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 such journals as Science, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, The New England Journal of Medicine, 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 Tissue Program.


Karen Pierce, assistant director, Autism Center of Excellence

Karen Pierce, PhD
Associate 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 T. Eyler, PhD
Associate 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 Associate 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.
 Tiziano Pramparo

Tiziano Pramparo, PhD
Associate Research Scientist

Tiziano Pramparo joined the ACE in 2011 to study those aspects of autism that relate etiology and pathophysiology. His graduate education in human cytogenetics/molecular genetics coupled with his post-doctoral training in neuro-developmental biology using mouse models for neuronal migration defects allow him to combine different approaches to identify and dissect the molecular mechanisms potentially disrupted during brain development in autism.
Currently, his research focuses on the identification of autism-specific molecular signatures and biological markers as a mechanism for early detection of at-risk children, the definition of sub-phenotypes, as well as the development of early intervention protocols. He has been applying multi-modality approaches that combine genomic, behavioral and clinical features associated with autism. His research ideas were recently awarded with a KL2 grant under the CTRI program.

 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, 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.


 

Erin L. Miggantz, PhD                                                                                               Research Psychologist

Dr. Miggantz received her Masters and Doctorate Degrees in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego. Her primary focus was on anxiety disorders and depression, and her dissertation examined social information processing among a large group of adolescents with and without social anxiety. Dr. Miggantz’s clinical experience includes inpatient and outpatient treatment and psychological testing of children, adolescents, and adults. She has worked with individuals experiencing various mental health issues including mood and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders, and adjustment disorders.

After receiving her PhD, Dr. Miggantz worked as a Research Psychologist at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) doing research on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for the Navy. During her time at NMCSD, she conducted all aspects of clinical research. Dr. Miggantz is currently working as a Research Psychologist at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence where she conducts standardized assessments in both English and Spanish with infants and young children to identify early indicators of autism spectrum disorders.

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.

 Clelia Aherns-Barbeau  Clelia Aherns-Barbeau
Lab Manager

Mallory Barrett                                                                                                        Lab Manager

Mallory received a Masters in Landscape Architecture as a result of her capstone project, which was a 250+ page vision plan for the City of Los Angeles  Bureau of Sanitation. Her team identified opportunity areas for a green network that would enhance connectivity to the Los Angeles River and throughout the watershed. The goals were to increase water supply, improve water quality, and thus improve public health. Mallory is also a trained yoga instructor  and doula, she believes passionately in the importance of prenatal and postnatal support and education. Through her studies and personal experiences, she became fascinated with how people view and use the space around them. This led her to work with children with autism. Mallory joined the ACE team as Lab Manager, where she applies her project management experience to various research projects.

 Liz Bacon

Liz Bacon, PhD, BCBA-D
Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Bacon is a postdoctoral researcher at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence. She received her master’s and doctoral degrees in Experimental Psychology from UC San Diego where she studied under Dr. Laura Schreibman, a leading expert in treatment for children with autism. Dr. Bacon is also a board-certified behavior analyst and is well-versed in naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions. Her research interests include improving access to developmental evaluations and treatment, measuring response to treatment, understanding the stability of diagnoses over time, and individualizing treatment for children with autism.

 

Mee Kyoung Kwon                                                                                                  Postdoctoral Researcher

 

 

Michael Datko                                                                                       Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Datko is a postdoctoral researcher at the UCSD Autism Center of Excellence.  He received his MS and PhD in Cognitive Science at UC San Diego.  There he was a student of Dr. Jaime Pineda, while also collaborating extensively with Dr. Ralph-Axel Müller in the Department of Psychology at San Diego State University.  His research interests include functional network connectivity in autism, and novel neurophysiological and behavioral interventions such as EEG-based neurofeedback training.  He has used multimodal neuroimaging, including functional MRI and diffusion weighted imaging, to study brain connectivity and function in autism.

Sunny Pence
Lead Clinical Coordinator & Education Director

Ms. Pence graduated from San Francisco State University with an M.A. in Mind, Brain and Behavior. She is interested in sensory processing disorders and the neurological correlates of behavior in ASD. At the lab she is involved in  coordinating aspects of the clinical team such as recruitment, enrollment, retention, and working with families. She also directs the lab's undergraduate internship program and oversees student research assistants.



Adrienne Moore
Clinical Coordinator

Ms. Moore completed her Master’s Degree in Cognitive Science at UC San Diego, using EEG to study brain responses to viewing emotional faces. She continued graduate school as a PhD candidate at UCSD whose dissertation research relates to the roles of facial mimicry and heart rate variability responses to empathizing with someone in a painful situation. She has worked previously as the coordinator of a UCSD laboratory focused on language acquisition in preschool aged children led by Dr. Sarah Creel. Here at the ACE lab she works primarily on eye-tracking as a method for early identification of kids at risk for autism, by introducing a new eye-tracking based screening tool to local pediatric practices.


 

 Erin Bower

 

 Ana Arias

   

Collaborators

.Anders Dale, PhD founding co-director of the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory

Anders Dale, PhD, 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
Postdoc

Ilan Distein received his PhD in Neuroscience at NYU in 2009.

 


Previous Team Members

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

Kathleen Campbell
MRI Laboratory Assistant

 

 

 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
MRI Laboratory Assistant

 

 

 

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

Maisi Mayo
MRI Laboratory Assistant

 

 

 

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

Stephanie Solso
MRI Laboratory Assistant

 

 

 

Stuart SpendloveStuart J. Spendlove, PhD
Bilingual Research Psychologist

 

 

 

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

Julia Young
MRI Laboratory Assistant