David Amaral, Ph.D.Director, Autism Center of Excellence

David G. Amaral, Ph.D. received his undergraduate education at Northwestern University and graduated with a degree in Psychology. He then moved to the University of Rochester where he received a joint Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology. He conducted postdoctoral research at the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University. He then moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where he remained for 13 years. During this period he was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. Dr. Amaral joined the University of California, Davis in 1995 as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Neuroscience. He is also a staff scientist at the California National Primate Research Center. Dr. Amaral was named the Beneto Foundation Chair and Research Director of the MIND Institute in 1998. He also serves as Director of Autism BrainNet. Dr. Amaral started the Autism Phenome Project in 2006 with the collaboration of numerous MIND Institute faculty and staff, and the project has become the largest, single site, longitudinal analysis of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Brain Research in Autism Investigating Neurophenotypes
(BRAIN) Study TEAM

Christine Wu Nordahl, Ph.D.Principal Investigator

Dr. Nordahl received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and graduate degree in neuroscience from UC Davis. She began her career at the MIND Institute as a postdoctoral fellow and has been working on the Autism Phenome Project (APP) since the beginning of the project, spearheading efforts to develop pediatric neuroimaging protocols to acquire MRI scans in infants and toddlers during natural sleep, without the use of sedation or anesthesia. Dr. Nordahl joined the MIND Institute faculty in 2011 and is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Girls with Autism- Imaging of Neurodevelopment (GAIN) Study, which also builds upon the APP, but is specifically focused females with ASD.

David G. Amaral, Ph.D.Co-Principal Investigator

David G. Amaral, Ph.D. received his undergraduate education at Northwestern University and graduated with a degree in Psychology. He then moved to the University of Rochester where he received a joint Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology. He conducted postdoctoral research at the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University. He then moved to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where he remained for 13 years. During this period he was also an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego. Dr. Amaral joined the University of California, Davis in 1995 as a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Neuroscience. He is also a staff scientist at the California National Primate Research Center. Dr. Amaral was named the Beneto Foundation Chair and Research Director of the MIND Institute in 1998. He also serves as Director of Autism BrainNet. Dr. Amaral started the Autism Phenome Project in 2006 with the collaboration of numerous MIND Institute faculty and staff, and the project has become the largest, single site, longitudinal analysis of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Susan M. Rivera, Ph.D.Co-Principal Investigator

Dr. Rivera uses classic behavioral as well as neuroimaging (fMRI) techniques to investigate such things as the development of dorsal vs. ventral visual processing, object representation, numerical cognition and affective processing. As a member of the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, she also conducts research contrasting typical development with that of children with neurodevelopmental disorders including Autism and fragile X Syndrome. One of her main research goals is to build a framework for integrating the previously disparate methodological and theoretical orientations of cognitive developmental and neuroscience research. By employing a variety of converging research techniques, she strives to elucidate the complex brain-behavior relationships that underlie cognitive development.

Clifford Saron, Ph.D.Co-Investigator

Clifford Saron is a Research Scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain and MIND Institute. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. His research focuses on sensory processing and multisensory integration in typically developing children and those with autism spectrum disorders. These studies use electrophysiological and behavioral methods to better understand individual differences in how these children experience their everyday sensory environments. Dr. Saron also has a long-standing interest in the effects of contemplative practice on physiology and behavior. He directs the Shamatha Project, a multidisciplinary longitudinal investigation of the effects of intensive meditation on physiological and psychological processes central to well-being.

Brianna HeathProject Manager

Brianna Heath is the project manager for the studies under the MIND Institute Autism Center of Excellence (including the STAAR study), as well as for the Autism Phenome Project and GAIN studies. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Southern Oregon University and her Ph.D. in Human Genetics from University of Pittsburgh. Her role serves as a bridge between project leaders, collaborators, the research team, and participating families. Her primary duties include coordinating and managing day-to-day study activities, supervising of project staff, overseeing data collection, and managing study data.

Linda Copeland, M.D., BCBADevelopmental Pediatrician

Dr. Copeland is a board-certified developmental-behavioral pediatrician and behavior analyst. She has been contracted to assist in medical evaluations at the MIND Institute for more than a year. She also has many years of experience working both as a primary care pediatrician and as a developmental specialist. Dr. Copeland received her medical degree from UC Davis School of Medicine and completed her pediatric residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, where she also did fellowships in child psychiatry and developmental pediatrics.

Patrick DwyerGraduate Student

Patrick is a graduate student in the psychology department with a broad interest in helping to ensure that autistic and neurodivergent people can lead fulfilling lives. He plans to use eye-tracking and electrophysiology to explore the heterogeneity of the autism spectrum and different phenotypes of autism, and is particularly interested in studying sensory processing and sensory sensitivities in autism.

Axie AcostaJunior Specialist

Axie Acosta is a Junior Specialist in Dr. Christine Wu Nordahl's lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. She graduated from UC Davis in 2019 with a B.S. in Human Development and a minor in Global Disease Biology. As an undergraduate, she spent time as a volunteer with the Collaborative START Lab , interned with the Early Laboratory Preschool at the UC Davis Center for Child and Family Studies, and was a certified Registered Behavioral Technician. She is passionate about working with young children of all disabilities and their families. Axie currently coordinates the Brain Research in Autism Investigating Neurophenotypes (BRAIN) study, Girls with Autism- Imaging of Neurodevelopment (GAIN) study, and the Autism Phenome Project (APP).

Rachel SnidermanJunior Specialist

Rachel Sniderman is a Junior Specialist in Dr. Christine Wu Nordahl’s lab. She graduated from UC Davis in 2019 with a B.S. in Cognitive Science with an emphasis in neuroscience. Her primary roles include acting as Study Coordinator for the BRAIN, GAIN, and New APP studies. As an undergraduate, she worked at the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain in Dr. Amanda Guyer's Lab with data from a longitudinal study on the relationship between young women, their mothers, and depression, called the Pittsburg Girls Study. In addition, she volunteered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in YOLO County. Rachel is passionate about mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression in adolescents, and plans pursue a career in neuroscience or clinical psychology.

Specifying and Treating Anxiety in Autism Research
(STAAR) Study TEAM

Marjorie Solomon, Ph.D.Principal Investigator

Dr. Marjorie Solomon is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the MIND Institute, and the Imaging Research Center. She also is a licensed clinician with a broad background in clinical assessment and psychosocial intervention for higher functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In 2007, she received a K08 Career Development Award to use cognitive neuroscience methods including fMRI to study higher cognition. From 2012-2012, Solomon served as an appointee of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to the InterAgency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC).

Solomon’s current research examines cognitive development in individuals with ASD through the lifespan using neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience methods including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). She currently is funded by NIMH to examine intellectual and cognitive functioning in middle childhood (ages 8-12) in the APP, and to conduct a longitudinal cohort sequential study of the development of cognitive control, memory, mental health, family factors, and adaptive functioning, and life outcomes in a cohort of adolescents and young adults ages 12-27.

Solomon’s ultimate goal is to apply what she learns through her neuroscience investigations to the development of interventions – the area where she began her career at the MIND, and one she continues to develop as the Director of the MIND social skills training group program. She is fortunate to have received philanthropic funding for this program from Joyce and Jim Teel for the Thomas P. Raley Foundation. An Endowed Chair from the Oates Family Foundation and funding from the UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence has permitted her to further develop intervention programs for adults with ASD. The STAAR study represents a perfect complement to Solomon’s intervention research.

Murat Pakyurek, M.D.Co-Investigator, Psychiatrist

Dr. Murat Pakyurek is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the MIND Institute at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Dr. Pakyurek currently serves as Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division. He is the Medical Director for Behavioral Health Center, Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Center, and the MIND Institute ADHD Clinic. His clinical and research interests include autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders in children, catatonia, and tele-psychiatry. Dr. Pakyurek is actively involved in teaching medical students, psychiatry residents, and child and adolescent psychiatry fellows at UC Davis School of Medicine. He started Interdisciplinary Comprehensive ADHD Program as a model for psychiatry-primary care providers interphase. Dr. Pakyurek is board certified in general psychiatry and in child and adolescent psychiatry by American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Breanna Winder-Patel, Ph.D.Co-Investigator, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Winder-Patel is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at the MIND Institute and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics. She has a strong interest in the assessment and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, pediatric anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

Dr. Winder-Patel began an anxiety treatment clinic upon joining the MIND Institute to continue her passion of providing Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and Habit Reversal Training (HRT) to children and adolescents. She is also involved in clinical research with a focus on further understanding autism spectrum disorder in girls and the clinical and behavioral manifestation of anxiety in children with neurodevelopmental disorders.

Christine Wu Nordahl, Ph.D.Co-Investigator

Dr. Nordahl received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University and graduate degree in neuroscience from UC Davis. She began her career at the MIND Institute as a postdoctoral fellow and has been working on the APP since the beginning of the project, spearheading efforts to develop pediatric neuroimaging protocols to acquire MRI scans in infants and toddlers during natural sleep, without the use of sedation or anesthesia. She later helped develop protocols for acquiring MRI scans in school age children while awake, with a focus on getting MRI scans on those with intellectual disability. Dr. Nordahl joined the MIND Institute faculty in 2011 and is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She is also the Principal Investigator of the Girls with Autism- Imaging of Neurodevelopment (GAIN) Study, which builds upon the APP, but is specifically focused females with ASD.

David Hessl, Ph.D.Co-Investigator

David Hessl, Ph.D., clinical interests involve cognitive, emotional, and behavioral evaluation of children, adolescents and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders, especially those with fragile X syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities. Dr. Hessl also has expertise in developmental psychopathology, particularly mood and anxiety disorders, in infants and young children. Dr. Hessl received his Ph.D. in Child Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington in 1997, which included a clinical internship at Stanford University, and received postdoctoral fellowship training at the UC Berkeley Institute of Human Development during 1997-1998. Dr. Hessl directs the Translational Psychophysiology and Assessment Laboratory (T-PAL) at the MIND Institute to investigate the emotional psychophysiology of children with neurodevelopmental disorders, and to develop novel outcome measures for clinical trials. His work currently concentrates on autism, fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, and fragile X premutation carriers, who are at risk for neurodegenerative disease. He also conducts collaborative studies with other researchers, investigating brain imaging, molecular genetics and neuropsychology in an effort to understand links between genetics, brain function, and behavior.

Brianna HeathProject Manager

Brianna Heath is the project manager for the studies under the MIND Institute Autism Center of Excellence (including the STAAR study), as well as for the Autism Phenome Project and GAIN studies. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Southern Oregon University and her Ph.D. in Human Genetics from University of Pittsburgh. Her role serves as a bridge between project leaders, collaborators, the research team, and participating families. Her primary duties include coordinating and managing day-to-day study activities, supervising of project staff, overseeing data collection, and managing study data.

Linda Copeland, M.D., BCBADevelopmental Pediatrician

Dr. Copeland is a board-certified developmental-behavioral pediatrician and behavior analyst. She has been contracted to assist in medical evaluations at the MIND Institute for more than a year. She also has many years of experience working both as a primary care pediatrician and as a developmental specialist. Dr. Copeland received her medical degree from UC Davis School of Medicine and completed her pediatric residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, where she also did fellowships in child psychiatry and developmental pediatrics. She is working on the STAAR study in the medication treatment arm.

Danielle Haener, Psy.D.Clinical Psychologist

Danielle Haener, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist at UC Davis MIND Institute with specialized training in psychological assessment and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders. Dr. Haener has also had extensive training in work with children and families with trauma, mood and behavioral disorders.

Megan Tudor, Ph.D.Clinical Psychologist

Megan Tudor, PhD, is a licensed psychologist at the UC Davis MIND Institute and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics. Dr. Tudor earned her PhD from Stony Brook University and completed postdoctoral training at the Yale Child Study Center. Her specialties include autism assessment and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) targeting aggression, anxiety, and other symptoms commonly experienced by youth with developmental disabilities. Her research focuses on enhancing clinical services for youth and families - most specifically, siblings of children with autism. She works on the STAAR study as a therapist for the CBT therapy treatment.

Allison Nahmias, Ph.D.Clinical Psychologist

Allison Nahmias, Ph.D. received her Master's degree in Child Studies from Vanderbilt University, where she worked with Wendy Stone, PhD and Paul Yoder, PhD. She then received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania under the mentorship of David Mandell, ScD. She is now a Postdoctoral Scholar at the MIND Institute. Dr. Nahmias has over 10 years of experience working with children with ASD and their families in educational, clinical, and research settings. Her research and clinical training have primarily focused on the use, dissemination, and implementation of evidence-based practices for children with ASD. She works on the STAAR study as a therapist for the CBT therapy treatment.

Konnor DavisJunior Specialist

Konnor Davis is a Junior Specialist in Dr. Marjorie Solomon’s lab at the UC Davis MIND Institute. He graduated from UC Davis in 2019 with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. As an undergraduate, he spent time at the UCDMC Emergency Department conducting research through EMRAP, the UCDMC CT Scan Department as a volunteer, and in the Solomon Lab volunteering primarily for the STAAR study. Konnor is ecstatic to continue working in the Solomon Lab after being exposed to the important clinical research that is being done on neurodevelopment disorders. Konnor currently coordinates the Specifying and Treating Anxiety in Autism Research (STAAR) study as well as the Autism Phenome Project (APP). In the future, he plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine as a physician and researcher. 

Erika BickelSenior Clinical Research Coordinator

Erika Bickel is a Senior Clinical Research Coordinator working in Dr. Marjorie Solomon’s Lab. She is a Society of Clinical Research Associates (SOCRA) certified CCRP and has experience in both sponsor and investigator initiated clinical trials in pediatric neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and Fragile X syndrome. Erika works primarily on the Specifying and Treating the Anxiety Phenotype in Autism Spectrum Disorder (STAAR) study by providing oversight and facilitating day-to-day study activities. She enjoys interacting with the variety of clinicians involved in the project as well as the study participants and their families.