Laura Grofer Klinger is a clinical psychologist, a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine, and the Executive Director of the UNC TEACCH Autism Program. She oversees TEACCH’s clinical services (seven regional centers, supported employment program, and the Carolina Living and Learning Center, an integrated vocational and residential program for adults), international training program, and its community-based research program.
Dr. Klinger serves on a variety of community advisory boards including Sesame Street (initiative to increase ASD awareness), Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (supporting their development of an insurance policy for individuals with ASD), Government Accountability Office (adult transition), and Extraordinary Ventures (an employment program for adults with ASD). She consults to school systems and employment programs internationally about best practices for supporting the transition to adulthood including supports for employment and postsecondary education.
Her research includes the study of learning differences in individuals with ASD and the development of community-based intervention programs to promote successful adult outcomes. She is the Principal Investigator of a longitudinal study examining outcomes related to employment, quality of life, and aging in 25-60-year-old adults with ASD who were served by TEACCH during childhood. She is also the Principal Investigator of a school-based pilot intervention study examining the effectiveness of the TEACCH School Transition to Employment and Post-Secondary Education (T-STEP) Program.
Ben Philpot, Ph.D., is the Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, Associate Director of the UNC Neuroscience Center and Co-Director of the UNC NIH T32 Post Doctoral Research Training Program.
Dr. Philpot’s research investigates the molecular, cellular, and neural circuitry mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders, with the goal of discovering novel therapeutic opportunities. His lab is passionate about identifying treatments for monogenic neurodevelopmental disorders such as Rett, Pitt-Hopkins, and Angelman syndromes. Dr. Philpot’s work is focused primarly on the following projects: (1) the synaptic basis for Angelman syndrome and autism spectrum disorders, and (2) the role of NMDA receptors in neural development. He has published more than 70 articles.
Dr. Philpot is a recipient of the Dr. Claudia Benton Award for Scientific Research, awarded by the Angelman Syndrome Foundation for demonstrating strong commitment to advancing the scientific knowledge as it pertains to Angelman syndrome. In 2010, he received the Daniel X. Freedman Award for outstanding basic research achievement by a NARSAD Young Investigator. In 2016, Dr. Philpot was the co-recipient of the first gene therapy grant awarded by the Pitt-Hopkins Research Foundation.
Dr. Joseph Piven is the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology; Director, Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities; Co-Director, UNC NIH T32 Post Doctoral Research Training Program; Director, NICHD Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center; Director, North Carolina University Center of Excellence; and Director of the NIH ACE Network – Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS).
Dr. Piven’s research interests are focused on structural MRI, diffusion tensor imaging of the developing brain in autism and Fragile X, health services for individuals with developmental disabilities, and molecular and family genetic studies of the intermediate phenotypes in autism. His work has emphasized interdisciplinary collaborations in imaging (MRI/DTI), behavioral-family and molecular genetics (linkage and association) studies aimed at elucidating the pathogenesis of autistic syndrome. He has been the principal investigator of two large-scale research centers on autism – an NIH STAART Center and NIH ACE Network; as well as an NICHD-funded P30 Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center and a T32 post-doctoral research training grant.
Dr. Piven is the author of over 100 peer-reviewed publications on neuropsychological mechanisms, brain/morphology/mechanisms and the genetics of autism and Fragile X Syndrome. He is the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, a publication aimed at promoting interdisciplinary research on the pathogenesis of a range of neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Piven was awarded the Scientist Developmental Award for Clinicians from 1992 – 1997 and the NIMH’s Independent Scientist Award in 1998 – 2003.
Mark Zylka, Ph.D., is the Jeffrey Houpt Distinguished Investigator, Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, and Director of the UNC Neuroscience Center.
Dr. Zylka studies genetic and environmental risks for autism, as well as molecular and brain mechanisms that underlie pain sensation. His lab is studying a number of transcriptional regulators using genome-wide approaches to determine how they contribute to autism. This work includes mechanistic studies with neuronal cultures and autism mouse models.
Dr. Zylka’s pain research is focused on studying a number of lipid kinases, some of which may represent new therapeutic targets for chronic pain. He is also using circuit-based approaches to dissect pain pathways in the periphery and in the brain. One of Dr. Zylka’s key goals is to better understand the molecules and circuits that transduce pain so that new therapeutics can be developed.
From 2006 – 2008, Dr. Zylka was an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow and was granted the Klingenstein Fellowship Award in the Neurosciences from 2006 – 2009. In 2007 – 2010, he was the Rita Allen Foundation-Milton E. Cassel Scholar. In 2013, Dr. Zylka was awarded the NIH Pioneer Award.
Aysenil Belger, Ph.D., is the new director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Dr. Belger is a Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Psychology, and directs the Neurocognition and Imaging Research Lab in the UNC Department of Psychiatry. She also heads the Clinical and Translational Research Core within the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. She has served as a faculty member at UNC for 18 years.
Her research focuses on studies of the cortical circuits underlying attention and executive function in the human brain, as well as the breakdown in these functions in neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. Dr. Belger combines functional magnetic resonance imaging, electrophysiological scalp recording, experimental psychology and neuropsychological assessment techniques to explore the behavioral and neurophysiological dimensions of higher order executive functions.
Her most recent research projects have focused on electrophysiological abnormalities in young autistic children and children, adolescents and adults at high risk for schizophrenia. Her research also examines changes in cortical circuits and their physiological properties in children and adults at high-risk for psychotic disorders.