Research Team

Top row from left: Kathy Oka, Alma Jusufagic, Jennifer Soares, Timothy Daskivich, MD. Middle row from left: Taylor Dupuy, Xiaoyu Liu, Mechauna Thierry, Welmoed Van Deen, MD, Christopher Almario, MD. Front row from left: Brandon Birckhead, MD, Mayra Lopez and Brennan Spiegel, MD.


Brennan M. Spiegel, MD

Christopher V. Almario, MD
Timothy J. Daskivich, MD
Administration Team

Kathy Oka, MS
Research Administrative Coordinator

Kathy Oka is CORE's administrative coordinator. She received bachelor's degrees from University of Southern California and University of Puget Sound. Oka brings with her extensive experience from her years of working at UCLA in health science departments, including Dean's Office, School of Medicine; Radiation Oncology; Orthopaedic Surgery and Medicine. Her most recent position as the GI fellowship coordinator at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA makes her an integral part of the CS-CORE team as she lends her knowledge of management as well as four years working with the team's director, Brennan Spiegel, MD.

Mechauna Thierry, BS
Management Assistant II

Mechauna Thierry received her bachelor of science in arts and letters from Portland State University. Thierry's research interests include examining the functionality of various systems and the relationship between people, computers and their environment, the use of patient-reported outcomes in mental health clinical care, and physician-patient communication. Her focus is restructuring the systems that people work in. Thierry is finishing her master of business administration with a concentration in project management at Keller Graduate School. She's worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Group for the past seven years as head surgical coordinator in the Department of Pediatric Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery. Thierry joined the CS-CORE team as a management assistant II in 2018. She assists in all areas of research such as data collection and calendar management, as well as handling administrative tasks.

Research Staff

Brandon Birckhead, MD
Project Scientist

Brandon Birckhead, MD, is a project scientist working on virtual reality (VR) clinical trials at Cedars-Sinai. He is also on the planning committee for the annual Virtual Medicine conference. Brandon received his medical degree from Mayo Medical School and is currently enrolled in the master’s Degree in Health Delivery Science at Cedars-Sinai. His current research focuses on the use of immersive VR for pain reduction. He is interested in exploring several topics within the field including personalization of VR content, VR clinical trial design, and long-term outcomes of VR therapy. He began his work with therapeutic virtual reality by helping providers in head restricted clinical settings use the technology for pain and anxiety relief. He then created a pilot research study at Mayo Clinic to examine the effect of VR on pain using the cold pressor test. He is also working with Dr. Brennan Spiegel and a cohort of international therapeutic VR experts, to create guidelines for future clinical trials within the field. This committee of researchers is called the VR-CORE (Virtual Reality – Clinical Outcomes Research Experts).

Michelle Chen, MPH
Clinical Research Coordinator II

Michelle Chen is a research coordinator at CS-CORE and recent graduate of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, where she received her master's degree from the Department of Health Policy and Management. She completed the program's summer internship requirement at CS-CORE, collaborating on a three-phase project to develop a decision tool to help inflammatory bowel disease patients make informed, value-concordant medication choices. Chen's current work includes leading a project to develop a multi-site prostate cancer-specific disease registry for Southern California and conducting social media-driven qualitative analyses to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of patients with ankylosing spondylitis regarding medications. Previously, she conducted research in diagnosing IBD using genotoxicity markers and in signaling pathways mediating oncogene-induced senescence. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA in 2015, with a major in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics and minor in Cognitive Science.

Garth Fuller, MS
Research Biostatistician III

Garth Fuller received his bachelor of science in domestic animal biology from Cornell University. After earning a master of science in life sciences from the University of Maryland, he began work at CS-CORE. Having received a grant for doctoral training through the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the RAND Corp., Fuller is pursuing his PhD in the Health Policy and Management program at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Fuller serves as a "utility man" at CS-CORE, lending his knowledge of statistics, SAS programming and qualitative research analysis to a wide range of projects.

Alma Jusufagic, MPH
Clinical Research Coordinator II

Alma Jusufagic received her master of public health from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in the Department of Health Policy and Management. She also received her bachelor of science degree in neuroscience with a minor in Spanish from UCLA. During her time at UCLA, Jusufagic served as an intern coordinator for the Ronald Reagan Medical Center's largest patient safety program, leading a group of over 100 volunteers working to prevent nosocomial infections and errors in the hospital. Her interests in patient-centered care led Jusufagic to join CS-CORE as a graduate student research intern working on a project exploring how patients and clinicians differ in their knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs regarding opioid use and how they weigh the risks and benefits of different chronic pain therapies. Jusufagic brings knowledge of health system organization and financing, qualitative research, and project management to her work at CS-CORE. Jusufagic's passion is leveraging technological innovations to improve access to and quality of care. Her broad research interests include patient-provider communication, mental health, chronic pain care, cost-effectiveness, and dissemination, implementation, and improvement science.

Xiaoyu Liu, MPH
Clinical Research Data Specialist I

Xiaoyu Liu, MPH, is a clinical research data specialist at CS-CORE and recent graduate of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, where he received her master's degree of public health from the Department of Health Policy and Management. He also received his bachelor of science degree in management from Wuhan University in China. Liu came to CS-CORE as a health services research intern, during which he collaborated on a virtual reality (VR) project to develop a standardized methodology for clinical trial of VR in healthcare and assess the methodological quality of previously published clinical therapeutic VR studies. Liu is currently working on a project funded by PCORI (Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute) to compare the effectiveness of different patient-provider communication strategies in the management of chronic pain. His broad research interests include patient-provider communication, chronic pain care, cost-effectiveness, digital health, and mental health.

Mayra Lopez, MPH
Clinical Research Coordinator II

Mayra Lopez received her bachelor of arts degree in psychology from UCLA. She completed a dual-degree master's program and received her master of public health and master of social work degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, Lopez worked as a biomedical research coordinator leading research studies with Washington University School of Medicine, Adult Epilepsy Center. In St. Louis she also served as a patient advocate in community health clinics, developed service evaluation tools that helped identify service needs, and looked at overall patient outcomes. She comes to CS-CORE with skills in health literacy, program development, implementation, and evaluation, community health education, and data management. Her research interests include community health disparities, patient education, and physician-patient communication among Limited English Proficiency patients and its effects on health outcomes. At CS-CORE, Lopez links her background with research monitoring to bridge the gap between patients and research and ensures proper execution of research studies.

Jennifer Soares, MSPH
Research Program Administrator

Jennifer Soares completed her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She received her master of science degree in public health with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She moved to the West Coast upon completing her degree to pursue a career in health services research. Soares joined CS-CORE as a research coordinator in 2003 and has been involved in the development of patient reported outcome measurement instruments in a variety of GI conditions for eventual use in clinical trials. Since she became the center's deputy director, much of Soares' work relates to the contracting, budgeting and management of the center's staff members, fellows and affiliates.

Welmoed K. Van Deen MD, PhD
Research Scientist I

Welmoed K. Van Deen MD, PhD, is a health services research scientist at CS-CORE and the associate program director of the Cedars-Sinai Master in Health Delivery Science Program. Dr. Van Deen earned a BS in biomedical sciences and an MD and PhD at Leiden University in the Netherlands. She completed her research training in Leiden University’s Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, continued her studies at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University and then began work on value-based healthcare at the UCLA Center for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. Prior to joining CS-CORE, she held an assistant professor position at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Have Questions or Need Help?

Contact us if you have questions, or wish to learn more about the Center for Outcomes Research and Education at Cedars-Sinai.

Cedars-Sinai Center for Outcomes Research and Education
Pacific Theaters Building, Suite 800
116 N. Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Kathy Oka, Research Administrative Coordinator
Mechauna Thierry BS, Management Assistant II