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MEET THE TEAM

Aaron Alexander-Bloch

Aaron Alexander-Bloch

MD, PHD, MPHIL

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.
Kevin Sun

Kevin Sun

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.
Margaret Gardner

Margaret Gardner

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.
Remo Williams

Remo Williams

MS

Howdy everybody.  I'm Remo, and I am very excited to be joining all of you at the Brain-Gene-Development Lab. In 2015, I joined what would evolve into the Translational Research Informatics Group within CHOP's Research Institute and its Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics, where we developed Locutus as a framework to support DICOM de-identification workflows to empower research such as that at the BGD Lab with redacted radiology imaging.  I am feeling incredibly grateful for a full circle welcoming into Dr. Aaron Alexander-Bloch's wonderful team at the BGD Lab, where I look forward to many impactful journeys with our collaborators throughout CHOP, UPenn, LiBI, Cambridge, and beyond. When I'm not clicking on my keyboard, sculpting sounds, or casting bronze, I love enjoying life with my wife and partner of three decades, snowboarding down mountains with our son, and carving around skateparks with my friends of the Love City Surf Club.
Jakob Seidlitz

Jakob Seidlitz

PHD

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.
Dabriel Zimmerman

Dabriel Zimmerman

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!
Shreya Gudapati

Shreya Gudapati

MS

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.
Eren Kafadar

Eren Kafadar

Hello! My name is Eren, and I'm an MD-PhD student in the Neuroscience graduate group. I grew up in Istanbul, Turkey and went to Yale University for my B.S. in Neuroscience. For my bachelor's thesis I focused on perceptual processing and hallucinations. Since then my specific research path has changed, but my primary interest remains in looking at emergence of psychopathology through a developmental perspective. I officially joined the BGD lab in Spring of 2024, and currently I'm pursuing my thesis project investigating how gestational age at birth is associated with changes in the trajectory of brain development. I hope this project will increase our understanding of how early life factors such as premature birth relates to brain development and risk for neuropsychiatric disorders during childhood. Outside of research, I enjoy cooking, swimming, catching up on movies and tv shows, and listening to podcasts whenever I can.
Jenna Schabdach

Jenna Schabdach

PHD

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.
Smirthi Prem

Smirthi Prem

MD, PHD

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.
Lena Dorfschmidt

Lena Dorfschmidt

PHD

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.
Ayan Mandal

Ayan Mandal

PHD

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.
Zhiqiang Sha

Zhiqiang Sha

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.
Matt Buczek

Matt Buczek

MSEd

Hi! My name is Matt Buczek, and I am the BGD lab manager and clinical research study lead as of November 2023. I completed my Bachelor’s at Haverford College, where I majored in Psychology with a concentration in Neuroscience. I have held clinical research positions at CHOP and Penn, and while at Penn I completed an MSEd in Statistics, Measurement, Assessment, and Research Technology. In my role, I’ll be responsible for overseeing active research studies and providing the support necessary for optimal lab functioning. Outside of work, I enjoy playing racket sports, trying Philly’s best restaurants and coffee shops, and volunteering with the Philadelphia Chapter of Minds Matter.

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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