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UCLA 2021 Friends Research

Scholar Grant Recipients!

We are proud to award Friends of Semel Research Scholar Grants to these outstanding early career investigators doing groundbreaking research to better understand the mind and brain and develop new and innovative treatments for mental, developmental and neurological disorders.


These outstanding early career scientists were chosen from a highly competitive pool of candidates. A panel of Semel Institute scientists rigorously reviewed their proposals for original research studies. The members of The Friends of Semel Board of Directors interviewed the finalists and chose the recipients. 


Enrico Castillo, M.D., MSHPM is a board-certified psychiatrist in public and community psychiatry. He works with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health as a public psychiatrist; is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Center for Social Medicine and Humanities and the Associate Director of Residency Education at UCLA Semel Institute. Dr. Castillo’s research is focused on community-public-academic partnerships, the integration of public mental health, social services, homelessness/housing policies, and medical education on structural competency and health equity. 


Erica Grodin, Ph.D. is an Associate Project Scientist in the Department of Psychology at UCLA. Dr. Grodin’s research seeks to identify the neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in order to develop novel and efficacious treatments for this disorder. Support from the Friends of Semel Award will allow her to expand her research into the effect of acute inflammation on the brain, using neuroimaging to elucidate the effects of experimentally-induced inflammation on alcohol cue-reactivity in heavy and light drinkers. Results from this study will provide mechanistic data on the neural circuitry impacted by acute inflammation in individuals with AUD with the end goal of translating these mechanisms into innovative AUD treatments.


Kunmi Sobowale, M.D. is a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow and postdoctoral research fellow at the Semel Institute. His interest is in the prevention and early intervention of mental illness using digital health and psychosocial interventions during sensitive developmental periods including the perinatal period, early childhood, and adolescence. 


Don Wei, Ph.D. is a psychiatry resident and chief of the research track at UCLA. With The Friends of Semel Award, Dr. Wei will investigate how specific neuron classes mediate synchronization of neural activity across brains during social interaction and how this signaling might be disrupted in social impairment relevant to neuropsychiatric conditions.

We are also proud to continue to support the work of our 2020 Friends of Semel Research Scholars.


Chloe Boyle, Ph.D. is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Norman Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA. Broadly, her research aims to characterize psychobiological mechanisms underlying risk and resilience to onset and recurrence of depressive disorders. Support from The Friends Scholar program will allow her to expand her research program to study effects of inflammation on anhedonia in individuals with anxiety, a well-known risk factor for depression, and to interrogate the neural systems that may underlie these effects.


Gil Hoftman, M.D., Ph.D. is completing his Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neurobehavioral Genetics and transitioning to junior faculty as a Clinical Instructor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UCLA.  Dr. Hoftman's research aims to integrate genetic, molecular, and neuroimaging approaches to understand typical brain development and psychosis risk. In his Friends Scholar project, Dr. Hoftman is using imaging transcriptomics to define the relationship between MRI and molecular markers that characterizes clinical high-risk youth who subsequently develop psychosis. This study is foundational for starting a research program at UCLA dedicated to identifying early biological risk factors and their underlying mechanisms to serve as novel intervention targets and to develop biomarkers to predict illness onset, course, and intervention response. The Friends of Semel Fellowship will facilitate launching a successful career as a physician scientist dedicated to advancing understanding, investigation, and treatment of psychiatric disorders until they are eliminated as a cause of human suffering. In line with this goal with pilot data obtained from the first year of Friends of Semel funding, Dr. Hoftman was recently awarded the Brain and Behavior Foundation NARSAD Young Investigator Award to continue his initial studies. 


Marc J. Weintraub, Ph.D. has been conducting clinical research on the course, risk factors, and psychosocial treatment of mood and psychotic disorders as an AIM for Mental Health postdoctoral fellow at the Semel Institute. Dr. Weintraub is particularly interested in the high-risk stages of mood and psychotic disorders, as the high-risk period provides a unique opportunity to intervene early and attempt to prevent the onset of these illnesses. As a Friends of Semel Scholar, he will be able to advance his research agenda by developing and piloting a mobile app that will supplement the CBT treatment. Dr. Weintraub is excited to leverage mobile health technologies to help improve treatment engagement and outcomes for youth with mental health difficulties.

We invite you to visit The Friends website,www.friendsofthesemelinstitute.org for more information about the background and research of these and past Friends of Semel Research Scholar Award recipientsThere you will also find information about our Open Mind Community Lecture and Film Seriesand videos from past programs. If you are able, we hope you will consider supporting our organization.

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