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OUR TEAM

Current Research Assistants

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Hannah Shields

Hannah graduated from Emory University in 2018 with a major in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology (B.S.) and a minor in Anthropology. Her research experience began at Yerkes National Primate Research Center investigating serotonin regulation of the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which is implicated in reward and addiction. Hannah’s senior honors thesis tested whether a certain serotonergic compound decreased psychostimulant addiction behavior in animals that had been maltreated during infancy, which is a critical time for proper development of stress and emotion systems. Additionally, she worked at McLean Hospital on a project involving nicotine administration during MRI scans. Currently, Hannah is working on a project that is looking at how emotion processing and emotion regulation abilities change over the course of adulthood, and how prenatal development, sex, and history of psychiatric disorders play a role in these processes.

 

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Brianna Smith

Brianna graduated from Boston College in 2018 with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Philosophy. Her research experience began at the University of Minnesota, investigating the therapeutic effects of Deep Brain Stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease.  At the University of Minnesota, Brianna also worked on a project studying the changes in aggregation of neuronal proteins in different genotypes of bi-transgenic J20-Htau mice. The goal of the project was to determine whether the Htau mutation is needed to see abnormal aggregation of these proteins, which is observed in about 30% of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Interested in the effect of mental illness on memory and stress circuitry, Brianna ultimately wrote her senior Honors Thesis on the relationship between resting autonomic nervous system functioning (Heart Rate Variability and skin conductance), social anxiety, and re-experiencing of emotional autobiographical memories. Currently, Brianna is working on a study that aims to validate and enhance a clinical risk algorithm for early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease and memory circuitry deficits in individuals at high risk for cognitive decline later in life.

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Rachel Staley

Rachel graduated from Temple University in 2016 where she received her B.A. in Psychology. Her research experience began at Temple assisting Dr. Lauren Ellman on a study exploring whether psychological symptoms commonly experienced in a non-clinical population are differentially associated with a range of psychological disorders. Additionally, she worked in Dr. Philip Kendall’s Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic and assisted on a project evaluating the efficacy of two different CBT treatments for children with ASD and co-occurring anxiety disorders. Currently, Rachel is working on projects investigating the neuromodulatory effects of respiratory-gated Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation (tVNS) in patients with mood disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

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Kathleen Berkun

Kathleen (Kaylee) graduated from McGill University in 2017. While at McGill she did research in Dr. Stefanie Blain-Moraes’ Biosignal Interaction and Personhood Technology Laboratory studying neuro-correlates of consciousness and potential assessments of brain activity in people with disorders of consciousness. Following graduation, she joined Dr. Yogita Chudasama’s Section on Behavioral Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health where she worked with Dr. Fany Messanvi studying the relationship between neural circuits underlying executive functions and the brainstem neuro-modulatory systems using behavioral testing and optogenetic manipulation in rats. Currently, Kathleen is working on a project investigating how prenatal stress factors lead to sex-dependent increased risk for Major Depressive Disorder and autonomic dysregulation.

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Natalie Fletcher

Natalie graduated from Stanford University in 2020, where she earned her B.S. in Symbolic Systems with a concentration in Cognitive Science. While at Stanford, Natalie worked in three different research labs for one year each. Prior to joining us, her most recent experience was at the Pediatric Pain Management Clinic, where she assisted with research on neuronal circuitry of pain processing and developing new approaches for treating chronic pain in children and adolescents. Natalie’s current project investigates the effects of sex and prenatal immune exposure on negative affective circuitry and emotion dysregulation in midlife. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, doing puzzles, and exploring Boston.