Research

Jennifer Blackford, Ph.D.

Blythe Corbett, Ph.D.

Jeremy Veenstra-Vander Weele, M.D.

Meg Benningfield, M.D.

The Benningfield lab uses functional MRI to examine neurobiological factors related to vulnerability for addiction including impulsivity, risk taking and reward processing. Impulsivity and risk taking are both determinants and consequences of persistent substance use and are core features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, itself a risk factor for substance use. Understanding how these factors relate to one another across development is essential for informing prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. 

Carissa Cascio, Ph.D.

The Cascio lab focuses on the brain basis of sensory processing differences in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The lab uses MRI and EEG to try to understand why children with autism often show unexpected responses to touch, sight, and sound. Dr. Cascio focuses especially on the emotional aspect of these sensory responses (i.e., extreme fascination or aversion) and how interactions between sensory and limbic brain systems may contribute to them.

Jennifer Blackford, Ph.D.

The Blackford lab is working to better understand the genetic and neural substrates of individual differences in emotional reactivity and regulation. Spanning genetics, neuroimaging, and behavioral studies, the lab examines individuals with heightened emotional reactivity and deficits in emotion regulation to understand risk of anxiety disorders and depression. By characterizing the neurocircuitry associated with risk for anxiety and depression, Dr. Blackford hopes to develop new prevention and intervention strategies for high-risk children and develop new treatments for anxiety and depression.

Blythe Corbett, Ph.D.

Dr. Corbett, Ph.D. is the director of the Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology (SENSE) lab, a translational research program that aims to evaluate the socioemotional responsivity of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The SENSE lab uses several methods of analysis including sophisticated behavioral observational techniques, functional neuroimaging, and the assessment of biological markers of emotional arousal or stress, such as cortisol. The ultimate goal of these interwoven studies of peer interaction, play, and psychosocial stress is to directly translate into novel treatments.

Richard A. Epstein, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Dr. Epstein’s work focuses on healthcare utilization, vulnerable populations, and improving policy and practice through research translation.  In his capacity as the Director of the Vanderbilt Center of Excellence for Children in State Custody, Dr. Epstein leads a team of faculty and staff working to improve care for children and youth involved or at-risk of becoming involved with the Tennessee child welfare and juvenile justice systems by implementing performance improvement projects and disseminating evidence-based and other best practices.  Dr. Epstein also serves as an Investigator with the Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Center, where he helps conduct systematic reviews of currently available evidence to increase the use of evidence-based practice in standard medical care.

Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D.

The Veenstra-VanderWeele research group works to translate genetic and biomarker discoveries to better understand and treat autism spectrum disorder and pediatric obsessive compulsive disorder. In the molecular lab, Dr. V's team studies mouse models of altered serotonin or glutamate system function to understand the underlying neurobiology of social impairment and rigid-compulsive behavior. In partnership with Kevin Sanders, M.D., Cassandra Newsom, Psy.D., and Zachary Warren, Ph.D., Dr. V is studying new medication treatments based upon autism models related to autism.