2024 CGNI Symposium Speakers

Ali Keshavarzian

Ali Keshavarzian MD, FRCP, FACP, AGAF, MACG - Keynote Speaker

Josephine M. Dyrenforth Chair of Gastroenterology
Professor of Medicine, Physiology, Anatomy & Cell Biology
Associate Dean for Faculty Mentoring
Director, Center for Integrated Microbiome & Chronobiology Research
Rush University Medical Center
“Role of bidirectional gut- microbiota- brain axis in Parkinson's disease pathogenesis,  disease course and response to levodopa”
Dr. Ali Keshavarzian is the Josephine M. Dyrenforth Chair of Gastroenterology, Professor of Medicine, Precision Medicine, Physiology, Anatomy & Cell Biology, Associate Dean-Faculty Mentoring and Director-Rush Center for Integrated Microbiome and Chronobiology Research at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL.  He joined RUMC in July 1999 and was Director of the Division of Digestive Diseases & Nutrition until February of 2021.  He is a practicing gastroenterologist with a specialty in managing patients with inflammatory bowel disease for 37+ years and patients with Parkinson disease and GI symptoms for the last 4 years. His research includes basic science, translational, and clinical research focused on the impact of environmental factors (diet, stress, alcohol, sleep/circadian disruption) on the gut microenvironments (microbiota and barrier function) as well as the impact of gut-derived inflammation on gastrointestinal and systemic disorders including metabolic syndrome and neurodegenerative diseases.  His innovation and dedication to research has been continuously supported by the NIH since 1986 resulting in over 410 publications and a h-index of 99. 

Marie Bechler

Marie Bechler, PhD. 

Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Development
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology
SUNY Upstate Medical University

“Mechanosensing controls myelin sheath elongation in the CNS”
Dr. Marie Bechler received her B.S. in Biochemistry in 2003 from The University of Wisconsin - Madison. As a graduate student she worked with Dr. William J. Brown, focusing on fundamental questions of cellular organization by examining mechanisms of intracellular trafficking. She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology from Cornell University in 2011. Her interest in cellular shape and organization continued in her postdoc with Dr. Charles ffrench-Constant at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh. During her postdoc, Marie made the discovery that oligodendrocytes only require physical cues to create myelin sheaths with equivalent architecture to myelin sheaths in vivo, challenging the predominant view that myelin sheath formation is solely initiated by biochemical cues. Marie started her own research team at State University of New York Upstate Medical in December 2019. The goal of her lab is to define the mechanosensitive and developmentally programmed signals that allow oligodendrocytes generate myelin sheaths reflecting their in vivo origin. The overarching aim is to gain insight into nervous system function and inform strategies to treat neurodevelopmental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases.

Colin Reardon

Colin Reardon, PhD. 

Associate Professor of Neuroimmunology
School of Veterinary Medicine University of California, Davis

“Neuronal control of peripheral inflammation”


The Reardon lab at UC Davis is focused on understanding how communication between neurons in the periphery can regulate immune cell function and inflammation. The Reardon lab is particularly interested in enteric bacterial infection, endotoxemia, and acute lung inflammation. 


Erica Heinrich

Erica Heinrich, PhD.

Assistant Professor, Biomedical Sciences
School of Medicine, University of California, Riverside
"Inflammation and respiratory control: mechanisms and clinical consequence" 
The Heinrich Lab investigates physiological responses to hypoxia and high altitude.  Human populations have evolved for thousands of years in high-altitude environments on the Tibetan Plateau, the Andean Altiplano, and the Ethiopian highlands.  There is large variation in the adaptive strategies utilized by different high-altitude groups to survive in these environments, highlighting the significance of genetic variation in our physiological responses to environmental stress.  Understanding the diversity of physiological responses to high altitude will provide insights into how we respond to chronic hypoxia as a result of disease. 
Our primary goal is to determine how inflammatory pathways and immune cell phenotypes change during acute and chronic high-altitude exposure.  Inflammation and tissue hypoxia are tightly linked, and hypoxia-induced inflammation may contribute to altitude-related diseases, cognitive impairments, and the process of acclimatization.  We are currently determining the role of inflammatory signaling in Chronic Mountain Sickness in high-altitude residents.  We are also exploring the impact of genetic and epigenetic variation on physiological responses to hypoxia.

Shahani Noor

Shahani Noor, PhD., CGNI "Return Home" Speaker

Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosciences
School of Medicine, University of New Mexico

“Glial-immune priming: the “toll” of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) on opioid pain therapeutics” 


Dr. Noor received her B.Sc. degree in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and earned her Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California, Riverside (UCR). Dr. Noor received her postdoctoral training at the Department of Neurology, University of Washington, Seattle, and the Department of Neurosciences, University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Medicine, Albuquerque. Dr. Noor joined as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurosciences at UNM in 2022. Dr. Noor is an active participant in the New Mexico Alcohol Research Center (NMARC) and Center for Brain Recovery and Repair (CBBR) at UNM. 
The overall research focus of the Noor lab is to examine the long-term consequences of prior peripheral immune and central nervous system (CNS) glial activation modulating later-life neuroimmune and neurobehavior outcomes. We utilize diverse CNS immune insults including peripheral nerve injury and social and environmental exposures such as alcohol, opioids, and air pollutants. Ongoing research interests include molecular and cellular mechanisms of peripheral immune and neuroimmune dysfunction and innate immune memory with a particular focus on the contribution of non-coding RNAs, circular RNAs, in regulating neuroimmune function. We implement advanced techniques such as in vitro culturing of primary astrocytes and microglia from adult CNS tissues, flow cytometry with full spectrum profiling, and single-nucleus RNA sequencing, and high-content imaging platforms. Our current research focuses on the potential convergence of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) and opioid-mediated neuroimmune actions as interactive risk factors for chronic CNS dysfunction. Utilizing preclinical animal models, this project examines the critical contribution of innate immune signaling pathways and the potential role of circular RNAs underlying neuroimmune and neurobehavior consequences due to PAE and opioid interactions.  

Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith, PhD., Glenn Hatton Lecture

Associate Professor of Neuroscience
Associate Dean of Equity and Inclusion for Research and Research Education
University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
“Astrocytic modulation of synaptic activity”
Dr. Nathan A. Smith is Associate Dean for Equity and Inclusion in Research and Research Education and Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Previously, he served as Director of Basic Neuroscience Research and Assistant Professor at George Washington University and conducted postdoctoral research at multiple institutions. Dr. Smith earned his B.S. from Xavier University of Louisiana and Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, where he was the first Black American to earn a neuroscience Ph.D. He has received several honors and awards, including election as a 2021 AAAS Fellow. Dr. Smith's research focuses on investigating the understudied and novel mechanisms by which neuromodulators mediate interactions between neurons, astrocytes, and microglia in normal and disease states. He utilizes a combination of transgenic animals, electrophysiology, pharmacology, behavioral assays, and 2-Photon Ca2+ imaging in acute slices and awake-behaving animals.