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Helen Scharfman, PhD

Helen has a passion for asking why, how, and "what if…?" in order to make new neurobiological discoveries and improve the lives of those experiencing neurological diseases.

Christos Lisgaras, PhD

Dr. Christos Lisgaras received his Integrated Master's Degree in Applied Biology and Technology from the University of Ioannina in Greece and his Ph.D. in Neurophysiology and Neuropharmacology from the same institution. His Ph.D. work focused on the role of the cholinergic system in the hyperexcitability of developmental epilepsies, with a particular focus on hippocampal and cortical oscillations. He was subsequently trained at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to investigate post-traumatic electrophysiological (EEG) abnormalities and antiepileptogenic treatments as a part of a preclinical consortium, the Epilepsy Bioinformatics Study for Antiepileptogenic Therapy (EpiBioS4Rx).

Christos' current work is focused on developing new approaches to treat epilepsy and associated memory impairments without side effects. To that end, he developed a novel closed-loop approach to stop seizures, pathological oscillations, and interictal discharges in real time using optogenetics. Using this selective approach, he was able to determine a novel therapeutic role for hippocampal area CA2 in epilepsy. Also, his experience in the Scharfman laboratory made him highly interested in Alzheimer's disease and especially the role of high-frequency oscillations as a biomarker. To that end, he is using large-scale in vivo electrophysiology in different animal models of AD to search for early EEG biomarkers.

Christos has served on committees at the International League against Epilepsy (ILAE), and he is a founding member of the Young Epilepsy Section. He has been awarded the Herbert H. Jasper Junior Investigator Travel Award and has been supported by the ILAE, AES, the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, the Greek National Scholarships Foundation, the Bodossaki Foundation, and the World Hellenic Biomedical Association. His work is also supported by NYU's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center FACES Pilot Research Grant to advance brain stimulation strategies in temporal lobe epilepsy.

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David Alcantera-Gonzalez, PhD

Dr. David Alcantara is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Helen Scharfman and earned MS and Ph.D. degrees in Neuropharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City. During his graduate studies, Dr. Alcantara studied the alterations in neurotransmitter and neuromodulator systems in the process of epileptogenesis, in particular, those changes that affect the dopaminergic system and reduce its inhibitory role. After he graduated, Dr. Alcantara started his postdoctoral training at the Institute of Neurobiology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where he worked on the potential mechanisms of hyperexcitability in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and its relevance to epilepsy. In particular, he studied the hippocampal alterations induced by the intracerebral injection of the amyloid beta (Aβ) protein, a hallmark of AD, in the stability of the hippocampal network and its relationship with the facilitation of seizures.

David's current research is focused on the study of alterations in electrophysiological properties of neurons and the neuronal networks they integrate in animal models of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and epilepsy from a functional and integrative perspective. He is studying the mechanisms underlying the development of hyperexcitability in transgenic animal models of AD, which may be related to the development of seizures and epilepsy in this neurodegenerative illness. Specifically, he is working on elucidating distinct electrophysiological characteristics of dentate gyrus (DG) cell types at very early ages in transgenic mouse models of AD. He is also conducting studies about the involvement of alterations in the cholinergic system of these mice using specific optogenetic and chemogenetic approaches. This is important because early changes in the DG and regulation of its activity by neuromodulatory systems may provide insight into novel early treatments or biomarkers.

Throughout his career, Dr. Alcantara has taught and mentored at different levels of education, from university to postgraduate students, and he has also provided specific scientific training during international courses. All this experience has helped him to expand his knowledge in the field of neuroscience and encouraged him to continue to study the pathophysiology of different neurological illnesses, looking for possible treatment interventions for the benefit of public health.

Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research: david-alcantara-gonzalez-phd

Publications: orcid.org/0000-0002-1944-6163

Chiara Criscuolo, PhD

Dr. Chiara Criscuolo earned a BS and MS in Medical Biotechnology at the University of Rome Tor Vergara and completed her Ph.D. in Neurobiology at the Neuroscience Institute of the National Research Council in Pisa, Italy, with a graduate scholarship awarded by the University of L'Aquila. In Pisa, she also did a first postdoc collaborating with Scola Normale Superiore of Pisa and the European Brain Research Institute – Rita Levi-Montalcini Foundation (EBRI) of Rome. During her time in Pisa, Dr. Criscuolo had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. Her Ph.D. work focused on the role of neurotrophic factors of the NGF family in the control of synaptic function in the entorhinal cortex and their effects on synaptic toxicity caused by an Aβ-enriched environment. Later, she investigated the potential of intranasal treatment as a new tool to deliver neurotrophic factors directly into the brain in murine models of Alzheimer's disease (AD). In addition, with the aim of describing the Aβ targets, she investigated the role of microglial and neuronal RAGE (receptor for advanced glycation end products) in Aβ-mediated synaptic dysfunction. In Pisa, she also studied the visual system – at first focusing on the development of the visual circuitry, then monitoring the visual function of murine AD models at earlier stages of neurodegeneration.

Before joining the Scharfman Lab in 2019, Dr. Criscuolo worked at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center Department of Neurology, where she studied alterations in the cortico-striatal circuitry in a murine model of autism spectrum disorder. At Columbia, she also explored the effects of sleep deprivation on the development and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease.

Chiara is currently investigating how sex differences affect the brain in animal models of AD and epilepsy and the role played by neurotrophic factors and their receptors in the early stages of AD. Chiara is also playing important roles at NYU, where she has been appointed to the Neuroscience Institute Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and at NKI, where she is serving on the Postdoctoral Committee.

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Gabriel Stephens, PhD

Dr. Gabriel Stephens graduated from Williams College in 2015, earning a B.A. with Honors in Biology with a Concentration in Neuroscience. At Williams, Gabe performed and published independent research into dopaminergic mechanisms that control sequenced motor outputs, including grooming behavior in Drosophila fruit flies and song performance in Zebra finches.

From 2015 to 2023, Gabe completed his Ph.D. in Neuroscience (and a brief postdoctoral position) in the lab of Jeannie Chin at Baylor College of Medicine. In the Chin lab, Gabe investigated seizure-induced mechanisms that can maintain neuroprotection (but also impair memory) over the course of chronic recurrent seizure activity in models of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). He found that ∆FosB, a transcription factor that accumulates over the course of recurrent epileptic or hyperexcitable conditions, is necessary to restrict seizure activity and maintain neuroprotection in the dentate gyrus of the J20 mouse model of AD. He has also identified numerous ∆FosB target gene pathways that together may limit hippocampal excitability and prevent cell death across conditions with chronic recurrent seizure activity.

Gabe joined the Scharfman lab in August 2023 and is investigating the roles of the p75 neurotrophin receptor in driving the early-stage hyperexcitability and late-stage neurodegeneration of cholinergic neurons of the medial septum in AD. He is also investigating how hilar mossy cells that survive into the chronic phase of recurrent seizures (after initial chemo-convulsant-induced status epilepticus) may adapt and help to restrict further seizure activity. His work is supported in part by the 2023-2024 NYU Langone Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center T32-Funded Postdoctoral Training Program for Postdoctoral Research Training in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Neurodegenerative Disorders (T32AG052909).

John LaFrancois, BS

Dr. John LaFrancois has worked at the NKI for over 38 years, starting as a half-time Animal Caretaker in Grade 5 and eventually being hired full-time. He advanced his skills so much that he attained the highest level of Animal Caretaker here at NKI, Grade 11. Not stopping, he advanced to the title of Research Scientist. John's next move was to the Center for Dementia Research, where he managed the initiation of the Mouse Program Project Core. In the lab, he became proficient with stereotaxic surgery, specializing in microinjections and EEG electrode implanting surgery. He is currently working on a project that manipulates hippocampal area CA2 to determine its role in epilepsy.

Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research: Research Scientist

Publications: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=lafrancois+jj&sort=date

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Meghan Kennedy, BS

Meghan earned her BS in Biology from Clarkson University. She began working at The Nathan Kline Institute in November 2020 as an Animal Caretaker. As a caretaker, she attended to different mouse colonies that belonged to multiple labs within the institute. This included husbandry, weaning, colony management, and reporting any sick animals or issues within the colonies to the various labs. Meghan joined the Scharfman Lab in September 2021. She is currently a lab technician and assists with multiple projects pertaining to epilepsy and Alzheimer's Disease research. For these projects, she does brain tissue slicing, immunostaining, and cresyl violet staining and even cares for the lab's colony of epileptic mice. She collects samples for genotyping and helps with the breeding and management of all the transgenic lines.

Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research: Research Support Assistant