Our Team

Staff & Students

Dr. Asarnow is the director of this laboratory. He is the Della Martin Professor of Psychiatry in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and also a Professor in the UCLA Department of Psychology. He is a neuropsychologist with extensive experience in the neuropsychological evaluation of children and adolescents with TBI and in the use of brain imaging and electrophysiology in clinical research. Dr. Asarnow and his students and colleagues have conducted one of the major studies of the cognitive and psychological outcomes following mild traumatic brain injury in children and one of the largest controlled studies of cognitive training in children with brain injuries. By enhancing our understanding of the likely range of outcomes after a child incurs a mild traumatic brain injury these studies have provided information that help parents develop plans to maximize the recovery of their children. He is the principal investigator of two studies of pediatric traumatic brain injuries funded by the National Institute of Health that are currently being conducted in the laboratory. In addition to his research Dr. Asarnow also sees patients with traumatic brain injuries and their families clinically.

Talin Babikian is a board certified clinical neuropsychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She is also Associate Director for the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program. Dr. Babikian earned a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Neuropsychology from Loma Linda University in 2005. She completed a predoctoral internship at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute focusing on developmental disabilities and pediatric neuropsychology. Dr. Babikian is actively involved in research using novel neuroimaging techniques to understand neurocognitive outcomes and the course of repair and recovery following a brain injury in childhood and has authored multiple publications on this topic, including a comprehensive meta-analysis summarizing the state of the current literature on head injury outcomes. She also has developed expertise in outcomes and their predictors following mild brain injury or concussions in youth, and helped develop the multi-disciplinary sports related concussion clinic at UCLA to serve the neurological/medical, cognitive/academic, and psychosocial needs of children, adolescents, and adults with sports-related injuries.

Dr. Choe grew up in the Los Angeles area, traveled east to attend Amherst College, and then returned to L.A. to attend medical school at USC. She came to UCLA in 2004 for a pediatrics residency and child neurology fellowship. After completing training, Dr. Choe combined her personal interest in sports with her professional interest in the developing brain by serving as a Neurotrauma/Sports Neurology Fellow at UCLA with Dr. Christopher Giza. Her clinical and research interests include post-traumatic headache/migraine, gender differences in outcome after concussion, and dysautonomia.

An avid equestrian competing in show jumping and former swimmer, Dr. Choe coaches at a local high school as well, giving her a unique perspective on an athlete’s desire to return to his/her sport and the outside pressures they might experience.

Her clinical and research interests include post-traumatic headache/migraine, gender differences in outcome after concussion, and dysautonomia. She is also Associate Director for the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

Dr. Emily Dennis is a post-doctoral scholar in Paul Thompson’s Imaging Genetics Center at USC. She completed her Ph.D. in Neuroscience at UCLA in 2013, examining the typical developmental trajectory of structural network topology across adolescence and early adulthood. Emily’s postdoctoral work is focused on applying advanced connectomics and multi-modal imaging to traumatic brain injury. She is currently involved in projects modeling and tracking disrupted structural connectivity in pediatric patients, athletes, and military service members.

Monica U. Ellis, MA, is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Monica's professional interests include the assessment and treatment of neuropsychiatric and cognitive difficulties among diverse people living with chronic illness and/or brain injury. Furthermore, at Fuller, Monica is pursuing a dual degree that will equip her to address diverse spiritual issues within psychological practice. She earned her bachelors and masters degrees from Pepperdine University, and is currently completing clinical training at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Monica also serves on the leadership boards of APA Society for the Psychology of Women, CPA Division of Education and Training and, formerly, CPA Division of Neuropsychology. Outside of work, Monica enjoys camping, playing card games, singing, and vacationing with her daughter.

Christopher Giza graduated from Dartmouth College, received his M.D. from West Virginia University and completed his internship at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Giza then trained in Adult and Pediatric Neurology at UCLA, after which he worked on the Yosemite Search and Rescue team, before joining the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center. Dr. Giza traveled to Afghanistan in 2011 as a civilian advisor to the Department of Defense. Dr. Giza co-Chaired the American Academy of Neurology’s committee that developed an evidence-based Practice Guideline for Management of Sports Concussions from 2009-2013. He is currently Professor of Pediatric Neurology and Neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine and Mattel Children’s Hospital and director of the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT program.

Dr. Claudia L. Kernan is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the neuropsychological assessment of children, adolescents, and adults. She holds an academic appointment at the UCLA Semel Institute and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. Actively involved as a co-investigator on the UCLA Recovery from Pediatric Brain Injury study from its inception, she has played a central role in conceptualizing and coordinating the project’s neuropsychological testing protocol.

Dr. Kernan received her B.A. in anthropology from Princeton University and her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UCLA, where she minored in developmental psychology. She completed her predoctoral internship in pediatric neuropsychology at New York University and her postdoctoral residency in clinical neuropsychology at the UCLA Semel Institute.

Populations with which Dr. Kernan works include individuals with learning disabilities, attention problems, emotional and behavioral issues, developmental disabilities, head injuries, and other neurological conditions. She has received funding from the National Institute of Health to conduct research in the field of traumatic brain injury and is an expert in the neuropsychological assessment of sports-related concussions.

Alma Martinez is the project coordinator for both the Recovery after Traumatic Brain Injury and Rehabilitation of Cognition Following Pediatric TBI studies. Alma received her B.A. degree in Psychology from Occidental College and M.A. in Education from UCLA. In addition to working for the UCLA research studies, Alma also enjoys spending her time volunteering for literacy and education non-profit organizations such as the Hispanic Scholarship Fund and 826LA.

Dave is a graduate of Harvard College, UCSB, and UCLA, where he has spent more than two decades with the Department of Neurosurgery as a specialist in research design and analysis. He is a strong proponent of the statistical programming language R, chairing the annual international meeting for R in 2014. His work ranges across problems in traumatic brain injury, intensive care, neuroimaging, robust statistical methods and longitudinal modeling, as well as the history, epidemiology and ethics of research in brain injury.

Nina Newman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has worked on this research project for over decade. She completed a postgraduate fellowship in clinical psychology and has a background in neuropsychology as well. Her professional interests are in the areas where neuropsychology and clinical psychology intersect. This includes the relationship between traumatic brain injury and resulting psychiatric disorders as well as behavioral and social issues. In addition, she is also interested in how these factors impact social and family relationships, overall short and long-term outcomes, and the development and implementation of interventions.

Dr. Olsen is a project scientist at the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA and also an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Clinically, he is working with neuropsychological assessments of children, adolescents and adults with acquired brain injury at St. Olavs Hospital in Norway. In his research, he investigates the consequences of brain injury by combining advanced neuroimaging techniques with neurocognitive and clinical measures. He has a particular interest in investigating the neural correlates of cognitive control function, both in various patient groups, as well as in healthy individuals. At UCLA, his main responsibility is related to working with functional MRI data from a longitudinal study of recovery after pediatric traumatic brain injury. Dr. Olsen is involved in research activities on traumatic brain injury both at UCLA and in Norway, and is passionate about facilitating international collaboration in order to improve the quality of scientific research and health care for this patient group.

Larissa Del Piero is a staff research associate on the RAPBI project and is a doctoral candidate in the Clinical Science area of the University of Southern California Psychology Ph.D. program. Larissa’s research explores the impact of significant stressors (e.g., violence exposure) on cognitive processes and emotion regulation. Her masters project examined the relationship between exposure to community violence, psychological distress, and academic performance during middle and high school. In 2010, she received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to study the relationship between violence exposure, cortisol reactivity, and performance on standardized tests of fluid intelligence. She is currently working on her dissertation, which uses functional magnetic resonance imaging and a novel experimental paradigm to explore cognitive control of emotions in youth who have been exposed to family violence. Larissa is hoping to extend this research in the future to examine cognitive and emotional consequences of significant medical stressors (e.g., traumatic brain injury) for children and families. Clinically, Larissa has an extensive background in neuropsychological assessment and is interested in integrating mindfulness and family systems approaches into the treatment of both pediatric and adult populations with cognitive difficulties.

Nicholas Thaler grew up in Santa Monica. He earned his B.A. in psychology at the UCSD, his M.A. in psychology at California State University, Northridge and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in neuropsychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He completed his clinical internship at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and his two-year neuropsychology fellowship at the UCLA Semel Institute. He jointly holds academic appointments at the UCLA Semel Institute and Loyola Marymount University. He has a longstanding interest in pediatric traumatic brain injury and has authored over 15 peer-reviewed publications on this topic. Clinically he conducts neuropsychological assessments for adults and children.

Sue Yudovin RN, MN, CPNP is a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Division of Pediatric Neurology at the David Geffen, UCLA, School of Medicine. She completed her Master’s degree and nurse practitioner certificate at UCLA Graduate School of Nursing. She has been practicing for many years, and has a lot of experience in epilepsy, the evaluation of children for epilepsy surgery and children with concussions and traumatic brain injury. She has an outpatient clinic as well as sees patients in the hospital. She provides education to local schools regarding concussions and is involved in ongoing research regarding follow up and outcomes of children with concussions / traumatic brain injuries. Sue Yudovin provides clinical services in the UCLA Steve Tsich BrainSPORT program.