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

Isabella Farhy

Research Associate

I received my BSc in Biology and Sociology from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. and my MSc in Medical Sciences from the Tel Aviv University, Israel. I received my PhD from the department of Physiology and Pharmacology in Tel Aviv University working in the lab of Nathan Dascal. There I studied the mechanisms of modulation of neuronal ion channels by G proteins and G protein coupled receptors using electrophysiology and biochemical methods. I joined the Allen lab as a Postdoc and am studying the role of astrocyte secreted factor glypican 4 in formation of active neuronal synapses. More recently I’ve expanded this work to study additional astrocyte secreted factors expressed in the mouse visual cortex, analyzing how their expression is regulated during the course of synapse development and by neuronal activity. When I’m not in the lab, I spend time with my family, hiking in the beautiful San Diego area and beyond, and visiting art museums. I also enjoy music and reading sci-fi books.

Ashley Brandebura

Research Associate

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Laura Sancho Fernandez

Research Associate

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.

Elena Blanco Suarez

Research Associate

I did my Undergraduate degree in Biology in the University of Oviedo (Spain), and my Master’s in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biomedicine in the Universidad Complutense in Madrid (Spain). I received my Ph.D from the University of Bristol (UK) working in Dr. Jonathan Hanley’s lab. My thesis was on the role of GTPases and GluA2-AMPA receptor trafficking in the differential vulnerability of cortical and hippocampal neurons in response to oxygen/glucose deprivation, an in vitro model of stroke. Now, as a Postdoc, I research astrocyte-secreted factors and their roles in development and maturation of synapses, and how they are involved in neuronal plasticity. Although I spent much of my time in the lab, I also do many things away from the pipettes. I write and talk about brains a lot through my many science communication and education outreach projects. Besides science, I enjoy going to live music shows, playing ukulele and guitar, and travelling as much as I can.

Isabel Salas

Research Associate

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!
Graduate Students

Alison Caldwell

Graduate Student

I received my B.S. in Brain and Cognitive Sciences from MIT and spent some time studying xenosterol trafficking pathways at the Medical College of Wisconsin before joining the Allen Lab through the UC San Diego Neurosciences Graduate Program. For my thesis work, I am working to identify new astrocyte-secreted proteins that are implicated in neuronal development using a combination of gene expression and protein secretion analyses. In particular, I am interested in how astrocyte protein secretion changes may influence the pathology of genetic models of neurodevelopmental disorders that cause autism. Outside of lab, I’m the co-creator of Neuro Transmissions, a YouTube channel all about the brain. I love cooking, spending time with my cats, and reading science fiction, as well as any excuse to spend time outdoors, including gardening, camping, and hiking.

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.
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.
Research Assistant

Audrey Miglietta

Research Assistant

I recently graduated from UC Davis with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and subsequently joined the Allen Lab, where I am studying the effects of astrocyte-secreted proteins on neuronal development in neurodevelopmental disorders. I plan on pursuing my PhD in Neuroscience in the next few years, and in the meantime am gaining valuable experience in the field. Outside of lab, I enjoy going to live stand-up comedy shows, exploring diverse cuisines, dog-watching at the beach, hiking, camping, travelling, and just trying out new activities!

Charles Peto

Research Assistant

Exchange Student

Viktor Al Naqib

Exchange Student

Rotation Student

Jillybeth Burgado

Rotation Student

Allen lab alumni

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.