Meet Our Team | Overview
Annapurna Poduri, MD, MPH
Dr. Poduri directs the Epilepsy Genetics Program as a clinician-scientist, with one hand in the clinic as a pediatric epileptologist and the other hand in the laboratory on a mission to identify the genetic underpinnings of epilepsy. Here at Boston Children's, she is also the Co-Director of the Neurology Department's Program in Neurogenetics and serves on the BEST Committee for standardizing laboratory practices.
Dr. Poduri is a key participant in epilepsy genetics research at the local and national levels. She is the Epilepsy Genetics Benchmark Steward to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the Boston Children's Principal Investigator for the NIH-funded Epilepsy Phenome/Genome Project (EPGP), a national, multi-centered research study. She has been actively involved in data quality review and publications from the phenotyping phase of that project, and is now involved in the genotyping phase. In addition, Dr. Poduri is part of an international effort to understand the genetics of severe early-onset epilepsies.
Beth Rosen Sheidley, MS, CGC
Genetic Counseling Program Manager/Co-Director
Beth Rosen Sheidley is a licensed genetic counselor with 22 years of experience in clinical genetic counseling, research and teaching. Her areas of expertise include epilepsy, autism, psychiatric illness and both prenatal and pediatric genetic counseling. As Co-Director of the Epilepsy Genetics Program, Beth is involved in all aspects of program planning and development.
Beth provides genetic counseling to families seen in our Epilepsy Genetics Clinical Consultation Program, supervises the genetic counseling and clinic/clinical research staff, oversees the implementation of our research efforts, and coordinates our involvement in several collaborative research projects including the Epilepsy Genetics Initiative (EGI) and the Genomics Research and Innovation Network (GRIN). She is a founding member and Co-Chair of EpiGC, an international network of genetic counselors who specialize in epilepsy genetics and who are dedicated to the education of both providers and families. Beth also serves on the Boston Children’s Hospital BEST committee, which reviews the use of genetic tests by physicians at Boston Children's Hospital.
Beth received her BS degree from Cornell University in 1990 and her MS in Genetic Counseling from Brandeis University in 1994. She joined the Department of Neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2010. In addition to her role in the Epilepsy Genetics Program, Beth is a member of the Advisory Board for the Brandeis University Genetic Counseling Graduate Program, where she served as Professor of the Practice/Co-Director of Research and Professional Development from 2005 through June of 2014.
Christelle Moufawad El Achkar, MD
Dr. Achkar is an attending physician in the Epilepsy Genetics Program and the Division of Epilepsy and Neurophysiology. She is fluent in English, Arabic and French, and studied Biology before attending the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) for medical school. Prior to coming to Boston Children’s for her child neurology residency, Dr. Achkar completed her pediatric residency at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital-Case University in Cleveland as well as a research fellowship on the use of scalp EEG recording of high frequency waves in mapping eloquent cortical areas at University Hospitals of Cleveland- Case Medical Center. She completed an additional clinical fellowship year under Drs. Annapurna Poduri and Heather Olson in the Epilepsy Genetics Program, during which she focused on the diagnosis and management of multiple causes of epilepsy genetics. Her training also includes autism spectrum disorder clinics under the supervision of Dr. Sarah Spence.
Dr. Achkar’s main research and clinical interest is the connection between epilepsy and autism spectrum disorder as well as other co-morbidities including developmental delays and behavioral problems. Currently, she is closely involved with clinical research projects involving genetic disorders that are known to cause epilepsy along with other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as 16p11.2 copy number variations and PCDH19.
Heather Olson, MD, MPH
Dr. Olson is a neurologist and epileptologist at Boston Children’s Hospital with board certification in neurology and special qualification in child neurology. She has fellowship training in epilepsy and clinical neurophysiology, as well as in neurogenetics, with a focus on epilepsy genetics. She also has experience and interest in neonatal neurology. She is an attending physician in the Epilepsy Genetics Program, through which she sees patients for consultations and management of epilepsy. She sees additional patients for consultation as part of the Brain Development and Genetics Program, and she is an attending physician in the Neonatal Neurology Follow-up Program with a focus on epilepsy and neurogenetics. Dr. Olson is also Co-director of the CDKL5 Center of Excellence.
Dr. Olson has ongoing related research projects that focus on understanding and determining the underlying genetic causes of epilepsy, including the overlap of inflammatory and genetic mechanisms of epilepsy. She has expertise in both phenotypic and genotypic analysis. She is the local contact for the Rasmussen Encephalitis Research Consortium and neurologist for The Angelman Natural History Study. In 2013, Dr. Olson was selected as the recipient of the Logan Infantile Spasms Award and Research Grant by the Child Neurology Foundation.
Christopher Yuskaitis, MD, PhD
Dr. Yuskaitis is a neurologist at Boston Children’s Hospital with board certification in neurology and special qualification in child neurology. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts with High Distinction in Cognitive Science with emphasis in neuroscience at the University of Virginia. He then received MD/PhD degrees through the MSTP program the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His graduate work identified misregulation of glycogen synthase kinase-3 as a potential target for therapeutic intervention in Fragile X syndrome. He completed his pediatrics training in the Boston Combined Residency Program followed by child neurology residency and neurogenetics fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is member of the NIH-funded ClinGen Brain Malformations Gene Curation Expert Panel. He is the co-director of the Infantile Spasms Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. His current clinical research focused on predictors of outcomes in children with infantile spasms. His laboratory research focuses on how alterations to nutrient sensing genes (e.g. DEPDC5, NPRL2, NPRL3) leads to epilepsy and brain malformations, and targeting this pathway for therapeutic intervention. He sees patients for consultation in the Brain and Developmental Genetics Clinic and the Epilepsy Genetics Program.
Sonal Mahida, MGC
Licensed Genetic Counselor
Sonal Mahida joined the Epilepsy genetics program in June of 2018. Her area of expertise is Neurogenetics. She provides counseling to families seen in our Epilepsy Genetic Clinical Consultation Program as well as our Neonatal Epilepsy Clinics and Neurogenetics clinics. Her research activities include coordinating and overseeing our KCNQ2 patient registry. Sonal received her BS in Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2012 and her Masters in Genetic Counseling from the University of Maryland, Baltimore in 2014. She worked at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in the Department of Neurogenetics before transitioning to Boston Children’s Hospital in 2018.
Lacey Smith, MS, CGC
Senior Genetic Counselor
Lacey Smith joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in May of 2014. She provides genetic counseling to families seen in our Epilepsy Genetics Clinical Consultation Program. In addition to her clinical work, Lacey also coordinates our PCDH19 Epilepsy Patient Registry and assists in our ongoing research efforts.
Lacey received her BS in Biological Science from the University of Vermont in 2009 and her MS in Genetic Counseling from Brandeis University in 2014.
Rozalia Valentine, MS, CGC
Rozalia Valentine joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in July 2021. As an expert in pediatric neurogenetics, Rozalia works with the families of children with neurological disorders to help find genetic etiologies.
Rozalia received her BA in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2015 and her MS in genetic counseling from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, in 2021. While earning her degree, she provided genetic counseling services to families of children with Angelman syndrome at the Center for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities. She credits her background in research in frontal lobe inhibition in ADHD with sparking her interest in neurogenetics.
In addition to her clinical work, Rosie volunteers in variant curation and looks forward to future research opportunities.
William Hong, MD
Epilepsy Genetics Fellow
Dr. Hong joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program as an epilepsy genetics fellow in July 2021. He completed his epilepsy fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital and child neurology residency at Texas Children’s Hospital. His area of research is in CDKL5 deficiency disorder under the supervision of Dr. Olson. He is fluent in English and Korean.
Kimberly Wiltrout, MD
Epilepsy Genetics Fellow
Dr. Wiltrout is a clinical fellow in the Epilepsy Genetics Program. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in neuroscience at Franklin & Marshall College and her MD degree at the University of Rochester. She comDr. Wiltrout is a clinical fellow in the Epilepsy Genetics Program. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in neuroscience at Franklin & Marshall College and her MD degree at the University of Rochester. She completed her pediatrics training, followed by child neurology residency and epilepsy fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis before starting as a fellow in the Epilepsy Genetics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital in July 2021. In addition to seeing patients with the attending physicians in the Epilepsy Genetics Program and the Brain Development and Genetics Program, she is actively involved in clinical research projects with a focus on SYNGAP1.
Frederick Burki, MS, R. EEG T., CLTM
Program Coordinator II
Frederick Burki joined as the Epilepsy Genetics Program in July of 2021 as our program coordinator. He manages the clinical program and is the primary point person, both for referrals and for communicating with families about scheduling and intake information.
Fred has many years of clinical experience in pediatric epilepsy as an inpatient, outpatient, and intraoperative neurophysiology specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Utah Hospital, and Medstar Georgetown University Hospital. Fred graduated from Vassar College in 2009 with a BA double-major in Neuroscience and German Studies, and a minor in Chemistry. He received an MS in Physiology and Biophysics from Georgetown University in 2013. He plans to apply his passion for improving patient care to further development of the Epilepsy Genetics Program in the coming years.
Clinical Research Assistant/Assistant to Neurology Genetic Counselors
Rebecca joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program as a Genetic Counseling Assistant for the summer of 2019, and returned as a Clinical Research / Genetic Counseling Assistant in June of 2020. She manages the NeuroGC REDCap referral database and acts as a liaison between families, genetic counselors, testing laboratories, and health insurance providers, as well as assisting with research studies and educational projects. Rebecca graduated from University of Rochester in 2020 with a B.S. in Neuroscience and a minor in Clinical Psychology. She aspires to get her Master’s in Genetic Counseling in the future.
Julia joined the Poduri Lab and the Epilepsy Genetics Program as a Clinical Research Assistant in June 2021. She is currently recruiting and enrolling families and patients into research studies, including the PCDH19 registry. Julia graduated from Tufts University in May of 2021 with two majors: a BS in Mathematics and a BS in Biology. As an undergrad, she was a volunteer in the in-patient neurology unit at Boston Children’s, which sparked her interest in pediatric neurology. In the coming years, she plans to pursue an MD for a career in medicine.
Brandon joined the Poduri Lab and Epilepsy Genetics Program as a Clinical Research Assistant in June 2021. He is responsible for the recruitment and enrollment of patients and families in our research studies. Brandon graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May 2021 with a B.S. in Neuroscience. He is excited to work with our genetic counselors and physicians who are building an understanding of the genetic factors related to epilepsy. In the coming years, he plans to pursue a career in medicine.
Rebecca Pinksy, MSN, RN, CPNP
Research Program Manager
Rebecca is a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who re-joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in January 2020 as Research Program Manager. She initially joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in 2013 as a research assistant prior to completing her Masters in Nursing Science at Regis College. Rebecca manages the program’s research portfolio and ongoing projects, including establishing clinical trials.
Alissa D'Gama, MD, PhD
Alissa joined the Poduri Laboratory and Epilepsy Genetics Program in 2021. She is a physician scientist with interests spanning neonatology, developmental neuroscience, and translational genomics. She received her BA in Molecular and Cellular Biology from Harvard College in 2011 and completed a combined MD-PhD program at Harvard/MIT, receiving a PhD in Biological and Biomedical Sciences under Dr. Christopher A. Walsh from Harvard Medical School in 2016 and a MD from Harvard Medical School/MIT Health Sciences and Technology in 2018. She completed pediatrics residency training in the Boston Combined Residency Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center on the Accelerated Research Pathway. She is currently a fellow in Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine in the Harvard Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine Fellowship Training Program. Alissa is co-mentored by Dr. Timothy Yu, and her research currently focuses on early onset epilepsies, somatic mosaicism, and neonatal genomics.
Hyunyonh Howard Koh, MD, PhD
Hyunyong is from South Korea and joined the Poduri Laboratory and Epilepsy Genetics Program in September 2019. He is a physician-scientist working on genetic etiology of patients with epilepsy at Children’s as well as on contributing to translational medicine closely with members of the laboratory’s zebrafish team. He was granted a PhD in Translational Neurogenetics and Brain Somatic Mutation causing tumor-associated epilepsy under Dr. Lee Jeong Ho MD PhD at KAIST in 2019. Here at BCH, Hyunyong is engaged in discovering novel gene variants that contribute to epilepsy and sudden death, using data collected from BCH patients, with a focus on application to translational research. He is most excited when he communicates with the clinical and laboratory teams, discussing the clinico-genetic science of patients with epilepsy, with the hope that he can help provide improved patient care when he pursues a clinical residency training in the near future.
Chris McGraw, MD, PhD
Dr. McGraw joined the Poduri Laboratory and Epilepsy Genetics Program in July 2018. He is a physician-scientist with interests spanning epilepsy and clinical neurophysiology who makes use of diverse animal models as well as human data to improve our tools for treating seizure disorders. Dr. McGraw received his BA in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Rice University in 2004 and he completed a combined MD/PhD program at Baylor College of Medicine, earning a PhD in Developmental Biology under Dr. Huda Y. Zoghbi MD in 2012 before graduating in 2014. He attended residency in Adult Neurology at University of California San Francisco (UCSF), where he was awarded an R25 supplement to study epilepsy in zebrafish with Dr. Scott Baraban, PhD. He is currently a fellow in Epilepsy at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in addition to continuing basic science research in zebrafish through the Epilepsy Genetics Program at Boston Children's Hospital. Dr. McGraw is interested in developing novel models of epilepsy in zebrafish with high translational potential, with a special interest in high-throughput whole organism screening strategies using zebrafish.
Barbara Robens, PhD
Dr. Robens joined the Poduri Laboratory and Epilepsy Genetics Program in July 2018. She has a background in developmental neurobiology of epilepsy and molecular techniques. She received her BSc and MSc at the University Aachen (RWTH Aachen/Uniklinikum Aachen) in Germany and a PhD in Bonn, Germany at the Bonn Medical Center (Universitätsklinikum Bonn). During her PhD at the Institute of Neuropathology with Prof. Becker she studied the molecular mechanisms of epilepsy-associated developmental brain lesions. She established a method for convenient developmental brain disease modeling in the lab which she used to discover a novel target gene involved in neuronal hyperactivity. Here in the Poduri Laboratory, she studies PCDH19 gene functions during early brain development in zebrafish aiming to better understand the pathomechanisms underlying “girls clustering epilepsy”.
Laura Turner, DVM
Research Lab Supervisor
Laura joined the Poduri Lab and Epilepsy Genetics Program in June 2018 as the research lab supervisor. In addition to her role managing the research laboratory, she also performs electrophysiological recordings on zebrafish in the lab. Laura graduated from Amherst College with a BA in Psychology in 2008 and received her DVM from Tufts University in 2014. Prior to joining the Poduri Laboratory, she also worked with other zebrafish models of human disease in the Laboratory of Dr. Leonard Zon here at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Laboratory of Dr. Calum MacRae at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
Laboratory Research Assistant
Mark Lacoursiere is a research assistant for the Epilepsy Genetics Program. He is responsible for conducting biochemical experiments to find novel genetic etiologies of epilepsy. Mark joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in 2012 after graduating with a Wildlife Biology degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He plans to attend graduate school for environmental biology with a focus on population genetics.
Cristina joined the Poduri Lab and Epilepsy Genetics Program in September 2021. She develops zebrafish models of epilepsy using CRISPR/Cas9 and screens therapeutic compounds for future patient applications. Cristina graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in May 2021 with a B.Sc. in Neuroscience and intends to pursue a PhD program.
Xinzhu Tina Yang
Tina joined the Poduri Lab and Epilepsy Genetics Program as a Research Assistant in June 2020. She is responsible for performing experiments in zebrafish to study the genetic foundations of epilepsy. Tina graduated from Brown University in May 2020 with a B.S. in Neuroscience. In the future, she hopes to earn a medical degree.