Location and Contact Information
The Veenstra-VanderWeele research group is dedicated to helping children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and their families. We are approaching this goal using a variety of techniques, from animal models to research in adults with ASD. The majority of our efforts go toward developing and studying mouse models to understand the relationship between ASD or OCD risk factors and the resulting changes in brain and behavior. We are also working to translate laboratory research findings into novel treatments for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders or related syndromal disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome.
Kelly McGuire, MD, MPA
Medical Director of the Translational Medicine Program
Kelly McGuire, MD, MPA, joined the division in August as an Assistant Professor and is serving as the medical director of the Translational Medicine Program at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain (CADB) and an assistant medical director at CADB. Dr. McGuire obtained her medical degree at Quillen College of Medicine in Tennessee. She completed her psychiatry residency in New York at Mount Sinai and her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship in our program. She went on to complete the Whitaker Scholar in Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program and a NIMH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship for Translational Research in Child Psychiatry at CUMC and NYSPI, during which time she was awarded NYS OMH Policy Scholar Award. Prior to joining CADB and CUMC, Dr. McGuire served as a psychiatrist at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders in Maine, an adjunct scientist at Maine Medical Research Institute, and a Clinical Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.
Kally O’Reilly Sparks, PhD
Kally O’Reilly Sparks, PhD, has joined the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab as a research scientist and an Assistant Professor at CUMC. Dr. O’Reilly Sparks uses rodent models to understand typical and atypical neurodevelopment, with the idea that a single insult can alter brain-wide function at various neurobiological levels. Since earning her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, Dr. O’Reilly Sparks has focused her studies on the systems underlying learning and memory, the hippocampal-parahippocampal network. Her work involves investigation of neuroanatomical and molecular development of the hippocampus as well as examining the structure and function of the adult hippocampus after abnormal development. These studies have implications for mental illnesses of neurodevelopmental origin, such as autism and schizophrenia. She has ongoing collaborations at the Norwegian Institute for Science and Technology and at New York University where she conducted her postdoctoral studies.
Muhammad O. Chohan, MD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Dr. Chohan obtained his medical degree from Shifa College of Medicine in Pakistan. While in medical school, he completed a research internship at Columbia University, where he studied abnormalities in cortical neuronal architecture induced by the disruption of early cortical neurogenesis. He then returned for additional research training at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where he studied genetic models featuring dopamine-neuron-specific deletions of channels that control dopamine-neuron spike firing. More recently, Dr. Chohan has examined the early postnatal development of neuronal connections involved in the vocalization of infant rats and in social attachment in general, and has applied stem-cell transplantation, in vivo electrophysiology, data-analysis methods, and behavioral-neuroscience tools to query diverse but interrelated hypotheses of cortico-limbic basal ganglia dysfunction in animal models of mental illness. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab, focusing on basal ganglia circuits, Dr. Chohan hopes to determine neural mechanisms underlying behavior abnormalities seen in genetic models of autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Elizabeth Aaron, BA
Research Coordinator and Assistant
Elizabeth received her BA in psychology from Skidmore College, where she completed an undergraduate research thesis project examining the role mindsets play in public speaking anxiety. She is a research coordinator and assistant for the Translational Medicine Program at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. Elizabeth is currently working on an autism biorepository for individuals with autism and their biological family members and a phase II clinical trial called "The Study of Oxytocin in Autism to Improve Reciprocal Social Behaviors" (SOARS-B) for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.
Micah Davoren, BA
Micah Davoren graduated from Haverford College with a BA in psychology and a minor in education. Her undergraduate research thesis examined attachment style and the therapeutic alliance as predictors of treatment outcome for social anxiety disorder. As a research assistant for the Translational Medicine Program at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, she is currently working on phase II clinical trials for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.
Ziwen Wang, BA
Ziwen Wang received her BA in neuroscience and behavior with a minor in education from Vassar College. Using a rodent model of PTSD, she completed an undergraduate research thesis project at Vassar, examining the neurobehavioral effects of chronic ethanol exposure on fear extinction memory retrieval. She also worked with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at Stars and Rain, a non-governmental educational organization in Beijing, China. Ziwen is very excited to join the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab as a research assistant.
Montgomery, A. K., Shuffrey, L. C., Guter, S. J., Anderson, G. M., Jacob, S., Mosconi, M. W., ... & Veenstra-VanderWeele, J. (2018). Maternal serotonin levels are associated with cognitive ability and core symptoms in autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 57(11), 867-875. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2018.06.025
Zike, I. D., Chohan, M. O., Kopelman, J. M., Krasnow, E. N., Flicker, D., Nautiyal, K. M., ... & Tanaka, K. F. (2017). OCD candidate gene SLC1A1/EAAT3 impacts basal ganglia-mediated activity and stereotypic behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(22), 5719-5724. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1701736114
Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Muller CL, Iwamoto H, Sauer JE, Owens WA, Cohen J, Shah C, Mannangatti P, Jessen T, Thompson BJ, Carneiro AMD, Crawley JN, Sanders-Bush E, McMahon DG, Ramamoorthy S, Daws LC, Sutcliffe JS, Blakely RD (2012). Autism gene variant causes hyperserotonemia, serotonin receptor hypersensitivity, social impairment and repetitive behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 109: 5469-5474.
Hammock EA#, Veenstra-VanderWeele J, Yan Z, Kerr TM, Morris M, Anderson GM, Carter CS, Cook EH, Jacob S (2012). Examining autism spectrum disorders by biomarkers: example from the oxytocin and serotonin systems. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 51: 712-721.
Dove D, Warren Z, Taylor JL, Sathe N, McPheeters ML, Veenstra-VanderWeele J (2012). Medication treatments for adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. Pediatrics 130: 717-26.