Our Mentors

Thomas G. Beach, MD, PhD

Brain and Body Donation Program, Banner Sun Health Research Institute;
Head and Senior Scientist
Civin Laboratory for Neuropathology, Banner Sun Heath Research Institute

Thomas Beach is Head and Senior Scientist at the Civin Laboratory for Neuropathology, and Director of the Brain and Body Donation Program, both of which are located at Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Arizona. Dr. Beach has degrees in Biology (BS), Neuroscience (PhD) and Medicine (MD) from the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada.

Beach was trained in anatomic pathology and neuropathology at St. Louis University School of Medicine and at UBC. Prior to moving to Sun Health Research Institute in 1997, he was Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UBC and staff Neuropathologist at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Center and British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital.



Heather Bimonte-Nelson, PhD

President's Professor, Barrett Honors Faculty
ASU Department of Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology Division

For over two decades Dr. Bimonte-Nelson has been conducting preclinical evaluations of multiple domains of cognitive function as related to aging, with a special focus on transitional and surgical menopause, and exogenous and endogenous hormone exposures across the lifespan. She has published over 70 peer reviewed manuscripts evaluating hormone effects on the brain and behavior from early development until old age, with her earlier work showing that female brain organization is actively feminized by estrogens, and that estrogen exposures across the lifespan impact the female phenotype. She has expertise in behavioral measurements and related neurobiological assays, especially as associated with aging and hormone milieu.



Gene Brewer, PhD

Psychology, Associate Professor
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Dr. Brewer’s interests include behavioral and electrophysiological recording of memory processes, prospective memory, source memory, recognition memory, individual differences in working memory, and emotional effects on memory. Additionally, he is interested in statistical models of memory and other statistical applications within psychology.



Paul Coleman, PhD

Research Professor
ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center

Paul Coleman attended elementary, middle and high school at Friends Seminary in New York and then obtained an A.B. degree magna cum laude from Tufts. He next earned a Ph.D. in physiological psychology from the University of Rochester. After military service at the Army Medical Research Laboratory, Ft. Knox, KY, he completed a fellowship at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He spent several decades as a Full Professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine during which time he was Director of the University of Rochester Medical Center Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Director of an NIH Training Program in Neurobiology of Aging. During this time, he also spent time at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. While at the University of Rochester he trained a number of students who are now Professors throughout the United States and Europe. In 2007 he moved his laboratory to the Banner Sun Health Research Institute. In 2015 he moved his laboratory to the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at the Biodesign Institute, Arizona State University.

Ever since Dr. Coleman's first publication on Alzheimer's disease that indicated continuing neuronal plasticity in the aging human brain and loss of this plasticity in Alzheimer's disease (Science, 1979) his work has focused on differentiating changes in the brain in Alzheimer's disease from changes related to normal, non-demented ageing. His initial studies in this area were based on quantitative Golgi studies of dendritic extent in human and rodent brains. Feeling a need to be able to competently expand into studies using molecular biology, he spent much of two summers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories learning molecular biology and molecular biology methods. One of these summers resulted in the first publication (with Jim Eberwine in PNAS) of a method of profiling gene expression in single identified neurons. Most recently, Dr. Coleman’s work has expanded into the realm of epigenetics. This work is successfully demonstrating that reduced transport of epigenetic molecules from the cytoplasm into the cell nucleus is an early key event in the cellular pathology of Alzheimer's disease. This inability of epigenetic molecules to translocate to the nucleus, where they should be, has consequences for chromatin structure and consequently, the massive changes in gene expression seen in the AD brain. In addition, the aberrant cytoplasmic localization of epigenetic molecules leads to interactions with transport mechanisms in axons and dendrites, to interactions with mitochondria and to other interactions leading to the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Coleman has received a number of awards for his work, including a Leadership and Excellence in Alzheimer’s Disease Award from the National Institutes of Health (one of 12 ever awarded) and a Pioneer Award from the National Alzheimer’s Association.



Valentin Dinu, PhD

Associate Faculty, Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics
Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Informatics

Valentin Dinu's research interests are the assessment, improvement, and development of computational approaches, software applications and databases that will facilitate the management, integration and analysis of diverse sources of biomedical information. Some of Valentin Dinu's teaching and research areas include 1) the use of biological domain knowledge to supplement statistical analysis and data mining methods to identify genes and pathways associated with disease, and 2) the exploration of database modeling approaches for managing large and heterogeneous data sets from both clinical and biosciences domains. Application domains include next generation sequencing (NGS), genome wide association studies (GWAS), and immunosignature protein arrays.



Photo of Mike Malek-Ahmadi, PhD, GStat

Mike Malek-Ahmadi, PhD, GStat

Bioinformatics Scientist
Banner Alzheimer's Institute

Dr. Malek-Ahmadi earned a BS from the University of Arizona, a MS from the University of South Florida, and a PhD from the University of Westminster. He has worked in the field of Alzheimer’s disease research since 2003 and is an author on over 60 peer-reviewed journal articles in the areas of Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and normal aging. Dr. Malek-Ahmadi’s current work at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute involves the analysis of clinical, neuroimaging, neuropsychological, and neuropathological data used toward identifying and characterizing pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease.



Jason Newbern, PhD

Assistant Professor
ASU School of Life Sciences

Jason Newbern's research is centered on developmental neuroscience. His laboratory studies the biochemical mechanisms that direct the formation of the brain and spinal cord. He uses genetic, cellular, and molecular techniques to investigate the development of neurons and glia in the nervous system.



Kathy O’Connor, MS

Outreach Program Manager
Banner Sun Health Research Institute

Kathy O’Connor manages several programs including the Longevity Project, Learning from our Elders research project and Community Outreach for the Center for Healthy Aging at Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Sun City, Arizona.


Adjunct Faculty, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Mental Health and Wellness/Gerontology curriculum, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, AZ
Bachelors of Science, Business Management, Arizona State University
Post Graduate Certificate in Gerontology, Arizona State University
Masters in Professional Counseling, Ottawa University



Geidy Serrano, PhD

Director, Civin Laboratory for Neuropathology
Brain and Body Donation Program
Banner Sun Health Research Institute

In 2000 Dr. Serrano graduated with honors from the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus, and worked for a year in a biochemistry laboratory at the University of Florida. In 2006 she completed her doctoral degree in Anatomy at the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Science Campus, where she developed scientific skills, not only technical but also analytical. While pursuing her doctoral degree, she received the Minority in Neuroscience Fellowship from the Society of Neuroscience and had the honor to do an Internship at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Whole, MA. In 2007 she started a postdoctoral appointment at Emory University’s School of Medicine and received a National Research Service Award Training Grant (F32-NINDS). After three years of postdoctoral training, she joined the Brain and Body Donation program at Banner Sun Health Research, Sun City, Arizona. Her work allows her to contribute to brain and biospecimen research that pursues the understanding of neurological disorders around the world.

Dr. Serrano’s most recent research contributions are in neurodegeneration of aging in humans and gender differences. Her most recent publication suggests that, when affected by Alzheimer’s Disease, females progress more often to severe cognitive dysfunction, due to more severe neurofibrillary degeneration and greater loss of brain parenchyma. Other relevant work involved the search for a peripheral biopsy for Parkinson Disease and a feasibility study of frontal cortex needle core biopsy for detection of characteristic proteinopathies of neurodegenerative diseases.



Sarah Stabenfeldt, PhD

Assistant Professor, Biological and Health Systems Engineering
Associate Professor, School of Life Sciences

Sarah Stabenfeldt received her bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from Saint Louis University and her doctorate in bioengineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. She was awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) NRSA pre-doctoral fellowship for her doctoral thesis research on developing neural tissue engineering therapies for traumatic brain injury. As a NIH postdoctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine and Georgia Tech, she investigated fibrin-derived peptide-protein binding interactions, designing fibrin-based wound healing therapeutics. She joined Arizona State University’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering as an assistant professor in 2011 and leads her research team in developing regenerative medicine strategies for acute neural injury. Since joining ASU, Stabenfeldt has been awarded the Arizona Biomedical Research Consortium Early Stage Investigator Award, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, and a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.


Ph.D. Bioengineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
B.S. Biomedical Engineering, Saint Louis University



Parichita Choudhury, M.D., MSc., FRCPC

Cognitive Neurologist, Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Arizona-Phoenix
Banner Sun Health Research Institute

Dr. Choudhury is board-certified in Neurology and Dementia and practices at Banner Sun Health Research Institute. She completed her medical school at University of Alberta, Canada followed by neurology residency training at University of Calgary, Canada. She then completed her clinical fellowship in Behavioral Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In addition to providing clinical care, she is involved in multiple clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s Disease at BSHRI. She also conducts research in the dementia care and areas of interest include early diagnosis of dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and sex differences in dementia care. She is a clinical assistant professor at University of Arizona, directs the Neuroscience Scholars Program and leads several educational initiatives at BSHRI.



Alexander Choi, M.D.

Banner Sun Health Research Institute

Dr. Choi completed movement disorders fellowship at NIH under Dr. Hallett and Dr. Ehrlich, with the opportunity to see a variety of movement disorders and undertake mentored research in autonomic medicine as well as metabolic investigation in Parkinson’s to test the hypothesis that a short course of ketogenic diet is feasible and found to be helpful for symptom management, with exploratory measures of mobility, BDNF, blood DOPA metabolites and resting state EEG network analysis. Dr. Choi graduated from Tulane University Medical School and received training in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology at Harbor-UCLA, and Internal Medicine and Neurology at SUNY-Downstate. He is excited to work with the BSHRI care team to deliver thorough assessment including exploring biomarkers and non-pharmacologic approaches to therapy.



B. Blair Braden, PhD

Assoc Professor, College of Health Solutions
Assistant Professor, School of Life Sciences Interdisciplinary Graduate faculty

B. Blair Braden received her doctorate in behavioral neuroscience - psychology from ASU in 2012. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. She is an assistant professor in the College of Health Sciences and director of the Autism and Brain Aging Laboratory.


Postdoctoral Fellow, Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital, Phoenix.
Ph.D. Behavioral Neuroscience-Psychology, Arizona State University 2012



Ramon Velazquez, PhD

Asst Professor, ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center
Assistant Research Professor, School of Life Sciences

Ramon Velazquez is an assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences and with the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center at the Biodesign Institute - Arizona State University. His research interests include identifying novel therapeutic targets for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Down Syndrome (DS). In particular, he focuses on early molecular events that trigger the progression of these diseases. He is also interested in drug discovery and dietary supplementation of B-like vitamins as a way to prevent disease progression. Velazquez received his doctoral degree at Cornell University and worked in the laboratory of Dr. Barbara Strupp. Velazquez was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Pre-Doctoral fellowship as a graduate student and completed his postdoctoral training in molecular biology and neuroscience at ASU, where he was independently funded by the Alzheimer’s Association and via a NSF postdoctoral fellowship. Velazquez’s ultimate goal is to progress science while consecutively helping those who suffer from insidious neurodegenerative diseases.


Postdoctoral Fellow. ASU NDRC (2014-2019)
Ph.D. Cornell University, Ithaca NY (Aug. 2008- Aug 2014)
B.A. California State University, Long Beach (May 2002- May 2007)



Sydney Schaefer, PhD

Asst Professor, Neurodegenerative Disease Associate Faculty

Sydney Schaefer is currently an assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering at Arizona State University. She earned her undergraduate degree in sports medicine from Pepperdine University. She then received her doctorate in kinesiology with an emphasis in motor control from the Pennsylvania State University, and completed her postdoctoral training in stroke rehabilitation at Washington University in St. Louis in the Biomedical Engineering and Physical Therapy programs. Her current research aims to improve neurorehabilitation in older adults by studying how aging and cognitive impairment affect motor skill learning, and explores the interactions between different memory systems in the context of dementia. Schaefer's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and various non-profit foundations.


Postdoctoral Training. Stroke Rehabilitation, Washington University in St. Louis
Ph.D. Kinesiology (Motor Control), Pennsylvania State University
M.S. Pennsylvania State University
B.S. Sports Medicine, Pepperdine University