School of Medicine
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Daniel A. Abrams
Clinical Associate Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsAutism spectrum disorders (ASD) are among the most pervasive neurodevelopmental disorders and are characterized by significant deficits in social communication. A common observation in children with ASD is that affected individuals often “tune out” from social interactions, which likely impacts the development of social, communication, and language skills. My primary research goals are to understand why children with ASD often tune out from the social world and how this impacts social skill and brain development, and to identify remediation strategies that motivate children with ASD to engage in social interactions. The theoretical framework that guides my work is that social impairments in ASD stem from a primary deficit in identifying social stimuli, such as human voices and faces, as rewarding and salient stimuli, thereby precluding children with ASD from engaging with these stimuli.
My program of research has provided important information regarding the brain circuits underlying social deficits in ASD. Importantly, these findings have consistently implicated key structures of the brain’s reward and salience processing systems, and support the hypothesis that impaired reward attribution to social stimuli is a critical aspect of social difficulties in ASD. The first study produced by this program of research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and showed that children with ASD have weak brain connectivity between voice processing regions of cortex and the distributed reward circuit and amygdala. Moreover, the strength of these speech-reward brain connections predicted social communication abilities in these children. A second study, which was recently published in eLife, examined neural processing of mother’s voice, a biologically salient and implicitly rewarding sound which is associated with cognitive and social development, in children with ASD. Results from this study identified a relationship between social communication abilities in children with ASD and brain activation in reward and salience processing regions during mother’s voice processing. A third study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that mother’s voice activates an extended voice processing network, including reward and salience processing regions, in typically developing children. Moreover, the strength of brain connectivity between voice-selective and reward and salience processing regions predicted social communication abilities in these neurotypical children. Together, results provide novel support for the hypothesis that deficits in representing the reward value of social stimuli, including the human voice, impede children with ASD from actively engaging with these stimuli and consequently impair social skill development.
My future research will leverage these findings by examining several important questions related to social information processing in children with ASD. First, we aim to study longitudinal development of social brain circuitry in minimally verbal children with ASD, a severely affected subpopulation that has been vastly underrepresented in the ASD literature. Second, we aim to examine the efficacy of naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions, such as Pivotal Response Treatment, for children with ASD and their relation to changes in social brain and reward circuitry. Third, we aim to examine distinct neural profiles in female children with ASD who, on average, have better social communication abilities compared to their male counterparts.
Clinical Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsMy research lies in the intersection of Machine Learning, Computer Vision, Healthcare, and Computational Neuroscience.
Helen M. Blau
Donald E. and Delia B. Baxter Foundation Professor, Director, Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology and Professor, by courtesy, of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsProf. Helen Blau's research area is regenerative medicine with a focus on stem cells. Her research on nuclear reprogramming and demonstrating the plasticity of cell fate using cell fusion is well known and her laboratory has also pioneered the design of biomaterials to mimic the in vivo microenvironment and direct stem cell fate. Current findings are leading to more efficient iPS generation, cell based therapies by dedifferentiation a la newts, and discovery of novel molecules and therapies.
Daniel Bowling, PhD
Instructor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
BioMy research aims to translate progress in biological speech and music sciences into improved diagnostics and treatments for social and affective dimensions of mental health, including disorders of sociality, mood, and anxiety.
My PhD is from the department of Neurobiology at Duke University School of Medicine, where I studied the biological foundations of musical tonality. I completed postdoctoral work at the University of Vienna, where I studied bioacoustics, synchrony, and social bonding. I have graduate certificates in Cognitive Neuroscience and Translational Medicine, and undergraduate degrees in Biological Psychology and Neurophilosophy.
I have authored over 30 scientific articles in top journals including Science, PNAS, Molecular Psychiatry, PLoS Biology, Trends in Cognitive Science, and Physics of Life. My work has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Austrian Science Foundation, the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Vienna, and the Wu Tsai Neuroscience Institute at Stanford University.
Clinical Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
BioMy research focuses on investigating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying two distinct populations: children with neurodevelopmental disorders, specifically those with ADHD, and elders with neurodegenerative diseases. By integrating cognitive, neuroscience, and computational models with advanced functional neuroimaging techniques, my goal is to understand the neurocognitive factors that contribute to typical and atypical brain development and aging.
Victor G. Carrión
John A. Turner Endowed Professor for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsExamines the interplay between brain development and stress vulnerability via a multi-method approach that includes psychophysiology, neuroimaging, neuroendocrinology and phenomenology. Treatment development that focuses on individual and community-based interventions for stress related conditions in children and adolescents that experience traumatic stress.
Luis de Lecea
Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (Major Laboratories and Clinical and Translational Neurosciences Incubator)
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsMy lab uses molecular, optogenetic, anatomical and behavioral methods to identify and manipulate the neuronal circuits underlying brain arousal, with particular attention to sleep and wakefulness transitions. We are also interested in the changes that occur in neuronal circuits in conditions of hyperarousal such as stress and drug addiction.
D. H. Chen Professor, Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsKarl Deisseroth's laboratory created and developed optogenetics, hydrogel-tissue chemistry (beginning with CLARITY), and a broad range of enabling methods. He also has employed his technologies to discover the neural cell types and connections that cause adaptive and maladaptive behaviors.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (Major Laboratories and Clinical Translational Neurosciences Incubator)
Current Research and Scholarly InterestsWe study genetic and environmental effects on mental health. Much of our work is computational and it relies upon genetic data, collected from millions of individuals, from around the world. We use genetic approaches because the overall goal of the lab is to discover fundamental information about psychiatric disorders, and ultimately to build more rational approaches to classification, prevention, and treatment.