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Using brain imaging, genomics, and clinical phenomics to understand developmental psychopathology
Led by Aaron Alexander-Bloch, the Brain-Gene-Development Lab integrates multimodal neuroimaging and genomics data with deep phenotyping of individuals within the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania systems. Our goal is to translate the highly polygenic risk for psychosis and other neurovelopmental psychiatric disorders into pathophysiologic mechanisms, to inform the development of new treatments for individuals with mental illness. We believe in a team science approach with strong national and international collaborations.
AARON ALEXANDER-BLOCH MD, PHD, MPHIL
JAKOB SEIDLITZ, PHD
Hello and welcome to the Brain-Gene-Development Lab! I’m Aaron and as the director of the BGD Lab, I work with an incredible group of students, trainees, and scientists. Our shared goal is to understand variability among people in human brain development and to characterize the altered neurogenomic pathways that lead to mental illness. Prior to starting the lab, I trained in philosophy, computational biology, brain MRI, genetics, and clinical psychiatry. I love West Philadelphia, where I live with my family including two young children. Please get in touch (aaron [dot] alexander-bloch [at] pennmedicine [dot] upenn [dot] edu)!
Hi! My name is Jakob and I’m currently a research scientist in the BGD Lab. I am originally from the Washington, DC area and I received my BS in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from the University of Rochester. I completed a joint PhD program as an NIH OxCam Scholar in the Section on Neurogenomics at the NIH and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. In the lab, I am working on a range of projects spanning genetics and transcriptomics to multimodal imaging and clinical phenomics. Outside the lab, I enjoy exploring new spots in DC/Philly with my family, staying active, and wrangling my dogs and cats. Feel free to reach out to me at seidlitzj [at] chop [dot] edu!
My name is Jenna and I am a research scientist in the BGD Lab. I have a B. S. and a M. S. in Electrical Engineering from Drexel University and a Ph. D. in Biomedical Informatics from the University of Pittsburgh. I joined the BGD Lab in November 2020 and currently focus on developing scalable, sustainable pipelines for applying different image processing
pipelines to neurological MRIs as well as curating a set of typical clinical patients with
limited imaging pathology as a set of “clinical controls”. I live happily in the Philadelphia suburbs with my husband and enjoy rock climbing, crocheting, and volunteering for both the local disc golf club and Extra Life in my spare time. You can contact me via email at youngjm [at] chop [dot] edu.
JENNA SCHABDACH, PHD
AYAN MANDAL, PHD
Hi I’m Dabriel and I joined the lab in 2023 as a clinical research coordinator/data analyst. I’m originally from South Carolina and graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2021. At USC I conducted research utilizing diffusion tensor imaging and tractography to study brain changes across the lifespan in the Richards Infant Lab. Before joining the BGD Lab I spent 2 years as a research coordinator in the Lewis Lab at MIT coordinating multimodal neuroimaging studies focused on sleep and cerebrospinal fluid flow. I will be working on expanding the lab’s current database of clinical and research imaging for our lifespan brain connectome project. Outside of the lab I like to read and am looking forward to exploring Philadelphia! I’m zimmermad1 [at] chop [dot] edu
Hi, my name is Smrithi, and I am a research track resident in the Department of Psychiatry at Penn Medicine. I received my B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience at Lehigh University and then completed my MD and PhD at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson. For my PhD dissertation work, I studied the developmental, cellular, and molecular changes in developing neural cells derived from individuals with both genetic and idiopathic autism. This work piqued my desire to understand how cellular and genetic mechanisms contribute to alteration in brain structures over the course of brain development. Ultimately, my goal is to meld my molecular and cellular background with imaging and data science to develop a multimodal understanding of brain development and neuropsychiatric disorders. To this end, my project in the lab currently focuses on studying genetic disorders that alter brain size. Outside of the lab and the clinic, I love cooking and trying new restaurants, reading absurd young adult novels, and playing board games. Please reach out to me at prems [at] pennmedicine [dot] upenn [dot] edu.
SMRITHI PREM, MD, PhD
My name is Zhiqiang Sha, and I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at CHOP/UPenn. I completed my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Molecular Biology at Peking Union Medical College. Subsequently, I earned my Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Beijing Normal University. In my current role, my research primarily revolves around the exploration of common and rare genetic variants associated with functional and structural variations in the human brain, and its associations with cognitive deficits in neurodevelopmental disorders by using large-scale imaging-genetics datasets, such as UK Biobank and ABCD. Outside the lab, I enjoy reading books, listening to music and watch movies. These activities provide me with a valuable balance to my work in the lab. Email me at shaz [at] chop [dot] edu
ZHIQIANG SHA, PHD
Hello there! My name is Margaret and I’m a PhD student in Penn’s Neuroscience Graduate Group. I grew up in Massachusetts and went to Northeastern University for my undergraduate degree in Psychology. Since joining the BGD Lab, I’ve been working on modeling how biological sex and puberty impact the brain’s structure over the lifespan and whether measuring these effects can help us better understand diseases like schizophrenia. When not doing research, I can be found knitting, writing for the student blog, or doting on my dog, Sasquatch. You can email me at margaret [dot] gardner [at] pennmedicine [dot] upenn [dot] edu to hear more about my work or the best gluten-free food spots in Philly
Hello! My name is Ayan (pronounced OY-in) and I’m currently a medical student at UPenn. I’m from Long Island, New York, and I went to college at Georgetown University where I majored in Neurobiology and Physics. Prior to medical school, I did a PhD at the University of Cambridge on applying network neuroscience for pre-surgical planning of brain tumor resection. In the lab, I am working on developing brain charts for neuroimaging phenotypes of clinical interest. Outside of the lab, I enjoy writing, lifting heavy(ish) weights, trying new recipes, and curating fun playlists on Spotify. You can contact me at Ayan [dot] Mandal [at] pennmedicine [dot] upenn [dot] edu or check out my website if you’d like to know more!
Hi, my name is Kevin and I’m a Neuroscience MD/PhD student in the BGD Lab and the Lifespan Informatics and Neuroimaging Center at Penn (PennLINC). I grew up near Cleveland, Ohio, and came to Penn for my B.A. in Biology. My research path has been varied, including work in structural biology, neurodegenerative disease, and sickle cell genetics. However, I’ve always been interested in brain and behavior, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to begin working with PennLINC and the BGD Lab in the fall of 2022 as a part of my MD/PhD at Penn. Since then, I’ve joined the lab as a thesis student, working with functional neuroimaging data to ask questions about development, genetics, and transdiagnostic psychopathology. Outside of research, I enjoy watching movies, weightlifting, and speculative fiction. Feel free to contact me at kevin [dot] sun [at] pennmedicine [dot] upenn [dot] edu!
Hello! I'm Shreya, a Data Analyst at the BGD Lab since August 2023. I completed my Bachelor's degree in Computer Science at Shiv Nagar University in India, and later pursued a Master's degree in Bioengineering at UPenn. In the lab, my primary role involves data analysis and organization, where I contribute my skills to various projects. Beyond work, I'm an enthusiast for trekking, reading, and painting. If you'd like to connect or collaborate, you can reach me at gudapatis [at] chop [dot] edu!
SHREYA GUDAPATI, MS
Hi! My name is Lena and I am a postdoctoral researcher in the BGD lab. My path here started with a B.Sc. in Cognitive Science at Universität Osnabrück, followed by a PhD as a Gates Cambridge scholar at the University of Cambridge where I focused on understanding structural and functional brain development during adolescence and how it relates to the development of psychiatric disorders. At Penn/CHOP I am working on mapping lifespan brain development, as well as improving our methods for harmonizing large-scale aggregated neuroimaging datasets. Outside the lab you can find me rock climbing, hiking, surfing, enjoying music gigs and veggie food. You can contact me at lenad [at] upenn [dot] edu.
LENA DORFSCHMIDT, PHD
ROTATIONS FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS
Students in the UPenn Neuroscience Graduate Group or the MD/PhD program can rotate in the lab. Contact Aaron to set up a rotation.
This statement on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is shared by consensus from BGD lab members:
We are guided by a core set of values that we promote within CHOP and Penn, in our work with study participants and their data, and in the dissemination of our results. Our lab is open to people of every race, ethnicity, religion, income, gender, and sexual orientation. We promote dignity for all persons regardless of their physical and mental health status or cognitive abilities. We view community participants as partners to improve our understanding of and treatments for mental illness. We aim to remove historical and contemporary barriers to opportunity for diverse scientists at all levels of training. We will provide training and leadership opportunities for a diverse group of scientists and clinicians across levels of training and professional development.
We recognize longstanding inequities in academia, medicine, and health outcomes. Traumatic life experiences are more common, and access to mental health services is lower, in racially minoritized groups in the United States. We need to do more as a society, and it often feels like our ability to make impactful change is limited. But as scientists and clinicians, we can reach out to our local representatives and give them data to support policy changes; in disseminating our research, we can avoid contributing to misperceptions or negative stereotypes; we can challenge our universities and hospital systems to prioritize Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion as part of their core missions.
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