Dr. Daniel C. Lu – Principal Investigator
Daniel received his B.A. from Dartmouth College with high honors, working in J. Leiter’s laboratory, where he studied central chemoreception. This pivotal experience sparked his sense of wonder and fascination with the neuron and the central nervous system (CNS), and set him on the path of exploration of this exquisite organ. For his PhD, he joined Eddie Koo’s laboratory at University of California, San Diego, studying cytotoxic, apoptotic peptides in Alzheimer’s disease; and deciphering why and how neurons degenerate. He then joined the laboratory of Alan Verkman at University of California, San Francisco as a post-doctoral fellow, characterizing the role of water channels in the maintenance and regulation of the CNS environment. In his laboratory as a Professor in Neurosurgery at UCLA, Daniel is deciphering the spinal cord motor and autonomic circuit. He leverages this understanding in order to restore function in the setting of spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and stroke. He is funded by the NIH and Department of Defense. He is the Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Neurosurgery.
Dr. James C. Leiter – Visiting Professor
Dr. Leiter trained as a Pulmonary Physician and did post-doctoral work in Physiology. He has broad interests ranging from clinical studies in human patients to comparative studies of neurophysiology in vertebrates and invertebrates. He is currently studying how risk factors for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome are embedded in the reflex mechanisms of apnea formation, arousal and autoresuscitation. Working with Dr. Daniel Lu at UCLA, he has been investigating neuromodulation of network interactions among spinal central pattern generators (CPGs) for autonomic functions such as breathing and bladder control. Dr. Leiter has projects pertaining to the mechanism of Deep Brain Stimulation using novel electrochemical electrodes to measure neurotransmitter concentrations. Computer modeling has figured prominently in many of these projects: capturing physiological behaviors in the form of mathematical equations has provided interesting insights and suggested many new experiments. Dr. Leiter is currently funded by the NIH, the NSF, and a variety of private foundations.
Dr. Ruyi Huang – Postdoctoral Fellow
Dr. Huang is a fourth year Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA. She completed her undergraduate degree in Life Science at the Fudan University and her doctoral degree in Neuroscience at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her prior research has spanned multiple fields including neuroengineering, opto- and chemo-genetics, neurophysiology, molecular & cellular biology and traumatic spinal cord injury. She is currently characterizing the bullbospinal circuit that regulates respiration. In her spare time, Dr. Huang enjoys backpacking, cooking, and snow traveling.
Dr. Ali Nikooyan – Postdoctoral Fellow
Ali received his B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology and M.Sc. in Biomedical Engineering from Amirkabir University of Technology. He then joined the Shoulder lab at Delft University of Technology for his Ph.D. in Computational Biomechanics of human neuromusculoskeletal system. He continued his academic endeavor as postdoctoral fellow in Computational Neuromechanics at the University of Colorado Boulder where he developed and implemented machine learning (reinforcement learning) algorithms to study the reward-based motor learning in humans. After spending a few years in industry as R&D engineer, he joined Dr. Lu’s lab mid-2019 as Data Scientist. In his current research work, Ali applies artificial intelligence and statistical modeling concepts to help healthcare specialists with data-driven decision making and also automating the current procedures. Ali’s focus has been on the design and development of efficient big data analysis pipeline as well as machine learning/deep learning algorithms for the early diagnosis of neurodegenerative disease, identification of patterns or anomalies in the recorded biological signals such as EEG or Evoked Potentials, medical image processing, personalizing the treatments, and adaptive sensorimotor assessment and rehabilitation.
Dr. Shalaka Wahane – Postdoctoral Fellow
Shalaka received her PhD from the University of Freiburg, Germany in 2015, where she studied the molecular mechanisms and pathways regulating murine forebrain development. She reported that TGFß and IGF1 signaling networks communicate at multiple levels but impinge at PI3K to regulate neural cell and cortical development. For her postdoc, Shalaka joined the lab of Drs. Hongyan Jenny Zou and Roland Friedel at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York in 2016. Here she worked on deciphering the molecular mechanisms that regulate CNS injury resolution and wound formation. She carried out seminal work using cellular, transcriptomic and epigenetic factors that guide CNS inflammation, specifically that of microglia, macrophages and astrocytes. These cell types confine and enhance spinal cord injury repair leading to regaining of motor function, which culminated into a number of high impact publications. While at Mount Sinai, she also worked on understanding the role of microglia in glioblastoma and Alzheimer’s disease in murine models as well as human tissue. Her broad research interests are neural development and patterning, molecular mechanisms of signaling pathways, neurodegenerative diseases and axon neuroregeneration. Shalaka joined the Lu lab in the fall of 2020 and is interested in unravelling the role of non-invasive magnetic stimulation in mice with ALS towards motor recovery and longevity and also understanding the transcriptomic signatures of motor neurons that are electrically stimulated after spinal cord injury. When not doing science, Shalaka enjoys travelling, cooking and everything gastronomy related, wine making, photography and reading about the latest science updates from around the world.
Erika Galer – Graduate Student Researcher
Erika Galer is a doctoral candidate in the department of Molecular Cellular and Integrative Physiology at UCLA. She has extensive background in investigating spinal circuits to understand pain and movement control. Since working in the Neuroplasticity and Repair lab, she has gained experience in formulating and conducting clinical experiments. In conducting both pre-clinical and clinical experiments, Erika utilizes her knowledge to understand neuromodulation techniques and its use in novel ways that can translate to improving human conditions. Erika enjoys bringing neuromodulation technology to patients that can benefit.
Meghna Madhavan – Laboratory Assistant
Meghna received her B.S. in Neuroscience from University of California, Los Angeles in 2019. As a research assistant in Dr. Lu’s laboratory, she has been involved in studying the effe cts of electrical stimulation on spinal cord injured subjects. Additionally, she has been involved in studying respiration in an intraoperative setting at Santa Monica Hospital during Dr. Lu’s neurosurgical operations. Her research in the basic science setting involves studying the effects of electrical stimulation on the respiratory circuit. In the future, Meghna hopes to pursue a career in medicine.
Kylee Tomasetti – Physical Therapy Assistant
Kylee Tomasetti, B.S. completed her bachelor’s degree at California Lutheran University majoring in Exercise Science with an emphasis in Health Professions and received her Physical Therapist Assistant Degree from Stanbridge University. She is a Physical Therapist Assistant for UCLA who splits her time between working in the Lu Research Lab and Inpatient Rehab services in the Santa Monica Hospital. She joined the Lu Lab in October of 2020 because of her interest in spinal cord injury research as well as her desire to help improve individual’s quality of life through new and upcoming interventions. Currently, Kylee is working on studies involving improving mobility and function in the spinal cord injury population. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts, and traveling.
Dr. Yevgeniy Freyvert – DGSOM Neurosurgery Resident
Dr. Freyvert is a Chief Neurosurgery resident at UCLA. He completed his undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cell Biology and Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley and his medical degree at the State University of New York, Syracuse His prior research has spanned multiple fields including surgical device development, genetic engineering, neurophysiology, and traumatic brain injury. He is currently investigating novel methods to reactivate the spinal cord after traumatic spinal cord injury. In his spare time, Dr. Freyvert enjoys travel, mountaineering, science fiction, and running.
Dr. Bayard Wilson – DGSOM Neurosurgery Resident
Bayard Wilson is a resident in the UCLA Neurosurgery Department. He joined the residency program in 2017, and has been a member of the Lu lab since 2019. Broadly, Bayard is interested in surgical neuromodulation for all manners of pathology including pain, addiction, and paresis. With respect to spinal cord injury research, he is focused on the mechanisms underlying neuromodulation of the spinal cord for chronically injured subjects. Bayard also maintains an interest in surgical resident education, and hopes to optimize techniques to assess and improve resident surgical competence during their time spent training in residency.
Naomi Gonzalez – Clinical Care Coordinator