The Friends of the Semel Institute Scholar Program
The Friends Scholar Program awards grants to early career investigators doing ground breaking research to better understand the mind and brain and to develop new and innovative treatments for mental, developmental, and neurological disorders. The scholars who receive these competitive grants represent not only the future of the Semel Institute, but more importantly, the future of the advancement of treatments for complex illnesses of the mind and brain. Each year, The Friends, along with senior Semel Institute faculty members, select the most promising research proposals submitted by outstanding postdoctoral fellows or junior faculty members . To date, The Friends has awarded 24 Scholarships in areas such as Eating Disorders, ADHD, OCD, Addiction, Adolescent Anxiety, Concussions/Traumatic Brain Injures, and Depression in Alzheimer's care-givers.
Shulamite Green, Ph.D.
2018 Friends Scholar
Dr. Green is an Assistant Clinical Professor in UCLA's Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. Dr. Green completed a doctorate in Clinical Psychology at UCLA in 2014, and thereafter completed a postdoctoral fellowship focused on pediatric functional neuroimaging methods at UCLA's Brain Mapping Center. Dr. Green has received multiple NIH fellowships and awards to study the neural bases of heterogeneity in Autism Spectrum Disorders, with a focus on sensory over-responsivity. Dr. Green currently has a K08 award from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the neural bases of sensory processing issues and their effect on social functioning in children with autism and children with early life stress. Dr. Green's research integrates neuroimaging, psychophysiological, and behavioral methods to identify individual differences in risk markers and outcomes in high-risk developmental populations. Dr. Green is also a licensed clinical psychologist and works as an autism consultant with UCLA's TIES for Families program for families adopting children from foster care.
Dr. Green’s pilot study, funded by the Friends of Semel grant, builds on her prior research showing that sensory over-responsivity in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is related to an over-active brain response to sensory stimuli as well as reduced thalamocortical modulation in response to sensory stimuli. These results suggest thalamic excitatory/inhibitory imbalance, affecting the thalamic role in integrating, relaying, and inhibiting attention to sensory information. Thus, the current study will use magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to examine how the excitatory/inhibitory balance of the thalamus and somatosensory cortex relates to other brain and behavioral measures of sensory over-responsivity in children with ASD. Results will inform potential psychopharmacological interventions for sensory over-responsivity.
Misty Richards, M.D./M.S.
2018 Friends Scholar
Dr. Richards joined faculty at UCLA in 2017 as an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. She serves as the Associate Medical Director of the newly developed UCLA Perinatal Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs, where her focus is on Infant Mental Health and promoting secure attachment between mother and child. She became interested in mental health research during her undergraduate studies in psychobiology at UCLA, eventually becoming an NIH Undergraduate Research Fellow. Upon matriculating to medical school at Albany Medical College, Dr. Richards knew she wanted to specialize in psychiatry and contribute to the growing evidence base. She obtained a joint M.D./M.S. in Neuroscience and completed a Fulbright Scholarship in Medicine in Tokyo, Japan. She returned to UCLA for Adult Residency and Child Fellowship Psychiatry Training, where she focuses on perinatal mood disorders and infant secure attachment. In her Friends Scholar Project, Dr. Richards will examine the relationship between SSRI response in maternal depression and maternal plasma oxytocin levels, and how this influences the quality of early mother-infant interactions.
Nicole Petersen, Ph.D
2018 Friends Scholar
Dr. Petersen completed her Ph.D. in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Molecular Neuroimaging at UCLA. Dr. Petersen's work focuses on neuroendocrine influences on the biological basis of drug addiction, especially with respect to sex differences in addiction, using multimodal brain imaging techniques (functional MRI and PET) and cognitive/behavioral testing. In the project supported by the Friends Scholars, Dr. Petersen will use transcranial magnetic stimulation, a novel brain stimulation therapy, to attempt to reduce craving and withdrawal symptoms in male and female smokers who are abstaining from smoking. Brain imaging with fMRI will be used to evaluate effects of this brain stimulation on large-scale network connectivity. These findings will be used to develop brain stimulation therapies that are optimized for men and women who want to quit smoking.
Ye Zhang, Ph.D.
2018 Friends Scholar
Dr. Zhang completed her graduate training in the University of California San Francisco Neuroscience Ph.D. Program and postdoctoral training in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University prior to joining faculty as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. She is a recipient of the National Institute of Health Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00), and brings an expertise in isolating and growing glia cells from patient brains in a dish. With support from her Friends Scholar Award, she will be able to study how autism-risk genes change the activities of glia cells, the interactions between glia cells and neurons, and gene expression in the brain. This line of research is designed to identify cellular and molecular changes in autistic brains and contribute to building a comprehensive understanding of the etiology of autism spectrum disorder.
Nanthia Suthana, Ph.D.
2015 Joseph Drown, Friends Scholar
Dr. Suthana completed her graduate training in the UCLA Neuroscience interdepartmental Ph.D. program and postdoctoral training in the Department of Neurosurgery prior to joining faculty as an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science and Neurosurgery. Dr. Suthana’s research focuses on understanding the neuronal basis of learning and memory using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, and intracranial single-unit and local field potential recordings in neurosurgical patients. Her research also focuses on the development of non-invasive methods that can restore memory in patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders. In her Friends Scholar project, she will use transcranial magnetic stimulation guided by high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging to treat memory problems in patients with mild cognitive impairment at-risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Suthana is also collaborating with laboratories in the School of Engineering to develop a novel wireless neuroprosthetic device for treatment of memory and other neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Michelle S. Rozenman, Ph.D.
2015 Friends Scholar
Dr. Rozenman received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the San Diego State University / University of California San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in 2013. She went on to complete an NIMH-sponsored fellowship in Psychobiological Sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Rozenman is currently a Clinical Instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and also serves as the Associate Director of the UCLA Pediatric OCD Intensive Outpatient Program. Her clinical and research interests focus on identifying novel therapeutic approaches for anxious youth. Her Friends Scholar research examines the efficacy and potential underlying mechanisms of one such experimental therapy – cognitive bias modification – in children with anxiety disorders. In addition to her award from the Friends of Semel Institute, Dr. Rozenman is the recipient of a UCLA CTSI KL2 award and funding from the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation.
Eliza Congdon, Ph.D.
2015 Friends Scholar
Dr. Congdon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and UCLA Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics. She received her PhD in Biopsychology from Stony Brook University before completing a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA focused on identifying and measuring phenotypes suitable for large-scale genetic investigation. She is a recipient of the UCLA CTSI KL2 Translational Science career development award, and brings a growing expertise in the analysis of gene expression profiles and bioinformatics to understand response to fast-acting therapies in Major Depressive Disorder. With support from her Friends Scholar award, she will be able to collect additional samples from collaborating sites to validate preliminary results indicating that treatment-related signals (specifically changes in genes involved in neuroplasticity) can be detected in peripheral blood of depressed patients. This line of research is designed to identify biomarkers that can personalize treatment strategies and improve the quality of care for patients suffering from depression.
April Thames, Ph.D.
2015 Morris A. Hazan, Friends Scholar
Dr. Thames is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Alliant International University/CSPP and completed her postdoctoral fellowship in clinical neuropsychology at UCLA. She is the recipient of an NIH Career Development Award (K23) to study the neurological, cognitive, and psychiatric outcomes of HIV. She is a clinical supervisor at UCLA’s Medical Psychology Assessment Center (MPAC) and serves as a primary preceptor for postdoctoral fellows in the Neuropsychology of HIV/AIDS fellowship. Her primary research interests are in psychological resiliency factors, attitudes, and social support systems that influence chronic disease outcomes. As a Morris A. Hazan Scholar recipient, she is examining how psychological characteristics such as hardiness, resilience, and optimism influence quality of life among individuals with chronic disease. Support from the Friends Scholar program will allow her to expand her research program to include the study of positive psychological and psychosocial characteristics and disease-related outcomes. The results gathered from the proposed study have great implications for optimizing current treatments geared towards individuals with chronic illness.
Yvonne Yang, MD, Ph.D.
2015 Chancellor Gene Block, Friends Scholar
Dr. Yang is entering her second year of fellowship at the VA Mental Illness Research and Clinical Center, investigating the neurobiology of schizophrenia. She completed her residency in psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior in 2014; prior to that she received her M.D. and Ph.D. in neuroscience from Yale University. She is interested in the neural underpinnings of psychosis and schizophrenia, as well as identifying novel treatments for the cognitive and negative deficits found in schizophrenia. The project funded by the Friends of Semel will allow her to explore the potential of N-acetylcysteine, a widely available modified amino acid currently used as an antioxidant dietary supplement, to improve the daily life functioning of patients with schizophrenia, as well as to investigate the molecular changes that happen in the brain during treatment.
David Krantz, M.D.
2014 Friends Scholar
David Krantz has been on the faculty in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA since 2001. He has directed the Research Track of the UCLA Psychiatry Residency since 2007 and currently hold the Joanne and George Miller and Family Endowed Chair in Depression Research at the UCLA Brain Research Institute. Dr. Krantz was an undergraduate at Brown University and completed the MD/PhD program at UCLA in 1991. He subsequently trained as a resident in psychiatry at UCLA and as a post-doctoral fellow at UCSF. His research is focused on understanding the relationship between synaptic function and complex behavior, with an emphasis on changes that that may accompany neuropsychiatric illnesses such as depression. A fellowship from the Friends of Semel will allow him to expand his research focus to include patient-oriented research as well as model systems, and to explore the mechanisms underlying neuromodulatory treatments for depression.
Meeryo Choe, M.D.
2014 Drown Foundation Friends Scholar
Dr. Choe received her M.D. from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. She completed her residencies in pediatrics and child neurology at UCLA, and is in her final year of a sports neurology/neurotrauma fellowship with Dr. Christopher Giza in the Brain Injury Research Center (BIRC). An avid equestrian and high school swimming and equestrian coach, she has been interested in sport-related injuries. During her previous year of Friends funding as the Morris A. Hazan Friends Fellow, she worked on determining the relationship between the physiological biomarkers distinguished by advanced brain imaging techniques and post-concussive symptoms and cognitive impairments. This project is ongoing, and she continues to study multimodal imaging and neuropsychologic outcomes in both collegiate and middle school/high school athletes. As a Drown Foundation/Friends Scholar, she is focusing on post-concussive symptoms associated with autonomic nervous system dysfunction, concentrating specifically on whether positional changes in heart rate are associated with different cognitive and psychiatric outcomes after mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Identifying those individuals with autonomic dysfunction after mTBI may point to differing treatment approaches for post-concussive syndrome in these children.
Erin Kelly, Ph.D.
2013 - 2014 Friends Scholar
Dr. Kelly earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from UC Irvine in 2012. Dr. Kelly is the recipient of a joint fellowship between the University of California – Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Her research focus is on interventions designed to aid those with serious mental illness to increase their access to physical health care services and to improve the quality of their interactions with medical providers. Specifically, with her Friends Scholar grant, she is pilot testing the feasibility of a peer health navigator intervention, the “Bridge,” that uses mental health peers to guide those with mental health issues to learn how to self-manage their health and health care. She is implementing this intervention with mostly homeless individuals and training them to also use an online personal health record to help them keep track of their health information. She is also working with several other mental health agencies across Los Angeles County to establish the effectiveness of integrated mental and physical health services that are directed by mental health providers. This research will, hopefully, help to improve the quality of care and quality of life for those with serious mental illness.
Felipe Jain, M.D.
2013 - 2014 Friends Scholar
Dr. Felipe A. Jain graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. He completed psychiatry residency and an NIMH-funded postdoctoral fellowship at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Jain is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute, and Attending Psychiatrist in the Integrated Community Care Program for Homeless Veterans at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center. He developed and manualized a new mindfulness treatment aimed at reducing depression, stimulating perspective taking and enhancing a sense of interconnectness: Central Meditation and Imagery Therapy (CMIT). He has engaged in studies of CMIT for depressed familial caregivers of dementia patients with Dr. Helen Lavretsky, M.D., and for patients with major depressive disorder under the mentorship of Dr. Andrew Leuchter, M.D. In addition to his clinical interests, Dr. Jain has studied the physiology of meditation and depression, including alterations in the rhythm of the heart, and structure and function of the brain. When not working, he enjoys spending time in nature, cooking, and dabbling in creative writing and music composition. Dr. Jain and his wife, Dr. Liliana Ramirez, M.D., a neurologist at USC, live in Los Angeles with their two children.
Tara Peris, Ph.D.
2013 - 2014 Friends Scholar
Tara Peris received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2006. She went on to complete an NIMH-sponsored fellowship in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Intervention at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior before joining the faculty there. Dr. Peris currently is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences. She is the Program Director of the ABC Children’s Partial Hospitalization Program and an attending psychologist in the Child OCD, Anxiety, and Tic Disorders Program. Both her clinical and research interests center on the development of evidence-based treatments for child and adolescent anxiety disorders. She is particularly interested in understanding how and why our current interventions work and in developing novel treatments for youth who don’t respond well to current treatment approaches. Her Friends Scholar research examines the neural mechanisms underlying specific therapeutic approaches for anxiety with the goal of understanding (a) how current treatments work to improve anxiety; (b) whether there are developmental differences in how youth respond to these techniques; and (c) how treatment might be refined further. In addition to her award from the Friends of the Semel Institute, Dr. Peris is the recipient of a career development award from NIMH, a NARSAD Young Investigator Award, and awards from the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation (OCF) and Trichotillomania Learning Center.
Aimee Hunter, Ph.D.
2013 - 2014 Drown Foundation / Friends Scholar
Dr. Hunter earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from UCLA with an emphasis in Learning and Behavior in 2001. Following her graduate work in behavioral neuroscience she completed three years of postdoctoral training in clinical research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, before joining the faculty. Dr. Hunter is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Assistant Director of the Laboratory of Brain, Behavior, and Pharmacology where she examines quantitative electroencephalography (qEEG) biomarkers to elicudate the contributions of pharmacodynamic and non-pharmacodynamic factors in achieving response to treatment for Major Depressive Disorder. Recently, she has begun a new line of research using qEEG biomarkers to investigate the neurobiological bases of cognitive difficulties reported by women who have received adjuvant treatment for breast cancer. One of the goals in developing such a biomarker is to help develop or identify effective treatments for breast cancer survivors who suffer from these cognitive problems in daily living.
Cara Bohon, Ph.D.
2011 The Friends of the Semel Institute Fellow
Dr. Bohon received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Oregon and completed her clinical internship at the UCLA Semel Institute. Her research interests have focused on the biological bases of eating disorders and obesity. She is particularly interested in the way emotion and reward processing, as well as emotion regulation, contribute to eating behavior and food restriction. Her ultimate goal is to translate these biological findings into treatments. She is currently working with Dr. Jamie Feusner and Dr. Michael Strober on a project investigating brain processing of emotional and visual information in anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Her project for the Friends of the Semel Institute Fellowship tests the impact of emotion regulation on brain response to taste in bulimia nervosa. These findings may help us understand the importance of incorporating emotion regulation strategies into treatment programs for bulimia.
Meeryo Choe, M.D.
2011 Morris A. Hazan Friends Fellow
Dr. Choe received her M.D. from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. She completed her residency in pediatrics, and is in her final year of fellowship in child neurology at UCLA. Between her residency and fellowship training, she spent three years working with Dr. Harley Kornblum on the molecular mechanisms of brain tumor cell proliferation. She was awarded a Pediatric Scientist Development Program training grant from The Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs, Inc. (AMSPDC), as well as a Human and Molecular Development training grant in the UCLA Department of Pediatrics to fund her research. As an avid equestrian and high school swimming and equestrian coach, she has been interested in sports-related injuries. In returning to her clinical training this year, she began working with Dr. Chris Giza on sports-related traumatic brain injury in children. She will remain at UCLA as a post-doctoral fellow in neuro-trauma. Her Friends of Semel Institute supported project focuses on determining the relationship between the physiological biomarkers distinguished by advanced brain imaging techniques and post-concussive symptoms and cognitive impairments.
Theodore M. Hutman, Ph.D.
2010 The Friends of the Semel Institute Fellow
Dr. Hutman received his doctorate in developmental psychology from UCLA in 2007. He received a B.A. and an M.A. in Modern Thought & Literature from Stanford University. His post-doctoral training at the Semel Institute focuses on autism, social emotional and social cognitive development. He is currently overseeing the longitudinal study of infant siblings of children with autism, a primary project of the NIH/NICHD-funded Autism Center of Excellence at the UCLA Center for Autism Research & Treatment. A research fellowship from the Friends of the Semel Institute will support his efforts to integrate behavioral, eye-tracking, and electrophysiological methodologies to characterize autism during infancy and, thereby, to improve efforts to screen infants for autism.
This Fellowship is in memory of Committee member Carole Slavin.
Shahrdad Lotfipour, Ph.D.
2009 Drown Foundation Friends Fellow
Dr. Lotfipour received a United States Fulbright fellowship to pursue a Masters degree in opioid pharmacology at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Subsequently, he pursued a Ph.D. at the University of California-Irvine on the mechanisms of tobacco addiction and a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Nottinham, U.K., on the effects of maternal cigarette smoking on the brain and behavior of adolescent offspring. Now as a T-32 scholar and Friends Fellow at the Semel Institute, Dr. Lotfipour focuses his research interests on the role of nicotinic receptors in mediating substance use in young adults with a specific emphasis on the consequences of prenatal exposure to maternal cigarette smoking.
Erika L. Nurmi, M.D., Ph.D.
2008 Drown Foundation Friends Fellow
Dr. Erika Nurmi received her M.D. and Ph.D. in neuroscience from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in the Medical Scientist Training Program. She completed her general psychiatry residency in the research track at the UCLA Semel Institute and continues in a combined research and clinical child and ado-lescent psychiatry fellowship. Dr. Nurmi has a long-standing interest in the genetics of childhood psychiatric disorders. Her graduate work explored the molecular genetics of autism, genomic imprinting, and chromosome 15. She is currently working with Dr. James T. McCracken and Dr. Stanley F. Nelson as part of the national Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Collaborative Genetics Study (OCGS) group, seeking to identify genes underlying OCD susceptibility. Her Friends of the Semel Institute supported project focuses on gene discovery in a genetically-enriched, early-onset, tic-related subset of the OCGS sample.
Hyong Jin Cho, MD, Ph.D.
2008 Drown Foundation Friends Fellow
Dr. Cho graduated from the University of São Paulo Medical School and finished his residency program in psychiatry at the same institution. He received a master’s degree in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, University of London, and completed his doctorate at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, in 2006. His research has focused on various aspects of fatigue, including placebo response, cross-cultural epidemiology, and more recently neuroimmune mechanisms. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, examining the role of early life stress and genetic vulnerability in the inflammatory mechanisms of fatigue.
Takahiro Nakamura, Ph.D.
2008 The Friends of the Semel Institute Fellow
Dr. Nakamura received his doctorate in Bioagricultural Science from Nagoya University in Japan in 2005. He began his post-doctoral training in Chronobiology in Dr. Gene Block’s laboratory at the University of Virginia and continues his research in collaboration with Dr. Chris Colwell at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Nakamura uses neural recordings and real-time gene expression to study the effects of steroid hormones and aging on the sleep and circadian systems. His current research focuses on uncovering the mechanisms responsible for menstrual and life cycle-associated sleep disorders.
Adam B. Lewin, Ph.D.
2007 Drown Foundation Friends Fellow
Dr. Lewin received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Florida in 2007. His research and clinical focus included both Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and youth with type 1 diabetes. He completed his clinical internship at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. Dr. Lewin will remain at the Semel Institute as a postdoctoral research fellow in Dr. Andrew Leuchter’s NIH-funded fellowship. Currently, Dr. Lewin is initiating a program of research evaluating response inhibition and neurocognitive deficits among youth with obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders.
Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor
2006 Drown Foundation Friends Fellow
In 2006, The Friends, through a generous grant from the Joseph Drown Foundation, were able to provide funding for the first FRIENDS FELLOW, Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor. Dr. O’Connor completed her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Arizona in 2004. Her master’s thesis and dissertation focused on the psychophysiological correlates of bereavement, including a longitudinal study of vagal tone and emotional expression, and fMRI during grief elicitation. Following her internship in Health Psychology at UCLA, she joined the Cousins Center for PNI, where she is integrating vagal tone, fMRI and cortisol measurement in bereavement.