Lab Members

Kevin J. Bender, Ph.D.

Kevin is an Associate Professor in Residence in the Department of Neurology, and holds an Endowed Chair in Honor of the Gallo Family. He received his PhD from UC San Diego, where he worked with Dan Feldman (now at UC Berkeley). His thesis focused on understanding the cellular mechanisms of cortical map plasticity, which is how circuits rewire to represent altered sensory input. Following graduate training, Kevin moved to Portland, Oregon for postdoctoral training with Larry Trussell at the Oregon Health & Science University and Vollum Institute. There, Kevin identified new cellular mechanisms involved in initiating and modulating neuronal output. At UCSF, Kevin is involved heavily in the Neuroscience Graduate Program, directing NS201A and recently finishing a 7 year stint as co-chair of admissions, among other duties. Outside the lab, he enjoys hiking and mountain biking around the Bay Area.

Twitter: @neurobender

Graduate students

Sunrae Taloma

Sunrae joined the lab in 2022 and is interested in studying how sodium channels affect behavior. As an undergraduate at UCLA, she studied memory deficits associated with ASD in Alcino Silva’s lab. After graduation, Sunrae moved to UCSF and researched synapse development and refinement associated with memory in Anna Molofsky’s lab. Outside of lab, Sunrae enjoys camping, making pasta from scratch, and propagating her many plants.

Twitter: @sunrae_taloma

Postdoctoral fellows

Katie Salvati, Ph.D.

Katie joined the lab in 2023 and will continue to pursue her interests in unraveling neural circuit dysfunction in epilepsy and autism. Katie received her PhD from the University of Virginia in the lab of Mark Beenhakker. Her thesis focused on understanding how diet and respiration modulate thalamic acivity to trigger spike-and-wave seizures. Now, Katie will investigate how SCN2A dysfunction impairs tactile sensitivity within mouse somatosensory circuits. Outside of lab, Katie enjoys exploring Golden Gate Park, walking Ocean Beach, playing softball, tending to her plants, and hiking around the Bay Area..


Josh Garcia, Ph.D.

Josh joined shortly after completing his graduate work with Kate Smith at the University of Colorado (Anschutz Medical Campus) where he studied altered GABAAR trafficking mechanisms following the onset of excitotoxicity. He is the recipient of a DSPAN (F99/K00) transition award, and during the K00 phase, aims to interrogate whether sodium channel dysfunction disrupts GABAergic transmission at specific neuronal compartments throughout the somatodendritic arbor. Outside of lab, Josh enjoys exploring new cities when traveling and heading to the slopes, mainly the Rocky Mountains, during winter to snowboard.


Chenyu Wang, Ph.D.

Chenyu recently defended his thesis in the lab and we are lucky enough to have him for a few more months. Chenyu has an interest in understanding how dysfunction in sodium channels alters circuits and behavior in mouse. He was awarded an Action Potential Grant from the FamilieSCN2A Foundation for his thesis work on SCN2A dysfunction in cerebellar circuits. Outside the lab, Chenyu is a rabid Oakland A's fan, attending all home games this past year. Despite this, they didn't get as far in the playoffs as the Yankees. This makes Kevin and Selin happy, and will continue to make them happy since it will never change.

Ying C Li, M.D., Ph.D.

Ying is a Resident in the Psychiatry Program here at UCSF, on the research track. She received her PhD in Neurosciece from UT Southwestern with Ege Kavalali, studying the molecular mechanisms of asynchronous vesicle release and endocytosis. Here, Ying is working to understand the function of D3 receptors in limbic circuitry. Outside the lab, she enjoys biking, camping, and has absolutely no interest in picking sides on any sports rivalries in the lab.

Ryan Alexander, Ph.D.

Ryan joins the lab from the north (far north) where he received his doctoral training at McGill University in the lab of Derek Bowie. His work was mostly concerned with activity-dependent regulation of sodium channels in cerebellar interneurons, but he also dabbled in AMPA receptor structure-function. He is now crossing the cleft to investigate mechanisms of presynaptic depression in the prefrontal cortex. Outside the lab he enjoys horror movies, camping near water, and exploring San Francisco via burritos.

Andrew Nelson, Ph.D.

Andrew joins us from the great Midwest. He is studying channelopathies linked to autism spectrum disorder and evaluating new therapeutic strategies to restore channel function. Andrew received his PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan under the mentorship of Paul Jenkins. His thesis focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of GABAergic synapse connectivity and how abnormalities in inhibitory circuits may contribute to neuropsychiatric disease. Outside of lab, he enjoys playing hockey, golfing, and spending time with family and friends at the lake. He is an F32 and K99/R00 awardee from the NIMH.

Research Associates

Elizabeth Hamada

Elizabeth joined us after graduating from San Francisco State University in 2020, where she worked in Ivan Anastassov's Lab studying retinal cell biology and circuit function in the retinas of skates. Outside the lab, she enjoys eating, hiking, and spending time with family and friends at the beach.

Lauryn Wong

Lauryn joined the lab in 2023 after graduating from the University of San Francisco. As an undergrad, she volunteered at Massimo Scanziani’s lab, which just so happens to be the Bender Lab’s neighbor. From her time with the Scanziani lab, she studied the neural circuit mechanisms underlying visual processing and visually-guided behaviors in mice. Outside of lab, she enjoys hanging out with friends, beating people at Mario Kart, and pretending she knows anything about sports.

Alana Johnson

Alana joined the lab in 2023 after recently graduating from Santa Clara University as a neuroscience major. During undergrad, Alana worked as a research assistant in a cellular biology lab focused on motile cilia dynamics and how the dysfunctions of these appendages relate to human maladies. Outside of her time spent in the lab, Alana enjoys skiing, exploring the outdoors, spending too much money on festivals and traveling whenever possible.

Undergraduate students

We have a number of undergraduates who have worked in the lab in the past few years, largely with Dr. Roy Ben-Shalom on various computational projects. These are typically as part of the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program at UC Berkeley.


Nikhil Shridhar Athreya (UC Berkeley), Christopher Cross (HS, now at Stanford), Hersh Sanghvi (UC Berkeley), Kyung Geun Kim (UC Berkeley), Ebrahem Farooqui (UC Berkeley), Matthew Tinwai Sit (UC Berkeley),  David Mao (UC Berkeley), Hugh Jiang (UC Berkeley), Nathan Fong (UC Berkeley), Matt Perkins (Amherst)



Selin Schamiloglu, Ph.D.

Selin is interested in studying the role of the D3 receptor in second generation antipsychotic efficacy in the brain. She comes from a behavior and in vivo background, first at Josh Gordon’s lab (then at Columbia University) and then in Anatol Kreitzer’s lab at UCSF. Now, she’s excited to dig more into the electrophysiological properties of individual neurons. In her spare time, you can find her at the farmer’s market, her kitchen, or running along Embarcadero.

Twitter: @sschamiloglu


Anna M. Lipkin, PhD

Anna's thesis focused on the development and function of different GABAergic circuits in prefrontal cortex. She was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship for this work, and a Kavli Student Award in 2019 for all of her work for the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Before coming to UCSF, Anna studied the role of the striatum in choice learning at the National Institutes of Health. Outside of the lab, she enjoys watching and dancing ballet, reading, and commenting on how pretty the fog is. She was an active member of several UCSF science communication groups, including The Fog at Bay and Carry the One Radio, and was on the executive council for the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Anna is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Khaliq Lab at NINDS.

Twitter: @anna_lipkin


Kimberly Derderian

Kimberly became one of our lab managers after graduating from Santa Clara University in 2021. At SCU, she worked in Lang Chen’s computational and cognitive neuroscience lab analyzing semantic category activation patterns. In her free time, she dances, plays video games, and avoids sports team debates. She is currently persuing her graduate studies at UW in Seattle, focusing on bioengineering.

Henry Kyoung

Henry officially joined the lab in 2020, but has been a part of the Bender Lab since 2019 working as an undergraduate researcher for Dr. Roy Ben-Shalom at UC Berkeley. Henry can patch, code, and is now our expert in EEG studies. He's also a rabid Dodgers fan. In 2022, Henry moved to bean-town to Harvard's Neuro Grad program, where he plans to hate on the Red Sox, which is something that we all support.

Serena Tamura, Ph.D.

Serena, who was technically a graduate student in the Ahituv Lab at UCSF, has been working with us to develop new methods to modulate gene function in the context of neurodevelopmental disorders. Before coming to UCSF Serena studied non human primates monkey models of neurodevelopmental disorders and also worked as a clinical researcher at Stanford. Serena received her Ph.D in the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pharmacogenomics Program and was an Autism Science Foundation and Discovery Fellow. Outside of lab, Serena enjoys keto baking and spending time with her dogs. She is now a scientist at 64x Bio.

Roy Ben-Shalom, Ph.D.

Roy joined the lab with a wealth of computational experience, but nary a patching bone in his body. Now he patches like a fiend, and codes like something even more fiendish. Roy is studying channelopathies associated with autism spectrum disorder, and developing new ways to leverage computational tools to understand neuronal disorders. He is the lead of the NeuroGPU program within the lab, which is aimed at delivering high-end computational power in cost-friendly packages. He was an F32 individual training grant awardee from NIMH and now has his own lab at UC Davis.

Twitter: @roybensh

Atehsa Sahagun

Atehsa (Tessa) was our lab manager til mid-pandemic (2021), joining us after graduating from Santa Clara University in 2019, where she worked in Laura Cocas' Lab studying neuron-glia interactions. Tessa is a master of all things immunohistochemical and is, as far as Henry and Kevin are concerned, a mouse whisperer. No, we will not elaborate on that. She is currently a graduate student at UC Berkeley.

Perry WE Spratt, Ph.D.

Perry studied everything aboot dendritic integration, plasticity, and neuromodulation. He was an NSERC, Genentech and Discovery Fellow. And Perry was the inaugural winner of the Kavli Student Award, which recogonizes students who go above and beyond for the Neuroscience Graduate Program. As an undergraduate, Perry studied development in frog visual circuits at McGill University. Outside of lab, he can be found biking up or skiing down mountains. Perry is now a scientist at Regel Therapeutics.

Twitter: @PerrySpratt


Caroline M Keeshen

In addition to keeping the ship sailing as our lab manager, Caroline was our resident histologist, focused on ion channel distribution in the axon initial segment. Before coming to UCSF, Caroline studied striatal morphological differences in transgenic mice at UC Berkeley and patterns of connectivity between OFC and A1 following auditory training at the University of Maryland. When not in the lab, she enjoys climbing tall things and writing haikus. Caroline headed to UC Davis to join their neuroscience graduate program in the fall of 2019.

Ken J Burke, Ph.D.

Ken's research focused on cellular mechanisms that modulate transmitter release.  Ask him about PPR. He was an ARCS Fellow during his time in the lab. As an undergraduate, Ken studied Parkinson’s disease at Emory University. His non-science interests include board games, foreign languages, a terrible football team from New England, and his garden. Ken took a summer sabbatical during his last year in the lab, learning the ins and outs of AI and machine learning as a Google intern. He is now doing research on artificial neural networks or image recognition at Google AI. We don't know which, he isn't allowed to tell us. Kevin is sure it's cool, though.

Twitter: @KenBurkeJr

Jiggy Geronimo (nee Athilingam), Ph.D.

Jiggy studied how serotonin modulates the activity of prefrontal interneurons. She was the recepient of an NIMH F31 training grant. Before grad school, she studied the effects of cocaine on structural plasticity. Outside of lab, you would find her cooking Indian food, running, surfing, hiking with her dog, or protesting in the streets. Her new life more of the latter, as she has moved into the world of politics and policy, trying to make this world a better place. She currently directs a progressive policy consulting firm, JG Insights.

Twitter: @jiggy_ca

Rebecca Clarkson, Ph.D.

Becky was the first graduate student in the Bender lab, beginning her studies in 2011. An NSF Fellow, her graduate research focused on the distribution and function of dopamine receptors in prefrontal circuits. She applied machine learning techniques to improve classification accuracy of distinct dopamine-receptor-expressing neuronal populations. She enjoys group fitness classes (Zumba!), folk and contra dancing, and attending improv shows all around San Francisco. Becky has moved on to data science, and now working with a small startup in Cupertino, called Apple, and is focused on health sciences.

Gina Rinetti-Vargas, Ph.D.

During her postdoctoral fellowship, Gina examined the development of inhibitory circuits in prefrontal cortex, and found that pyramidal cell responses to chandelier cell input mature far slower than their dendritic bretheren. We are building on this work, investigating how this delayed maturation affects network properties in the adolescent brain. Gina has moved on from Herculean perforated patch sessions and is currently delving into big data as a scientist at Kaiser-Permanente.

Sungchil Yang, Ph.D.

During his postdoctoral fellowship, Sungchil found that D3 dopamine receptors make use of a novel, arrestin-dependent signaling cascade to regulate axonal calcium channels. We are currently building on this work, investigating when and how different signaling pathways are recruited in dopaminergic systems. Sungchil now has his own lab at City University of Hong Kong. He also dresses better than the rest of us.

Alayna Liptak

Alayna was our first lab manager when this whole thing got started at the Gallo Center. She joined us from Amherst College, where she was patching oocytes full of funky currents. Before moving on to persue a nursing degree, she was a project manager with the Huntington's group at UCSF. Outside of lab, Alayna protested with Jiggy and taught high school kids the ins and outs of lacrosse. She is notoriously hard to capture on camera.