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College of Arts and Sciences

Center Affiliates

The Carolina Autism and Neurodevelopment Research Center at UofSC brings together an interdisciplinary group of faculty from across campus to collaborate and advance research in the fields of autism and neurodevelopment. 

 

Directors 

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Dr. Jane Roberts, Psychology

Dr. Roberts is a  Carolina Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology. Her work focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms that underlie cognitive and behavioral functioning in children and adults with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, fragile X syndrome, and ADHD.

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Dr. Jeff Twiss, Biological Sciences

Dr. Twiss  is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, SmartState Chair in Childhood Neurotherapeutics, and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies. The Twiss lab uses molecular and cellular biology approaches to understand how neurons develop and function. They are particularly interested in how post-transcriptional regulation impacts neuron growth, focusing on subcellular mRNA translation and RNA dynamics in neurons.

 

Core Faculty

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Jessica Bradshaw, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Bradshaw’s research focuses on early identification of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the first years of life, including: 1) quantifying the emergence of, and interrelations between, social behavior, visual attention, and motor skills in neonates, infants, and toddlers, 2) identifying aberrant neurodevelopmental pathways that lead to the emergence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and 3) translating these basic findings to early detection and intervention strategies for ASD.


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Erik Drasgow, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Drasgow's research interests include language and communication intervention for individuals with severe disabilities, functional assessment and positive behavior support, special education law, and teacher training and retention.

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Sarah Edmunds Ph.D.,  Assistant Professor

Dr. Sarah Edmunds is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and has a joint appointment in the special education program within the Department of Educational Studies.  She is also a member of the RISE research network’s implementation science team. Broadly, Dr. Edmunds' research investigates how we can best implement evidence-based interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) within early intervention, school, and mental healthcare systems, in ways that are tailored to each community and support equitable access.

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 Jessica Green, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Dr. Green’s research uses non-invasive brain recordings to examine multisensory perception and attention, including how these processes are altered in individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

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Robert Hock, Ph.D., LMSW, Associate Professor

Dr. Hock is currently serving as principal investigator on a South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services-funded award to study person-centered service design in behavioral health organizations. The research will focus on how to more actively engage patients in their care by developing and implementing an actionable plan to assist in achieving personal recovery goals.

His research expertise includes person-centered design in behavioral health organizations, treatment of autism spectrum disorder, and mental health of children and families.

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Abigail Hogan, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Hogan's research focuses on social communication in autism spectrum disorder, with an emphasis on factors that contribute to social communication development in young autistic children. Dr. Hogan is especially interested in understanding the relationship between anxiety symptoms and social communication difficulties in autistic children.

 

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Fiona Hollis, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

 The Hollis lab uses behavioral and cellular biology approaches to investigate the role of brain mitochondrial function in social behaviors relevant to neurodevelopmental disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

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Jessica Klusek, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Klusek’s research program aims to delineate the nature and basis of communication deficits in conditions associated with FMR1 gene dysfunction: fragile X syndrome and the FMR1 premutation. Her research focuses on three primary areas: (1) defining communication features and their interface with psychiatric and cognitive aspects of the phenotype; (2) identifying biomarkers to inform mechanistic underpinnings, with a focus on autonomic and molecular genetic markers; (3) addressing syndrome-specificity via the use of a cross-population comparison approach that juxtaposes fragile X with autism-- disorders of shared behaviors but distinct genetic etiologies.

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Sofia Lizarraga, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Lizarraga is interested in understanding the basic mechanisms that contribute to the development of the cerebral cortex, particularly how endosomal signaling and epigenetic regulators contribute to the development of neuronal circuitry formation during cortical development. Her work focuses on the role of these pathways in neuronal arborization and synapse development and function and their relation to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Her work utilizes a combination of genome edited and patient derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) as well as epigenetic, imaging and physiological approaches.

 

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David Mott, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Dr. Mott’s research is directed toward understanding how synaptic transmission between excitatory and inhibitory nerve cells in the brain is modified as a result of experience, with a focus on neurons in the limbic system and the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays important roles in learning and memory, as well as in pathological conditions, such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. His current work investigates changes in synaptic transmission that occur in the hippocampus in temporal lobe epilepsy.

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Vignesh Narayanan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Narayanan's research focuses on the areas of dynamical systems and networks, data science and learning theory, and computational neuroscience.

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Ana Pocivavsek, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Pocivavsek's research aims to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms of cognitive dysfunction. Poor sleep quality is associated with impairments in cognitive function.  Her research strives to unravel common molecular mechanisms between sleep disturbances and cognitive impairments and introduce new therapeutic approaches to alleviate these outcomes.

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Christian O'Reilly, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. O'Reilly's main interests are related to better understanding the brain across spatial and temporal scales in order to address complex neurodevelopmental issues such as autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. The methods he uses include analytical techniques (e.g., EEG source reconstruction, functional connectivity) and modeling (e.g., point neurons, morphologically-detailed neurons, neural masses), as well as the combination of these two approaches through Bayesian model-driven analyses. He is further interested in novel ways to empower the study of neuroscience through AI and to empower AI through biologically inspired neural networks. 

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Deanna Smith, Ph.D., Associate Professor

In humans, heterozygous mutations in LIS1 typically cause a severe developmental brain abnormality, lissencephaly, in large part due to a critical role in regulating intracellular trafficking. Recently, in conjunction with the Greenwood Genetics Center, we identified a conservative mutation in LIS1 in a child diagnosed with autism. We are currently trying to understand how this mutation impacts LIS1, focusing on potential dysfunction in the axon.

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Kristy Welshhans, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Welshhans research focuses on understanding how appropriate connectivity within the nervous system is established during development. Her research examines this process both in health and disease, with a focus on Down syndrome. She is interested in the mechanisms by which growth cones, which are the pathfinding structures of the developing neuron, migrate to and connect with their appropriate targets. Her research employs a wide variety of molecular, cellular and imaging techniques, including primary cell culture, human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived neurons, viral-mediated gene expression, innovative fluorescent proteins and reporters, live cell imaging and TIRF microscopy, to elucidate the mechanisms underlying neural development.

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Katie Wolfe, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Dr. Wolfe's research interests include the development and implementation of interventions to promote language and communication skills in young children with autism, the synthesis of single-subject research to identify empirically-supported treatments, and the use of technology in training individuals to analyze single-subject data. She is also interested in parent and practitioner training.

 

 

Faculty Affiliates

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Ali Brian, Ph.D., Associate Professor

As the research director of the Institute of Movement Studies for Individuals with Visual Impairments, Dr. Brian has traveled throughout the world assessing and evaluating the perceived and actual motor competence, physical activity, and health-related fitness levels of individuals with visual impairments in order to develop targeted intervention strategies. Additionally, as an investigator with the Research Center for Child Well-Being, her research also focuses upon developing integrated (physical, psychological, and cognitive) intervention strategies for rural, title one preschoolers and that features the assistance of their parents and/or their classroom teachers.

 

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Guoshuai Cai, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

 Dr. Cai is an bioinformatician and his research focuses on the development and application of bioinformatic, statistical and computational methods for analyzing genomic and biomedical data to investigate complex human disease including Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Specifically, his current research aims at developing efficient methods for single-cell RNA-seq data analysis, multi-dimensional genomics data integration, and marker identification and disease outcome prediction using machine learning methods.

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Norma Frizzell, Ph.D., Associate Professor

Dr. Frizzell is interested in the chemical modification of proteins by mitochondrial metabolites, and understanding the conditions that govern metabolite reactivity. She has a particular focus on the succination of proteins by the Krebs cycle intermediate fumarate. Her lab is investigating the role of fumarate and protein succination in mitochondrial encephalopathies derived from defects in the electron transport chain machinery, describing for the first time how metabolic alterations lead to increased brainstem and olfactory bulb succination in a murine model of Leigh Syndrome. They are currently examining several protein targets whose structure and function is altered as a consequence of succination. This has informed new avenues of therapeutic intervention that they anticipate will benefit Leigh Syndrome patients.

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Neset Hikmet, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Hikmet is heavily involved in research and health sector related activities. He has led numerous distributed data collection and management projects and led and participated in grant-funded health informatics research in a wide range of contexts. His recent research project Health Services Utilization Dashboard leverages Health Sciences South Carolina’s (HSSC) 2.7 million patient based clinical data set which provides insightful information.

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Kimbery Hills, Ph.D., Clinical Professor

 Dr. Hills provides clinical training in ASD assessment skills to clinicians across the state of South Carolina. Her current research interests focus on autism diagnosis, psychological assessment, prevention and intervention for at-risk youth and positive psychology.

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Xianzheng Huang, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Huang’s longstanding research endeavor is studying effects of measurement error on statistical inference and developing nonparametric methods for mean regression, mode regression, and density estimation in the presence or absence of measurement error.

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Linyuan Lu, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Lu is well-known nationally and internationally for his research work on large information networks, sparse random graphs, probabilistic methods, extremal problems on hypergraphs and posets, spectral graph/hypergraph theory, Ramsey type problems, Discrete Geometry, and other problems in graph theory.

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Sajish Mathew, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Sajish’s research focus is to understand and to explore the potential of NAD+ metabolism and signaling through SIRTuins and PARPs in the regulation of the new biology of tRNA synthetases.

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R. Davis Moore, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Dr. Moore’s research and teaching interests include determining the functional outcomes of concussive injuries and the factors that moderate injusry outcomes, the active rehabilitation of post-concussion syndrome, and the influennce of health factors such as physical activity, fitness, and obesity on neuropsychological health and development. 

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Fabienne Poulain, Ph.D., Assistant Professor

Research in the Poulain lab aims at understanding how neuronal circuits are formed, maintained and refined during development. We use a unique combination of genetic, biochemical and high resolution live imaging approaches in zebrafish to decipher the cellular and molecular mechanisms of brain wiring directly in vivo. Our discoveries may give new insight on the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders that originate from miswiring of neuronal circuits during development.

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John Richards, Ph.D., Carolina Distinguished Professor

Dr. Richards has three related research themes. The first theme is the development of sustained attention in young infants. The second theme is the development of extended fixations to television programs in the first two years. Third, Dr. Richards uses EEG and ERP in the study of saccade planning, its development in the first few months of infancy, and its relation to cortical areas controlling eye movements. He also is using structural MRI of infants along with ERP to study the cortical sources of the behavior associated with planned eye movements.

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David Stodden, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Stodden's research agenda focuses on promoting the acquisition and development of fundamental motor skills and the association of motor skill competence with physical activity, health-related physical fitness, perceived competence, and obesity across the lifespan. His research emphasizes the need to address and understand developmental mechanisms and casual pathways related to youth physical development and trajectories of physical activity and obesity. In addition, research addressing ballistic skills allows him to further explore the behavioral and mechanical nature of multijoint ballistic motor skills and apply this knowledge to skill acquisition, youth physical development and assessment validation.

 

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Marlene Wilson, Ph.D., Professor

Dr. Wilson investigates the neurochemical underpinnings of anxiety- and stress-related behaviors, with an emphasis on individual differences in neural systems that may represent risk factors for disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A major focus is the role of neuropeptides and the amygdala in stress-induced behavioral and endocrine responses, as well as actions of anxiety-reducing modalities. The project utilizes a multidisciplinary approach highlighted by virus-mediated gene transfer technology in combination with behavioral analyses, neurochemical assays including in vivo microdialysis, anatomical analyses, and molecular assessments of expression changes.

 

 


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