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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Dr. Jeste’s research is focused on the use of novel electrophysiological biomarkers to better define early predictors of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to define more homogeneous, brain-based subgroups within the autism spectrum in order to inform treatment targets. She has designed innovative studies in early predictors of ASD to focus on the integration of biomarkers with behavior to define atypical development prior to the onset
of clinical symptoms. Within this framework, she has been investigating and treating infants and children with neurogenetic syndromes associated with ASD. She is the principal investigator of several studies, including early development and intervention for infants with tuberous sclerosis complex and the UCLA Autism Center of Excellence study of high-risk infant siblings. Dr. Jeste serves as the UCLA site director for a multisite National Institutes of Health Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials research study. Clinically, she evaluates and treats patients with ASD and neurological comorbidities, and directs the UCLA Developmental Neurogenetics Clinic. Dr. Jeste has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and has been the recipient of the Child Neurology Foundation’s Researcher-in-Training Award and the American Academy of Neurology’s Clinical Researcher-in- Training Award. She serves on the board of directors for the Child Neurology Foundation and was elected to serve on the board of directors for the International Society for Autism Research.

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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 behavioral neurology, with specific focus on autism spectrum disorders, and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is an Assistant Professor in Pediatric Neurology and Psychiatry. She is also a faculty member in the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment (CART).

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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. Dr. Bhatt was then the recipient of the Savant Behavioral Neurology Fellowship and she completed this training in the Jeste Lab and CART. 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 understanding motor abnormalities in ASD, related genetic syndromes, defining the nature of, and sequelae of these motor deficits.  Dr. Bhatt utilizes quantitative measures of motor function to better evaluate specific and subtle motor impairments in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Clinically, Dr. Bhatt sees patients in the Pediatric Neurodevelopmental Clinic, The Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic, and The Developmental Neurogenetics Clinic. Conditions evaluated in these clinics include, autism spectrum disorder, other neurodevelopmental disorders, Tics/Tourette Syndrome, and Neurogenetic conditions.

Dr. Bhatt also has a longstanding commitment to medical education. She currently serves as the Associate Program Director of the Child Neurology Residency and is the Pediatric Neurology Training Director of the UC-LEND program. Nationally, Dr. Bhatt is an active member of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the Child Neurology Society. She is an invited member of the AAN Education Committee and serves on numerous workgroups and subcommittees to improve training and education in child neurology.

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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.

Charlotte Di Stefano

Clinical Instructor

Dr. Charlotte DiStefano is a clinical psychologist with expertise in minimally verbal children with ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders.  She is a Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.

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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 completed her postdoctoral training at the UCLA Center for Autism Research and under the mentorships of Drs. Connie Kasari and Shafali Jeste. 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.

Clinically, Dr. DiStefano sees patients in the Child and Adult Neurodevelopmental Clinic, and the Developmental Neurogenetics Clinic.  She provides assessment and evaluation of children with ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as treatment consultations regarding language and communication development.

Dr. DiStefano’s primary research 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.  Currently, serves as the UCLA site clinical coordinator for a multisite National Institutes of Health Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials research study. 

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Abigail Dickinson

Post-doctoral Researcher

Dr. Abigail Dickinson joined the Jeste lab as a post-doctoral researcher in March of 2016.  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 joined the Jeste lab in the summer of 2017 after graduating with a B.S. in Neuroscience from Bucknell University. Through her undergraduate years, Carly worked as a therapy aide and camp counselor for children and young adults with disabilities, and continued to work with the ASD population as a research assistant at an fMRI laboratory. Carly currently works as the study coordinator for the Dup15q and TSC projects.

Lisa Jackson

Staff Research Associate II

Lisa is the research coordinator for the Infant Sibling Study. She graduated with a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Psychology from Stanford University.  During her undergraduate and graduate careers, Lisa worked in Dr. Karen Parker’s lab as a research assistant and study coordinator for several studies that focused on biomarker discovery in cerebrospinal fluid and blood samples collected from children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and clinical trials that tested the efficacy of novel pharmacotherapies to improve social functioning in children with ASD.

Marlin

Andrew Marin

Staff Research Associate – II

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), toddler (ACEII Project 2), and children who are minimally verbal (ACEII Project 3) studies.

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As an undergraduate, Andrew was involved in research investigating non-conscious categorical learning processes in the brain. He then went on to complete a master’s thesis that examined the relation between achromatic perception and vertical spatial attention. 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 and research 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 II

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.

 

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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. She is also the recipient of the Dup15 Alliance Fellowship! 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

MD-PhD Candidate

Xuan joined the Jeste Lab as a Neuroscience graduate student in August 2015. She is both an Autism Speaks Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellow and an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Scholar. 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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She joined the UCLA-Caltech Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) in 2013, and advanced to doctoral candidacy in 2017.  

View her publications here.

Her interest in autism was sparked during her medical studies at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Her main interest is in characterizing neural connectivity during the first year of life in infants at risk for autism (ACE Project 1), and finding EEG predictors of clinical outcomes.

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