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

Ashley Brandebura

Postdoctoral Fellow


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.
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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.

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!

Tarik Seref Onur

Postdoctoral Fellow

I received my undergraduate degree in Integrative Biology from UC Berkeley and Master of Science at Georgetown University. During my undergrad I was a student researcher in Janelle Noble’s laboratory at Children’s Hospital of Oakland Research Institute. After college, I worked as a technician in the laboratory of Alexis Dang at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Wanting to gain a better understanding of genetics, I enrolled in Genetics & Genomics Graduate Program at Baylor College of Medicine. I completed my graduate work in the laboratory of Juan Botas. In the Botas lab I developed an interest in integrating bioinformatics with high-throughput and classical experimental approaches to gain insight into molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegeneration across different cell-types. In my post-doc, I am looking to apply these skills to studying how astrocytes participate in the formation and function of synaptic circuits across the visual system.

I also have an interest in continuing to understand how astrocytes contribute to neurodegenerative disease pathogenesis. Outside of the lab I love spending time with my wife and our pets, hanging out at the beach, cooking, exercising, and reading books.
Graduate Students

Alexandra Bosworth

Graduate Student

I completed my B.S. in Neuroscience at the University of Washington where I studied the effect of Wnt5a on NMDA receptor composition. Upon joining the Allen lab as a UC San Diego graduate student, I began researching the role of astrocyte secreted glypicans in synaptic connectivity and plasticity. My work is focused on determining the role of glypican 5 in the visual cortex with an emphasis on elucidating the action of glypican 5 in the adult. When not in lab, I fill my time adventuring with my animals outdoors and finding new things to climb.

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.

Lab Manager

Cari Dowling

Lab Manager

I am currently a research assistant and lab manager for the Allen lab. I have a B.S. in Biotechnology from California State University San Marcos, and have worked in both industry and academia since before then. My introduction to neurobiology came by way of stem cell research. After graduating, I obtained a CIRM fellowship that supported further education in the realm of stem cell research, and through this I landed in a neuroimmunology lab at Sanford Burnham. There, I studied the effects of HIV-related neurocognitive impairment, and the damage caused by gp120, an envelope coat protein present in HIV, in the presence of anti-retroviral drugs and methamphetamine. From there, I was fortunate enough to come to Salk in the position of lab manager for Nicola Allen’s lab. Seriously, the work we do here is awesome. And it’s clear that astrocytes are the stars! When I’m not conducting behavior studies, preparing primary cell cultures, slicing brains for immunohistochemistry, and generally keeping the lab up and running, I’m busy chasing my kids and cleaning up after my family. In my spare time, I write fiction novels and play disc golf. I’m much better at one than the other, but enjoy doing both.

Allen lab alumni

Viktor Al Naqib

Isabella Farhy

Now an Assistant Professor,
Texas A&M

Charles Peto

Now Retired

Tongfei Liu

Postdoctoral Fellow,
now at SBP Discovery Institute

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

Matthew Boisvert

Graduate student,
now a Postdoc at OHSU.

Audrey Miglietta

Now a Graduate Student,
Neuroscience Program at UCSD

Alison Caldwell

Now a Science Writer,
University of Chicago

Elena Blanco Suarez

Now an Assistant Professor,
Jefferson University