Who We Are

Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab

Who We Are

Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D.
Lab Director
Mortimer D. Sackler, MD, Professor of Psychiatry
Director, Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; Co-Director, NIMH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship for Translational Research in Child Psychiatric Disorders

Dr. Veenstra-VanderWeele is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who uses molecular and translational neuroscience research tools in the pursuit of new treatments for autism spectrum disorder and pediatric obsessive-compulsive disorder. He trained in human molecular genetics in the laboratory of Edwin H. Cook at the University of Chicago. Following his child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship, he expanded his research experience with a postdoctoral research fellowship in molecular neuroscience with Randy Blakely and Jim Sutcliffe at Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia in 2014, Dr. Veenstra-VanderWeele was director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, where he was also an associate professor and medical director for the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dr. Veenstra-VanderWeele’s laboratory at Columbia University and NYSPI focuses on the serotonin and glutamate systems in genetic mouse models with abnormal social or repetitive/compulsive-like behavior. His clinical/translational research program at the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Center for Autism and the Developing Brain studies potential treatments for autism spectrum disorder and related genetic syndromes. His long-term goal is to be able to develop novel approaches in the molecular laboratory that can then be tested in children. Dr. Veenstra-VanderWeele’s work has been recognized with multiple awards, including the 2017 Blanche Ittelson Award for Research in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association. He is dedicated to helping train and develop the next generation of child psychiatrists and scientists who can generate improved understanding of childhood neuropsychiatric disorders and deliver new treatments to the clinic.

Kelly McGuire

Kelly McGuire, MD, MPA

Medical Director of the Translational Medicine Program
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at CUIMC

Kelly McGuire, MD, MPA, joined the Columbia University Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry as an Assistant Professor.  Dr. McGuire serves as the medical director of the Translational Medicine Program at the NewYork-Presbyterian Center for Autism and the Developing Brain (CADB) and also as an assistant medical director at CADB. Dr. McGuire obtained her medical degree at Quillen College of Medicine in Tennessee. She completed her psychiatry residency in New York at Mount Sinai and her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship in our program. She went on to complete the Whitaker Scholar in Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program and a NIMH T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship for Translational Research in Child Psychiatry at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), during which time she was awarded a New York State Office of Mental Health Policy Scholar Award. Prior to joining CADB and the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, Dr. McGuire served as a psychiatrist at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders in Maine, an adjunct scientist at Maine Medical Research Institute, and a Clinical Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Kally O’Reilly Sparks

Kally O’Reilly Sparks, PhD

Research Scientist
Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology (in Psychiatry)

Kally O’Reilly Sparks, PhD, has joined the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab as a research scientist and an Assistant Professor at CUMC. Dr. O’Reilly Sparks uses rodent models to understand typical and atypical neurodevelopment, with the idea that a single insult can alter brain-wide function at various neurobiological levels. Since earning her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008, Dr. O’Reilly Sparks has focused her studies on the systems underlying learning and memory, the hippocampal-parahippocampal network. Her work involves investigation of neuroanatomical and molecular development of the hippocampus as well as examining the structure and function of the adult hippocampus after abnormal development. These studies have implications for mental illnesses of neurodevelopmental origin, such as autism and schizophrenia. She has ongoing collaborations at the Norwegian Institute for Science and Technology and at New York University where she conducted her postdoctoral studies.

Dr. Muhammad O. Chohan

Muhammad O. Chohan, MD

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Dr. Chohan obtained his medical degree from Shifa College of Medicine in Pakistan. While in medical school, he completed a research internship at Columbia University, where he studied abnormalities in cortical neuronal architecture induced by the disruption of early cortical neurogenesis. He then returned for additional research training at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where he studied genetic models featuring dopamine-neuron-specific deletions of channels that control dopamine-neuron spike firing. More recently, Dr. Chohan has examined the early postnatal development of neuronal connections involved in the vocalization of infant rats and in social attachment in general, and has applied stem-cell transplantation, in vivo electrophysiology, data-analysis methods, and behavioral-neuroscience tools to query diverse but interrelated hypotheses of cortico-limbic basal ganglia dysfunction in animal models of mental illness. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab, focusing on basal ganglia circuits, Dr. Chohan hopes to determine neural mechanisms underlying behavior abnormalities seen in genetic models of autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Elizabeth Aaron

Elizabeth Aaron, BA

Research Coordinator and Assistant

Elizabeth received her BA in psychology from Skidmore College, where she completed an undergraduate research thesis project examining the role mindsets play in public speaking anxiety. She is a research coordinator and assistant for the Translational Medicine Program at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. Elizabeth is currently working on an autism biorepository for individuals with autism and their biological family members and a phase II clinical trial called "The Study of Oxytocin in Autism to Improve Reciprocal Social Behaviors" (SOARS-B) for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

Micah Davoren

Micah Davoren, BA

Research Assistant

Micah Davoren graduated from Haverford College with a BA in psychology and a minor in education. Her undergraduate research thesis examined attachment style and the therapeutic alliance as predictors of treatment outcome for social anxiety disorder. As a research assistant for the Translational Medicine Program at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, she is currently working on phase II clinical trials for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

Ziwen Wang

Ziwen Wang, BA

Research Assistant

Ziwen Wang received her BA in neuroscience and behavior with a minor in education from Vassar College. Using a rodent model of PTSD, she completed an undergraduate research thesis project at Vassar, examining the neurobehavioral effects of chronic ethanol exposure on fear extinction memory retrieval. She also worked with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at Stars and Rain, a non-governmental educational organization in Beijing, China. Ziwen is very excited to join the Veenstra-VanderWeele Lab as a research assistant. 

Karen Tang, PhD

Study Psychologist