Lab Members


Principal Investigator
Yuanyuan Chen, PhD
Postdoctoral Scientist

Yuanyuan Chen, PhD, received his doctorate from Tianjin University in 2018, under the direction of professor Dong Ming, in the NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation lab. There he was trained in both diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) like diffusion tensor/kurtosis imaging (DTI/DKI) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) like dynamic functional connectivity (dFC) analysis. With these techniques, Yuanyuan primarily studied the characteristics of normal/abnormal ageing (Alzheimer’s) brain. Then, he took a postdoctoral research position at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and joined the Gao Laboratory in August 2018. Here, he will work with Gao and the group focusing on early brain development of the infant.

Erin Gallent, MD, PhD
Visiting Postdoctoral Scientist

Erin earned her MD and PhD from the Medical Scientist Training Program at the School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine. She received her doctorate in the department of anatomy & neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, under the direction of Oswald Steward, PhD. Her thesis focused on identifying and characterizing novel growth and regenerative programs in fully mature adult cortical neurons, and her work resulted in multiple first author publications, over 15 presentations at external conferences, and the procurement of grant funding from both private and government sources. Erin is committed to teaching and mentoring, and while pursuing her graduate studies she also worked as a teaching assistant for undergraduate genetics courses and mentored multiple high school and undergraduate students in the lab. Prior to matriculating at the University of California, Irvine, Erin completed a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry & molecular biology, with minors in mathematics and psychology at Mills College in Oakland, California.

During medical school clinical rotations, Erin discovered her passion for patients in the field of obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN). She is committed to improving our understanding of clinical problems at the intersection of OB-GYN and neuroscience; specifically, maternal factors that impact fetal neurodevelopment, fetal neurotrauma, and mechanisms of neural regeneration. Her current postdoctoral position at UCLA/UCI is a direct extension of her graduate work and aims to identify the genetic expression profile of actively regenerating neurons. As a visiting postdoctoral scientist at Cedars-Sinai, Erin is excited to apply her foundational experience in neuroscience and her commitment to women’s health to the HEALthy Brain and Child Development (HBCD) study.

Janelle Liu, PhD
Postdoctoral Scientist

Janelle Liu, PhD, earned her doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2019. Under the guidance of Mirella Dapretto, PhD, she used neuroimaging techniques and behavioral measures to examine the early structural and functional architecture of the developing brain in infants at high and low risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). More specifically, Janelle used resting-state and task-based functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as well as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to investigate the development of language networks across the first year of life. As a postdoctoral scientist in the Gao Lab, she aims to better understand the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders as well as the impact of environmental risk factors on early brain connectivity. She currently uses neuroimaging techniques and statistical models to examine the complex interplay between various risk factors such as prenatal drug exposure and socioeconomic status, early brain connectivity, and divergent cognitive outcome.

Rachel Marcus
Clinical Research Associate I

Rachel Marcus received her bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology with an emphasis in developmental genetics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2019. She is currently a clinical research associate and the acting study coordinator for the HEALthy Brain and Child Development study for the Gao Lab. Her research interest lies in clinical psychology and its intersection with neuroscience and genetics. She is specifically interested in psychopathology, the study of genetic and environmental effects on development and mental health. She plans to obtain a PhD in clinical psychology to further her knowledge and research skills in the field.

Jhelum Paul
Graduate Student Master’s Program

Jhelum Paul completed her bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore, India, in 2016. She has worked as a programmer analyst on projects which consist of developing codes in Java and angular 2/4 for two years. Jhelum is currently a master’s student in the Master of Science in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine program at the Cedars-Sinai Biomedical Imaging Research Institute, and will graduate in 2020. Her interests include focusing on neuroimaging and development of cognitive functions from birth to early childhood through resting-state fMRIs. Hence, she joined the Gao Laboratory to focus on her master’s thesis on memory and how its connections are developed throughout childhood. Jhelum wishes to continue working on the intricacies of neural development and its complex connectivity in neonatal and how the brain unfolds while growing in the future.

Ju Shin
Graduate Student Master’s Program

Ju Yeol Shin received his bachelor of science degree at the University of California, Davis, majoring in physics. Since 2018, he has been enrolled in the Cedars-Sinai Master of Science in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (MSMRM) program. His primary research interests are in the areas of early brain development and adult functional disorders/diseases using resting-state fMRI. He’s currently focusing on investigating the differences in early brain functional development between men and women, under the mentorship of Wei Gao PhD.

Haitao Chen
Visiting Graduate Student
Mika Verner
Research Intern

Mika Verner is currently a fourth-year undergraduate student at UCLA as a psychology major and pre-med student. As an intern, her interests in research include patient communication (mothers and children), the neurological and psychological influence of substance abuse of mothers on their children, research data collection and analysis, and the administrative aspect of research studies. She plans on going to medical school and aspires to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Contact the Gao Lab

8700 Beverly Blvd.
Biomedical Imaging Research Institute
Los Angeles, CA 90048