The Nelson Lab
Charles Nelson, Ph.D. (contact Charles Nelson)
Vanessa Vogel-Farley (contact Vanessa Vogel-Farley)
I received my bachelors degree in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2004. I joined Dr. Nelson's lab during my last year of undergraduate studies after completing a directed research project at the Center for Neurobehavioral Development. This experience got me interested in the processes associated with brain development during the neonatal period into adolescence and that factors that can affect normal development. In the Nelson lab I worked as a principal/senior lab technician on several of the "Neural Mechanisms of Early Memory Development" studies which examine the development of face and object processing during the first year of life. Currently, I am the Clinical Research Coordinator for the Nelson Lab, where I have the enormous opportunity to work on Dr. Nelson's collaborations with scientists from MIT and Harvard examining several clinical populations, including autism.
Alissa Westerlund (contact Alissa Westerlund)
I received my bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of North Dakota in 1997 and have had the pleasure of working as Dr. Nelson's Lab Coordinator since 1999. I oversee Dr. Nelson's large research program on the typical development of face processing, and since moving to the Boston area in 2005 we have continued our exciting work on projects with research groups around the world. My graduate work in child public health and toxicology has been complementary to several projects, including the work in Chile that is examining the long-term outcomes of iron deficiency, a project conducted in the Inuit community in northern Quebec examining the long-term effects of exposure to environmental contaminants, as well as the research being done in Romania that is examining the efficacy of foster care as a means of remediating early deprivation suffered during early institutionalization.
Nicole Coman (contact Nicole Coman)
I received my Ed.S. in School Psychology from Florida International University in Miami, FL and a M.S. Ed. from Duquense University in Pittsburgh, PA. I joined the Nelson Lab in May of 2012 after moving from Miami, Florida. Previously, I had worked at the University of Miami for the past 7 years coordinating various research projects focused on autism spectrum disorders. Additionally, I had the privilege of working with various families and individuals affected by autism spectrum disorders at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of Miami. Currently, I am the Clinical Research Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project, which is a longitudinal collaborative study between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. This study focuses on the development of infant siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves. Additionally, I am coordinating a multisite Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network project in collaboration with Yale University, University of Washington, and UCLA investigating the sex-specific differences in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The purpose of the study is to identify sex differences and to further understand the heterogeneity in brain structure, function, connectivity, and genetics in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
Post Doctoral Researchers
Jennifer Wagner, Ph.D. (contact Jennifer Wagner)
I joined the Nelson Lab as a post-doctoral fellow in October 2008 after completing my Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Stanford University. My graduate work focused on cognitive development, primarily examining representations of number and quantity in infants and preschoolers. During my postdoc years, I am interested in studying the relationship between cognitive development and brain development in both typically and atypically developing children. To this end, I will be involved in two longitudinal studies, one looking at the behavioral and neural correlates of memory development in infants who have suffered a hypoxic-ischemic injury at birth, and a second study looking at the behavioral and neural correlates of social-emotional development in infant siblings of children with autism. With both groups at risk for atypical development, these studies aim to uncover a set of markers in infancy which could be used for early identification of children who will develop difficulties, with the ultimate goal of recommending earlier interventions for these children. Additionally, I will be involved in a set of studies using a new method for assessing brain activity in infancy, Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), to further understand brain development across the first year of life.
Adeline Jabes, Ph.D. (contact Adeline Jabes)
I joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in February 2011 after receiving my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. My graduate work focused on the structural development of the monkey hippocampal formation, a medial temporal lobe (MTL) structure that is essential for memory. Following from this work, I have now put forward several hypotheses about the emergence of memory functions in human infants. During my postdoc, I will investigate the emergence of spatial memory during infancy and the maturation of the specific MTL circuits that subserve this function. Using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques, I aim to establish links between brain maturation and behavioral development in order to better understand the emergence of human memory. Further, such study will also give fundamental information about infant’s memory performance that might become useful tool for detecting early signs of memory impairments in children at risk for MTL pathologies such as epilepsy, autism, or hypoxic-ischemic injury. Finally, I will also be involved in a study of children born following a diabetic pregnancy, using behavioral and neuroimaging methods, to assess the outcomes related to this altered fetal environment.
Brandon Keehn, Ph.D. (contact Brandon Keehn)
I received my Ph.D. from the San Diego State University / University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Language and Communicative Disorders in the summer of 2011 and subsequently joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow. My graduate work employed a multimodal (fMRI, EEG, eye-tracking) approach to understanding attentional strengths and weaknesses and their neurofunctional underpinnings in school-age children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At the LCN, I plan to extend my investigation of attention to infants and toddlers at risk for ASD. The aim of this research is to provide insight into how early impairments in attention impact the development of higher-level social and communicative abilities in children with ASD. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to identify behavioral and biological markers to assist in making an earlier diagnosis of ASD and to determine potential targets for early intervention.
Ross Vanderwert, Ph.D. (contact Ross Vanderwert)
I received my Ph.D. in Developmental Science from the University of Maryland and joined the LCN in October 2012. My research interest is in understanding how early social experiences shape early brain development. My doctoral work focused on the neural correlates of action observation and execution and how social interactions may shape the development of premotor and somatosensory areas in both human and non-human primate models. During my postdoc, I will continue to examine the role of early social experience in brain development and expand my repertoire of neuroimaging techniques. I aim to better understand the changes in infants’ processing of emotional face expressions over the first year and how those changes may be mediated by their social interactions with their mother. To this end, I will be using a multi-method approach that includes eye tracking, autonomic nervous system responses, electroencephalogram and event-related potentials (EEG and ERP), and Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) data.
Michelle Bosquet, Ph.D. (contact Michelle Bosquet)
I received a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in developmental and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota. I have completed a fellowship in infant mental health and postdoctoral training in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress responses. I am primarily interested in understanding the ways in which children become vulnerable to developing mental health problems early in development. One specific area where I have focused is the study of the impact of maternal anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder on infant emotional and biological development. I am currently investigating associations between mothers' traumatic life experiences and mothers' and infants' abilities to regulate their emotions and their physiological responses to stress. For example, in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and other lab members, I am examining how infants of mothers with significant trauma histories may process emotions differently at the neural level than infants of mothers without a significant trauma history. I hope that the information from these studies will help us prevent the development of mental health problems in children.
Christine Mrakotsky, Ph.D. (contact Christine Mrakotsky)
I received both my Masters degree and my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology/Neuropsychology from the University of Vienna, Austria -the latter in collaboration with Washington University in St. Louis. I completed a clinical post-doctoral fellowship in Pediatric Neuropsychology at Boston Children's Hospital followed by a research fellowship funded by the National Institutes of Health. I joined the faculty of Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2003. My research has focused on hormonal and immune influences on brain and behavioral development in both children with chronic illness and children experiencing stress. Specific studies investigate the effects of steroids on memory and learning in children treated for inflammatory conditions involving the immune system (i.e. Crohn's disease) and for leukemia. In a longitudinal project supported by NIH, we study the brain effects of steroids, immune response, and stress on learning in ill and healthy children. We use neuropsychological assessments, neuroimaging (fMRI) and electrophysiological (ERP) tools in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience with the goal to elucidate brain-immune interactions and the safety of steroid therapy much needed for treatment of pediatric illness.
Graduate Student Researchers
Laura Edwards (contact Laura Edwards)
I am a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.S. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University and subsequently worked in clinical psychology research for two years as part of the Yale Child Study Center’s Autism Program. I am interested in investigating the cognitive and brain development of typically and atypically developing children, in order to use this knowledge to construct developmentally appropriate educational curricula and interventions for individual learners, particularly those with developmental disabilities.
Kerri Downing (contact Kerri Downing)
I received a bachelors of arts in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience from the University of Connecticut. My honors thesis centered on the novelty and familiarity preferences of children with autism. Currently, I am a research assistant for the Infant Sibling Project, which is a longitudinal collaborative study between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. This study focuses on the development of infants siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves.
Geneva DeGregorio (contact Geneva DeGregorio)
I graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a B.A. in Child Development. I first joined the Nelson Lab in the summer of 2009, as an undergraduate research assistant working on a variety of projects investigating atypical development. I completed my senior honors thesis using data from a study focusing on autism and the development of face and object processing. Currently, I am working on multiple studies that are using ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development from infancy through adolescence in atypical populations including autism, tuberous sclerosis complex and Rett syndrome.
Vanessa Loukas (contact Vanessa Loukas)
I joined the LCN as the Family Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project in 2011. The Infant Sibling Project is a collaborative project between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University studying the development of language, social, and communication skills in infants who have a sibling diagnosed with autism, a speech or language delay, or no known developmental difficulties. I also coordinate the genetics portion of the project and work as the phlebomotist to collect genetics samples. Prior to my participation in the LCN, I worked in the MRI Department at Boston Children’s Hospital and graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in Psychology in 2009.
Stephanie Marshall (contact Stephanie Marshall)
I joined the LCN in 2011 due to an interest in the early development of both typically developing children, and children with developmental disorders. After receiving a B.A. in Psychology at UCLA and working briefly as an ABA therapist, I worked as part of a research team at UCLA studying the development of children with autism and their younger siblings. Currently, I work as a research assistant on the Infant Sibling Project, a collaborative project between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University that studies the development of infant siblings of children who have a language impairment or an autism spectrum disorder.
Tessa Clarkson (contact Tessa Clarkson)
I received my B.S from Boston University in Human Physiology in 2011. During college I worked overseas on a variety of NGOs in Cambodia and Thailand on projects ranging from education and rehabilitation of trafficked and battered women and children, providing rural communities education on HIV/AIDS, developing physiotherapy programs for children with disabilities and HIV/AIDS, building community centers for Burmese refugee,s and working at orphanages to promote better hygiene. Throughout college I developed an interest in developmental and cognitive neuroscience. I joined the LCN in April of 2012 and am currently working on multiple studies using ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development in rare populations at high risk for autism including Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, Rett Syndrome and 16p. I am interested in the development of early biomarkers for autism and changes in sensory processing in atypically developing populations.
Dana Bullister (contact Dana Bullister)
I graduated from Wellesley College in 2012 with a double major in Computer Science and in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. I am currently involved in a new study investigating the development of emotion recognition in infants. This study involves integrating methods such as event-related potentials (ERPs), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), skin conductance, eye tracking, and pupillometry.
Lina Montoya (contact Lina Montoya)
I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2012 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Applied Math and Statistics. I am currently working on the emotion project, which examines the development and neural bases of emotion processing. This project uses a variety of methodologies to investigate emotion processing in 5 – 10 month old infants, includingeye tracking, electrophysiology, near infrared spectroscopy, genetics, and physiological measures.
Katherine Oberwager (contact Katherine Oberwager)
I graduated from Smith College in 2011 with a B.A. in Clinical Psychology and a minor in Early Childhood Education. I joined the LCN in February 2012, and am also pursuing pre-requisites for a M.S. in Nursing.