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Major Laboratories and Clinical Translational Neuroscience Incubator

Advancing science is integral in creating and preparing the way for a better future.

Within the Major Laboratories and Clinical and Translational Neurosciences Incubator, we are national leaders in developing neuroscience-informed models for transforming the overall understanding of mental illnesses and their treatments. Our laboratories are intently focused on accelerating the pace of scientific progress, and most importantly its translation to the clinic. We integrate across scales of measurement and across species, to synthesize insights from fundamental neuroscience, clinical neuroscience and real-world application in practice.

We serve as a hub for engaging faculty across major research programs in the Department. The faculty experts within the Incubator offer guidance targeted to fostering the trajectories of early-career investigators and scholars. In this service, we develop the next generation of preeminent leaders in neuroscience informed mental health research, education, and clinical excellence. Given the profound and escalating burden of mental disorders, there is a pressing need for creative approaches and collaborative effort. We are each leaders within our fields, driving new models for understanding and treating mental illnesses.

Work across the major laboratories covers the human lifespan in both healthy and mentally ill individuals, include special or vulnerable populations, as well as animal models of disease. We leverage a variety of brain imaging methods to advance our vision of personalized mental health assessments, as well as to understand how the healthy brain works. Genetic and molecular tools in humans and animals have revealed how dysfunction in genes and proteins contributes to illness, opening up novel avenues for diagnosis and prognosis.

A focus on brain circuitry across humans and animals has allowed us to reimagine interventions in psychiatry, giving rise to a new discipline of “interventional psychiatry” to complement traditional medication and psychotherapeutic approaches. We likewise take leadership roles across Stanford, the nation, and internationally, providing a voice for the future of psychiatry through integration with neuroscience.

Lab Exemplars

Victor Carrion, MD

Dr. Victor Carrión has dedicated the past twenty-five years to understanding the impact of stress and trauma in the developing brain and the role of resilience. Under his direction, the Early Life Stress and Resilience Program (ELSRP), has helped develop the field of developmental traumatology.

Luis de Lecea, PhD

In his lab, Dr. de Lecea is advancing new technology platforms for molecular, optogenetic, anatomical and behavioral methods. He deploys these methods to identify and manipulate the neuronal circuits underlying brain arousal, sleep and wakefulness. Through these discoveries he is uncovering the neural mechanisms of disorders characterized by hyperarousal.

Laramie Duncan, PhD

Dr. Duncan applies computational approaches to genetic, neurobiological, and clinical data. Focused primarily on schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Dr. Duncan leads genetic analysis efforts for international consortia. Through this work and her other initiatives, Dr. Duncan selects projects that are built upon reliable research findings, and which are appropriately structured to generate reliable and valid results.

Neir Eshel, MD, PhD

The Stanford Translational Addiction and Aggression Research Lab uses cutting-edge neuroscience and computational tools to understand how the brain controls motivated behavior, and how this process might go wrong in psychiatric disease.

Lawrence Fung, MD, PhD

Julie Kauer, PhD

Dr. Kauer’s Lab is interested in understanding how different parts of the nervous system take advantage of rapid alterations in synaptic strength for diverse adaptive and non-adaptive responses to the environment. Drugs of abuse and stressful experiences produce rapid and persistent changes in brain function, and in recent years we have begun to explore how synaptic and intrinsic properties of neurons and circuits are altered by even a single exposure to drugs or acute stress.

Robert Malenka, MD, PhD

Dr. Malenka uses animal models to advance fundamental discoveries about how specific neuronal populations underlie both adaptive and maladaptive behavior. His focus on reward behaviors has achieved important new insights into adaptive social interactions and into maladaptive blunted reward responses relevant to depression and maladaptive excessive responses relevant to addiction.

Vinod Menon, PhD

Dr. Menon leads a lab advancing state-of-the-field computational approaches to investigate the functional and structural architecture of cognitive networks in the human brain. He uses these computational approaches in clinical populations to characterize how disruptions in specific brain circuits impact behavior, cognition, emotion and learning in children and adults with autism, ADHD, schizophrenia and learning disabilities.

Philippe Mourrain, PhD

The Mourrain lab combines expertise in neuroscience, genetics, epigenetics, developmental biology and engineering to: 1) Understand why we sleep and how sleep changes our synaptic connection to improve our cognitive performance, 2) Unravel synaptic deficiencies in neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders, as well as during normal aging, 3) Uncover genes and processes important for neuronal regeneration to replace dead or deficient tissue in the brain including retina, and 4) Push further our understanding of gene regulation and how non-coding SNPs can be responsible for human diseases.

Karen Parker, PhD

Dr. Parker directs the social neurosciences research program. She is advancing our understanding of the biology of social functioning using an integrative, translational approach. She translates insights from primate models through to application in clinical populations. Her discoveries are informing the understanding of social functioning impairments in autism and informing the development of novel interventions.

Kilian M. Pohl, PhD

The foundation of Dr. Pohl's laboratory is computational science aimed at identifying biomedical phenotypes improving the mechanistic understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. The biomedical phenotypes are discovered by unbiased, machine learning-based searches across biological, neuroimaging, and neuropsychological data. This data-driven discovery currently supports the adolescent brain research of the NIH-funded National Consortium on Alcohol and NeuroDevelopment in Adolescence and the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD), the largest long-term study of brain development and child health in the US.

Sean Quirin, PhD

Dr. Quirin's laboratory develops minimally invasive methods to explore the causal role individual neurons play in the emergence of behavior. To this end, the lab's strength is the development of techniques which manipulate light to both detect and restoratively modulate brain activity down to the single-neuron scale. His lab continues to innovate with new tools which map these functional relationships onto the molecular and anatomical architecture of the brain. Utilizing these techniques, the lab aims to characterize how ensembles of neurons coordinate to encode and communicate information throughout the brain for sensing and behavior.

Nirao Shah, MD, PhD

Dr. Shah has made breakthroughs in the understanding of how our brains generate social interactions that differ between the sexes. He has identified genes and neurons that control different aspects of social interactions, including neurons that govern gender recognition. His discoveries have provided insights into how our brains enable social interactions in health, and they are relevant to understanding mechanisms underlying behavioral manifestations of autism, mood disorders, and PTSD.

David Spiegel, MD

Dr. Spiegel’s research interests involve stress and health: cognitive control over somatic functions, including cancer progression, the response to traumatic stress, and the perception of pain and anxiety. He is currently conducting a large scale study of the relationships among sleep disturbance, diurnal stress hormone patterns, and breast cancer survival, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. This work is based upon earlier evidence from Dr. Spiegel’s laboratory that loss of circadian variation in cortisol, indicative of HPA dysfunction, predicts early mortality with breast cancer.

Edith Sullivan, PhD

Dr. Sullivan is leading the translational application of neuroimaging modalities to identify mechanisms disrupted in alcoholism. Structural and functional imaging technologies are applied in animal models of alcoholism in parallel with the human studies. Dr. Sullivan leads multi-site efforts that are characterizing the development of the adolescent brain and how initiation of hazardous drinking and consumption of other drugs of abuse alter the normal trajectory of brain structure and function.

Alex Urban, PhD

Dr. Urban has developed and applied state-of-the art and emerging genomics and epigenomics technologies in human cells and human cell culture systems. Dr. Urban deploys these technologies to advance discoveries related to the molecular effects of large genome variants during neuronal development and their application in the new horizons of precision health.

Leanne Williams, PhD

Dr. Williams has pioneered a neuroscience-based precision psychiatry taxonomy for mood and anxiety disorders. This taxonomy advances a new way to subtype mood and anxiety disorders based on high definition brain imaging of the brain circuits that govern human functions of self reflection, emotional expression and cognitive control. Grounded in this taxonomy, she has launched the world’s first biotype-guided trials for mood disorders. With this approach, she has accelerated the translation from lab to real-world clinics.

Nolan Williams, MD

Dr. Williams leads the Brain Stimulation Lab (BSL), which utilizes novel brain stimulation techniques to probe and modulate the neural networks underlying neuropsychiatric diseases/disorders in an effort to develop new models and novel treatments. 

Natalie M. Zahr, PhD

Dr. Zahr's work focuses on translational approaches using in vivo MR imaging and spectroscopy in studies of humans with Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD) and in rodent models of alcohol exposure with the goal of identifying mechanisms of alcohol effects on the brain. 

Center for Sleep and Circadian Sciences