Principal Investigator

Nicola Allen

Associate Professor
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory
Hearst Foundation Developmental Chair

I did my Undergraduate degree at the University of Manchester, and my PhD in Neuroscience at University College London, where I studied the cellular mechanisms underlying cellular dysfunction in the ischemic brain, working with David Attwell. I moved to Stanford for my Postdoc with Ben Barres, where I investigated how astrocytes induce the formation of synapses between neurons, and identified novel astrocyte-secreted proteins that carry out this effect. I then started my own lab at the Salk Institute, and we are working to understand how astrocytes regulate synapses throughout life, both in health and disease.
Postdoctoral Fellows

Adrien Paumier

Postdoctoral Fellow

I completed my B.S. in Chemistry and Biology at Université Joseph Fourrier Grenoble, during which I did an exchange program at the Université de Montreal (Canada) where I realized my deep interest in neurosciences. I then received my M.S. in Neurobiology and Neurosciences from the Université Grenoble Alpes, where I started to learn about astrocyte physiology during my internships at the Grenoble Institute of Neurosciences. I pursued my path by joining Pr Alain Buisson’s lab for my Ph.D., where I studied the involvement of astrocytes in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease under the supervision of Dr. Mireille Albrieux. In the Allen lab, my work is to keep understanding the role of astrocytes in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. If you don’t find me in the electrophysiology room, chances are you will find me on a surfboard at one of San Diego’s wonderful beaches or reading a book in a hammock somewhere.


Aksinya Derevyanko

Postdoctoral Fellow

I did my undergraduate degree at Novosibirsk State University, Russia. As an undergraduate, I joined the group of Genomic and Protein Engineering at the Institute of Chemical Biology and Fundamental Medicine, under the mentorship of Dr. Dmitry Zharkov. I also did several internships at the Institute Gustave Roussy, France in the Laboratory of DNA Repair, supervised by Dr. Murat Saparbaev. My research project was focused on the kinetics of base excision DNA repair enzymes in the context of trinucleotide repeats. In 2012 I received La Caixa International PhD Fellowship and joined the group of Dr. Maria Blasco at Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) in Madrid, where I worked on telomere dysfunction in aging. I started my post-doc at the Allen lab in 2019. My current project is focused on synaptic dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease. I am so excited to work in neuroscience and believe that my diverse research experience will help me on the way. Aside from science I enjoy dancing, snowboarding and other sports. I love to travel, learn about different cultures and new languages.

Ashley Brandebura

Postdoctoral Fellow

I received my B.S. in Neuroscience from Allegheny College where I focused on behavioral neuropharmacology and subsequently worked as a Clinical Research Coordinator for Stage III Alzheimer’s Disease trials. I then received my Ph.D. from West Virginia University where I studied under Dr. George Spirou and investigated neuron and glial cell gene expression programs during development of the Calyx of Held synapse. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Allen lab, I am working to identify astrocyte secreted proteins important for the regulation of initial synaptogenesis during development and synaptic maintenance throughout the lifespan, and how these proteins may be relevant to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders. When I am outside the lab, I enjoy mountain biking, hiking, and watching live music.

Isabel Salas

Postdoctoral Fellow

I did my Undergraduate and Master’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Universidad Autonóma de Madrid (Spain). I then moved to the KU Leuven (Belgium) where I did my PhD, investigating the effect of metabolic disorders on Alzheimer’s disease pathology, under the supervision of Prof. De Strooper and Prof. Dotti. I joined the Allen lab as a Postdoc, where I am studying the role of astrocytes on Alzheimer’s disease development. Outside the lab I like reading, writing and playing piano. But I am not very good at staying indoors for long, and I love all outdoors activities like hiking, cycling, climbing and now surfing!

Krissy Lyon

Postdoctoral Fellow

I received my bachelor’s degree in Biology from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. As an undergraduate, I did summer research in the lab of Dr. David Ginty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Following graduation, I joined Dr. Ginty’s group as a research assistant studying spinal cord interneuron subtype contribution to the sense of touch. For my PhD training, I joined the Harvard University Program in Neuroscience where I studied the role of dopamine receptor expression in serotonergic neuron modulation of behavior in Dr. Susan Dymecki’s lab. As a postdoc in the Allen lab, I study the role of astrocyte secreted factors in neurodevelopment and neurodevelopmental disorders. In addition to my research, I am committed to service, teaching, and mentorship and am an active member of Salk’s Underrepresented Minorities Actively Supporting Excellence (URMase) group and a mentor in the Society for Neuroscience’s Neuroscience Scholars Program. Outside of lab, I enjoy running and traveling.


Lara Labarta-Bajo

Postdoctoral Fellow

I am a native of Barcelona, Spain, where I completed undergraduate studies at the University of Barcelona. As part of my bachelor’s degree, I moved to Germany to study the biology of malaria-causing parasites. For my master’s degree I attended Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona and the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, where I studied CD8-T cell regulation during infection. For graduate school, I joined Elina Zuniga’s laboratory at UC San Diego, where I investigated host adaptations to chronic viral infection, and discovered immune mechanisms that induce a leaky gut after chronic viral infection, and that sickness behavior anorexia and gut microbiome components are both targets and regulators of antiviral CD8 T cell responses. As a postdoc in the Allen lab, I am currently studying the crosstalk between astrocytes and the immune system and its implications for synapses during healthy aging. Outside of lab I really enjoy spending time with my family and in the ocean.

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Laura Sancho Fernandez

Postdoctoral Fellow

I received my Undergraduate degrees in Neuroscience and Psychology from Boston University where I also worked in a lab investigating dyslexia and reading acquisition. For graduate school, I moved to San Diego where I worked in Dr. Brenda Bloodgood’s lab at UC San Diego studying excitatory synaptic signaling in cortical interneurons. Now as a postdoc in the Allen lab, I study the role of astrocytic gene expression in regulating visual critical period plasticity. When I’m not in the lab, I can be found on the beach, cooking, hiking around San Diego, or petting my cats.

Tao Tao

Postdoctoral Fellow

I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biological Science from Nanjing University, China. I studied smooth muscle physiology as an undergraduate in Dr. Min-Sheng Zhu’s lab at Model Animal Research Center (MARC) of Nanjing Unviersity. Then I joined the same lab for my PhD training, but started to focus on neuroscience, in particular, neurite outgrowth and axon guidance. Now as a Postdoc In Allen lab, I am investigating the role of astrocytes secreted proteins in Alzheimer’s disease, as well as developing novel tools to target region- and age-specific astrocyte subtypes. Outside of lab, I enjoy spending time with my family.

Graduate Students

Jillybeth Burgado

Graduate Student

I received my BS from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia where I majored in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Religion. As an undergraduate, I worked in the lab of Dr. Gretchen Neigh where I mainly focused on investigating metabolic and behavioral consequences of fructose exposure and adolescent stress. After graduating, I joined the CDC as an ORISE Fellow in the Poxvirus and Rabies Branch where I primarily worked on serological assay optimization and disease surveillance activities. I am currently a graduate student in the Neurosciences Graduate Program at UCSD. In the Allen lab, I am characterizing how changes to astrocyte-secreted factors contribute to synaptic dysfunction in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Outside of lab, I enjoy camping, climbing, traveling and spending time with friends and family.


James Deng

Graduate Student

I received my undergraduate degree in Chemistry at MIT and studied biochemistry at Ludwig Maximilian University (Germany) before moving to San Diego to pursue my MD/PhD. I joined the Allen lab as a UC San Diego graduate student in Neuroscience, and I began researching the role of astrocyte proteins in neurodevelopmental disorders. Outside the lab, I enjoy rock climbing, reading, playing violin, hiking, and skiing.


Minerva Contreras

Graduate Student

I went into science knowing I wanted to explore the brain. I completed my B.S. in Biotechnology Engineering at Universidad Autónoma de Quéretaro, México. I discovered my passion for glia biology when I joined the Bhat Lab for an internship at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center studying glioblastoma. I understood then the fundamental role of glia in regulating functions of the brain. I joined the Allen lab through UC San Diego Neurosciences Graduate Program. My work in the Allen lab focuses on activity-regulated genes in astrocytes and their modulatory role in synaptic plasticity. Outside of the lab, I help make science available for non-scientific audiences, with emphasis on the Hispanic community. I love traveling, camping, and spending time outdoors with my fiancée, my family and friends, and my dogs: Glia and Loki, I named the former.


Laura Noronha

Human Biology major at UCSD

Samantha Yip

Neurobiology major at UCSD

Trinity Dawoodtabar

Neurobiology major at UCSD

Allen lab alumni

Alexandra Bosworth

Alison Caldwell

Now a Science Writer,
University of Chicago

Angeline Ngo

Research Assistant,
now in medical school

Alex Kopelevich

Research Assistant,
now in medical school

Anne van Casteren

Masters Student,
now a PhD student in Berlin

Audrey Miglietta

Now a Graduate Student,
Neuroscience Program at UCSD

Cari Dowling

Charles Peto

Now Retired

Elena Blanco Suarez

Now an Assistant Professor,
Jefferson University

Isabella Farhy

Now an Assistant Professor,
Texas A&M

Matthew Boisvert

Graduate student,
now a Postdoc at OHSU.

Tarik Seref Onur

Now an Integration Scientist 1,

Tongfei Liu

Postdoctoral Fellow,
now at SBP Discovery Institute

Viktor Al Naqib