DIRECTOR


Shafali Spurling Jeste

Principal Investigator/Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Neurology

Dr. Jeste is a behavioral child neurologist specializing in autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is an Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Neurology in the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and a lead investigator within UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART). 

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After earning a BA in philosophy from Yale University in 1997 and her MD from Harvard Medical School in 2002, Dr. Jeste completed a residency in child neurology and a fellowship in behavioral child neurology at Children’s Hospital, Boston. She then pursued post-doctoral training in developmental cognitive neuroscience with Dr. Charles Nelson at Harvard Medical School, where she gained expertise in the use of high-density electroencephalography (EEG) to characterize functional brain development in infancy and early childhood, particularly as it informs atypical development.  She was recruited to UCLA CART in 2010 as the director of its electrophysiology core. CART has played a leading role nationally and internationally in developing an improved understanding of the biological and psychosocial basis of autism and is the only center to be awarded an NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) grant twice, first in 2007 and then in 2012. Dr. Jeste’s research is focused on the use of novel electrophysiological biomarkers to better define early predictors of autism and to define more homogeneous, brain-based subgroups within the autism spectrum in order to inform treatment targets. Within this framework, she has been investigating and treating infants and children with neurogenetic syndromes associated with autism. As the lead investigator on a large study of development in infants with Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC), Dr. Jeste has designed innovative studies in early predictors of autism to focus on the integration of biomarkers with behavior to define atypical development prior to the onset of clinical symptoms of autism. In the last few years she has begun to study and treat children with Dup15q syndrome, and she established a Dup15q clinic at UCLA, through which she has already evaluated and/or treated more than 20 children. This research in Dup15q syndrome will now be supported by a new Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) grant, led by Dr. Susan Bookheimer.  She is also the UCLA site PI of The Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials (ABC-CT) which is multi-site NIH research study based at Yale.  Dr. Jeste has been the recipient of the Child Neurology Foundation’s Researcher-in- Training Award and the American Academy of Neurology’s (AAN) Clinical Researcher-in-Training Award. She also was selected in 2014 as a member of the AAN Emerging Leaders Forum. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Child Neurology Foundation and the AAN Science Committee. Her research is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) multi-site grant, a NICHD Autism Center of Excellence grant, a NIMH Autism Center of Excellence Network grant, and a Department of Defense grant.

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PERSONNEL


Baker

Elizabeth Baker

Staff Research Associate 2

Liz is the lead coordinator for the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials (ABC-CT) study. Prior to this project, she worked with children of all ages on multiple projects to collect electroencephalogram (EEG) data, including infants (ACEII Project 1), toddlers, (ACEII Project 2), and minimally verbal school-aged children (ACEII Project 3). 

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While studying sociology & psychology as an undergraduate, she began to explore her interest in developmental disabilities, focusing on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Liz is a graduate of the Fernald Internship, founded by Dr. Bruce Baker, and worked on the Collaborative Family Study in Dr. Baker’s lab to better understand intellectual disability in the context of friendship groups. Later, she volunteered with the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP) where she learned about the presentation of ASD as well as various behavioral interventions and treatments. Wanting to broaden her knowledge of these populations with the use of EEG, she joined the Jeste Lab in 2013 after graduating from UCLA. Liz’s main interests are parent perception of research and participant experience.  She hopes to apply for clinical psychology programs this year in related fields.

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Bhatt

Rujuta Bhatt

Assistant Professor

Dr. Rujuta Bhatt specializes in general pediatric neurology, autism, and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is a Clinical Instructor in Pediatrics and Pediatric Neurology at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and also a Behavioral Child Neurology Fellow working with Dr. Shafali Jeste within the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART) and the Jeste Lab. 

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After completing a combined BA/MD program at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dr. Bhatt completed residency in pediatrics and child neurology at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital. Her interest and research in neurodevelopmental disabilities and neurogenetics began in medical school. Dr. Bhatt was awarded a grant from The Child Neurology Foundation and the recipient of the W.T. Gill Summer Research Fellowship to study brain malformations and cognitive profiles of patients with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). Dr. Bhatt also gained clinical expertise with this population by working in the NF1 Multidisciplinary Clinic at Children’s National Medical Center.

Throughout her training, Dr. Bhatt has remained engaged in gaining a better understanding of cognition and development in patients with neurologic disorders. While working at UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Bhatt worked with Dr. Raman Sankar to gain expertise in identifying and studying new treatments for Epileptic Encephalopathies with a goal to improve long term neurodevelopmental outcomes. Dr. Bhatt’s current research interests are focused on better evaluating and understanding motor function and how it is related to language development in children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. This includes assessing children at young ages and identifying early interventions that will ensure better long term outcomes in development and cognition. Dr. Bhatt’s clinical interests are in neurodevelopmental disorders and neurogenetics. Dr. Bhatt will be seeing patients in the pediatric neurology and developmental neurogenetics clinic with a focus on autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, ADHD, and Tics.

In addition to her clinical and research interests, Dr. Bhatt is an active member of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the Child Neurology Society (CNS). Dr. Bhatt was selected as a participant for the Women’s Leadership Conference at the 2014 AAN annual meeting and also a recipient of the AAN Meeting Resident Scholarship Award. Dr. Bhatt was also identified as one of the rising leaders in Neurology and was one of ten selected members for the AAN Enhanced Resident Leadership Program. Dr. Bhatt also has a passion for medical education and works with the UCLA Medical Education Department, the CNS, and AAN to improve medical education at UCLA and nationally.

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ChowdhuryFadiya Chowdhury

Research Administrator

Fadiya is the Research Administrator for Dr. Jeste. She graduated from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Psychology and has been working at UCLA since 2010.

DiStefano

Charlotte Di Stefano

Post-doctoral Researcher

After receiving a B.S. in Special Education from New York University and an Ed.M. in Mind Brain and Education from Harvard University, Dr. Charlotte Distefano received her Ph.D. in Psychological Studies in Education from UCLA. She has worked as a post-doctoral scholar with the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment since 2013 under the mentorships of Drs. Connie Kasari and Shafali Jeste. 

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Before earning her Ph.D., Dr. DiStefano worked as a special education teacher with children with ASD, in both New York City and Los Angeles. She is actively involved in special education teacher preparation, and teaches credentialing courses at CSULA and CSUN.

Dr. DiStefano’s primary interests are language development and minimally verbal children with ASD.  She was awarded a Meixner Postoctoral Fellowship in Translational Research from Autism Speaks to identify EEG biomarkers related to language and literacy abilities in minimally verbal children with ASD, with the eventual goal of informing treatment decisions.  Additionally, she serves as project coordinator for one of UCLA’s Autism Center of Excellence projects focused on minimally verbal children with ASD, entitled “Augmenting language interventions for ASD: A translational approach”. Through her work, studies and research, Dr. DiStefano has over ten years of experience working with children with ASD.

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Abigail Dickinson

Post-doctoral Researcher

Dr. Abigail Dickinson joined the Jeste lab as a post-doctoral researcher in March.  Before joining the lab Abby completed her MSc. in cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sheffield (UK), and her PhD with the Sheffield Autism Research Lab. Abby’s PhD research focused on studying visual perception and neural activity (measured using EEG) in autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Abby’s main interests involve measuring different aspects of neural dynamics using EEG, and through psychophysical techniques. She hopes to explore possible EEG biomarkers of ASD during her time working in the Jeste lab.

 

Frohlich

Joel Frohlich

Neuroscience PhD Candidate/Graduate Student Researcher

Joel's dissertation will focus on EEG signal complexity as a biomarker of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He is involved in the Duplication 15q (Dup15q) Syndrome study, Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP), and ACE Project 1.  Watch his video!

 

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Joel graduated from The College of William and Mary in 2012 with a BS in neuroscience and a minor in computational biology. In future work, he wishes to continue using measures of nonlinear dynamics and signal complexity to better understand neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD. Check out his website!

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Carly Hyde 

Staff Research Associate

Carly is the study coordinator for the TSC study, and also assists in the EEG sessions for multiple studies.

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Carly joined the Jeste Lab as a staff research associate in 2017.

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Marlin

Andrew Marin

Staff Research Coordinator

Andrew joined the Jeste Lab in the summer of 2015 and currently oversees the collection and analysis of electroencephalogram (EEG) data for the infant (ACEII Project 1) and toddler (ACEII Project 2) studies. Andrew’s academic career started as an undergraduate research assistant, studying non-conscious categorical learning processes in the brain.

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He then went on to complete a Masters thesis that examined the relationship between achromatic perception and vertical spatial elevation. He has also volunteered in the Visual and Multisensory Perception Laboratory at UCLA, examining the computational mechanisms underlying multisensory integration.

Andrew’s affinity for autism research began when he volunteered as a clinical assistant for the Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program (ECPHP) at UCLA. His research interest involves the identification of early perceptual and cognitive biomarkers of autism spectrum disorder, and using this knowledge to improve developmental outcomes.

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Nicole McDonald 

Post-doctoral Researcher

Dr. Nicole McDonald is a clinical psychologist with expertise in the development of infants and toddlers at risk for autism. She joined the Jeste lab as a Postdoctoral Scholar in July 2016 and is excited to join the team studying brain-based markers of autism in infants at very high risk for the disorder (ACEII Project 1). 

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Dr. McDonald received her undergraduate degree at UCSD before obtaining a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Miami. During her graduate training with Dr. Daniel Messinger, her research focused on the early social-emotional development of the infant siblings of children with autism. She continued her work with infants and toddlers as a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Kevin Pelphrey’s lab at the Yale Child Study Center, where she was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award through the National Institute of Mental Health. As part of this fellowship, she has conducted a longitudinal study seeking to predict individual differences in infant social development based on early brain responses to social stimuli, which were measured using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). In the Jeste lab at UCLA, Dr. McDonald looks forward to extending her training in infant neuroimaging to include EEG methodology, while continuing work on her fellowship project and with NIRS. The goal of Dr. McDonald’s work is to increase our knowledge of typical and atypical social-emotional development in the first years of life in order to improve outcomes for children at increased risk for autism through earlier identification and more targeted intervention efforts. 

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Pompan

Emily Pompan

Staff Research Associate 1

Emily is a research coordinator for the ABC-CT study.  After graduating UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Psychology, she spent two years providing ABA Therapy for children with autism.  Emily's interested in research aimed toward improving diagnosis and treatment outcomes for children with autism.

 

Patricia Renno

Post-doctoral Researcher

Dr. Patricia Renno is a Postdoctoral Scholar specializing in the assessment and treatment of autism spectrum disorder and related psychiatric conditions in children and adolescents. She is a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles and the lead clinician for the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials (ABC-CT) study in the Jeste lab.

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After completing her B.A. in Psychology from UCLA, she received her doctoral degree in Psychological Studies in Education at UCLA. Dr. Renno has worked on several clinical trials examining the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety and related social difficulties in children and youth with ASD. She has received clinical training in modified cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety in youth with ASD, as well as, in the assessment of anxiety and other conditions in youth with ASD. Her research has focused on the co-occurrence of anxiety in autism spectrum disorders and in particular on the construct validity of anxiety in ASD. As part of the Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART) at UCLA she received training in psychophysiological research methodology, including fear potentiated startle paradigms and salivary cortisol collections. For her dissertation, she collected salivary cortisol samples to examine daily stressors in youth with ASD. Her current research interests seek to determine underlying psychophysiological underpinnings of anxiety in ASD and to test a larger hypothetical model in which factors, such as increased daily stress, might contribute to greater anxiety and ASD symptom severity in youth with ASD. 

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Ashley Ribeiro

Postdoctoral Scholar

Dr. Ashley Ribeiro is a postdoctoral scholar and clinical instructor with training in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals with a range of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders from young children to adults. She is a clinician for the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trails (ABC-CT) study in the Jeste lab. 

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Dr. Ribeiro completed her undergraduate studies at UCSB and received experience in Pivotal Response Training (PRT) and other empirically supported behavioral interventions during her training at the Koegel Autism Center. She completed her doctoral degree at California Lutheran University where she additionally acquired expertise in the use of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based treatment originally developed for individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her pre-doctoral internship at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) provided multifaceted training in the testing and assessment of children and adolescents. She completed her postdoctoral training at the UCLA Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental (CAN) clinic and provided comprehensive clinical assessments, as well as treatment services in both individual and group capacities. In addition, she has broad training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). 

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Vidya Saravanapandian 

Neuroscience PhD Candidate/Graduate Student Researcher

Vidya is a Neuroscience PhD candidate and her research in the Jeste lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms underlying EEG biomarkers in the Duplication 15q (Dup15q) Syndrome. Her main interests involve investigating whether the EEG signature is stable across brain states and whether this relates to clinical features and gene expression in this population.  Before joining the Jeste lab, Vidya worked in the laboratory of Dr. Theo Palmer in Stanford University where she studied the effects of maternal immune activation as well as GABA receptor deficiency on placental function and fetal brain development.

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She investigated mechanisms underlying gestational immune challenges that lead to later life dysfunctions in neurodevelopmental disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Vidya graduated with a Master of Engineering degree in Biotechnology from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani, India. She worked as a Genetic Researcher at Histogenetics LLC, New York, before moving to California. Vidya enjoys the outdoors and loves to hike.

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Careese Stephens

Clinical Coordinator

Careese joined the Jeste lab in 2016, and is a study coordinator for the Dup15q project as well as the coordinator for the CAN & DNG clinics. She began her career in research as an assistant at Emory University and at the Atlanta VA Medical Center working with visually-impaired individuals.

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With a background in Psychology, and a passion for children and underserved populations, she endeavored to relocate to Los Angeles in pursuit of an opportunity to explore and hone her interests. Her current research goals are to contribute to the growing understanding of Autism and concurrent genetic disorders so as to provide more precise measures of early detection and diagnosis, as well as to aid in more effective treatment outcomes.

Careese plans to pursue a career in medicine, and ultimately aspires to travel to and serve disadvantaged countries via medical missions.

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Tran

Xuan Tran

Graduate Student Researcher

Xuan Tran is a graduate student researcher in the Jeste Lab since 2015. She is a trainee in the UCLA Medical Scientist Training Program and Neuroscience Interdisciplinary Program. Xuan earned her B.S. in Neurobiology and B.S. in Chemistry from UCI in 2012. At UCI she performed research in the field of evolutionary biology under the guidance of Dr. Laurence Mueller, and in the field of post-stroke neurorehabilitation under the guidance of Dr. Steven Cramer.

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Her interest in autism sparked during her medical studies at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Her main interest is in finding EEG biomarkers that will predict interventional outcomes in children with autism. She is currently involved in the ECPHP study (Early Childhood Partial Hospitalization Program).

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