychology from the University of Arizona. In 2011, he earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Neuropsychology from the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology and completed a predoctoral internship at the University of Arizona Medical Center. Following his doctoral training, Dr. McKenna completed a Veterans Affairs phetamine and AIDS Research Center on a NIDA-funded T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship for Training in Research on Addictions in Interdisciplinary NeuroAIDS. 

Dr. McKenna joined Pac-TARC in 2016. His overarching research interests are to better understand 1) the neurobiology and associated cognitive functions impacted by substances of abuse, and 2) interactions between addictions and other mental illnesses. His research interests are aimed at improving treatments in patients with comorbid mental health and substance use diagnoses.


Kristina Johnson, M.A. • Study Therapist

Benjamin McKenna, Ph.D.

Mrs. Johnson received her B.A. in Psychology from California State University, San Marcos. She is currently a 4th year Predoctoral Clinical Psychology student at Alliant International University (AIU) in San Diego. She received her M.A. in Clinical Psychology in May of 2019. 

During her graduate work at AIU she provided HRV Biofeedback for those diagnosed with anxiety, stress-related disorders/symptoms, and gastrointestinal disorders, while also providing ancillary therapy for patients diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. More recently, Kristina’s clinical rotation at UCSD Primary Care and Collaborative Care contributed to her competencies in various evidence-based therapy modalities (e.g., CBT, DBT) as part of a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers. 

Kristina’s passion for treating patients with co-occurring medical and psychiatric diagnoses has spawned her efforts to implement empirically supported research practice when treating patients.


Rayana Villalpando, M.A. • Study Therapist

Tracy Bittner, B.A. Ms. Villalpando received her B.S. in Psychology from Indiana Institute of Technology while also playing basketball there. She currently attends Alliant International University where she earned her Master’s degree and is working toward her doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has completed practicums working with severely mentally ill adults, infants and adolescents affected by autism, and she has worked with cancer patients and their families.

Rayana's current research and clinical interests are in the areas of Sports Psychology – specifically, better understanding and managing the retirement process for collegiate and professional athletes. She plans to do her internship next fall in the Los Angeles area.


Xia Li, M.D Ph.D. • Study Physician 

  Tracy received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. As an undergraduate student, she completed an internship at The Scripps Institute of Research under Dr. George Koob. Ms. Bittner has been working at Pac-TARC for almost three years and advanced from a student intern to study coordinator.  Esther Wong, B.A.
Dr. Li is a fourth-year Psychiatry resident at the University of California, San Diego, who previously rotated through Pac-TARC when she was an Assistant Professor in the UCSD Department of Psychiatry exploring a career in psychiatry.
 
Dr. Li had an eight-year career in academic medicine in China before becoming a post-doctoral research fellow at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)/NIH. She then joined Dr. Athina Markou’s research group at UCSD, eventually becoming an independent investigator and faculty member in the Department. She has been awarded grants from NIH and the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) of the State of California.
 
Her research focuses on mechanism-based medication development for the treatment of drug addiction. She has extensively explored neurochemical mechanisms underlying drug-taking and drug-seeking behaviors, focusing on the role of various neurotransmitter systems and investigating novel compounds as potential medications for substance use disorders.

 


Belinda Daniel, M.D. • Study Physician

Michelle Frankot Dr. Daniel is a fourth-year Psychiatry resident at the University of California, San Diego, where she currently serves as Chief Resident at the Outpatient Psychiatric Services Clinic in Hillcrest. She received her B.A. in Biology at Northwestern University, with a minor in Global Health, and her M.D. at the University of Illinois in Rockford.

We welcome Belinda back to the lab after previously serving as Study Coordinator on a study funded by NIAAA’s INIA Stress Consortium examining the relationship between alcohol use and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She remains interested in Addiction Psychiatry and PTSD, and has been involved in a number of respective clinical electives at both UCSD and the VA. After residency, she will be continuing her training in the Addiction Psychiatry fellowship here at UCSD.


Esther Wong, B.A. • Clinical Research Coordinator

  Tracy received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. As an undergraduate student, she completed an internship at The Scripps Institute of Research under Dr. George Koob. Ms. Bittner has been working at Pac-TARC for almost three years and advanced from a student intern to study coordinator.  Esther Wong, B.A. Mrs. Wong earned her baccalaureate degree in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine. Upon graduation, she joined Dr. Anthenelli’s first UCSD-based research team working on a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)-funded study examining individuals with antisocial personality disorder and alcohol and drug dependence. Since rejoining Pac-TARC in 2014, she has worked on several studies in individuals with comorbid psychiatric and substance use disorders as both a Senior Research Assistant and Clinical Trials Coordinator.


Matine Rubin • Student Intern

Michelle Frankot

Ms. Rubin is a third-year undergraduate student majoring in Statistics at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). Her studies focus on public health and biostatistics. After completing her baccalaureate degree, she plans to apply to medical school.
 
In addition to her work at Pac-TARC, she is also involved in biological research based at UCR that examines the effects of smoking in ex vivo and stem-cell models.



Saisantosh Attaluri • Student Intern

Mr. Attaluri is a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in General Biology at the University of California, San Diego. He plans to apply to medical school after completing his bachelor’s degree. He hopes to pursue a career in Psychiatry after medical school.





Jillian Giannini • Student Intern

Michelle Frankot

Ms. Giannini is a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in Cognitive-Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego. She plans to apply to graduate school in clinical psychology after completing her bachelor’s degree. She hopes to pursue a career as a clinician or as a research scientist.