Epilepsy Genetics Program | Meet Our Team

 

Annapurna Poduri, MD, MPHAnnapurna Poduri, MD, MPH 
Attending Physician/Director

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.


Heather Olson, MD, MPH
Attending Physician

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.

 

Christelle Moufawad El Achkar, MD 
Attending Physician

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 Dr. Achkar 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

 

Christopher Yuskaitis, MD, PhD 
Attending Physician

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.

 

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. 

 

Sonal Mahida, CGC, MGCSonal Mahida, CGC, MGC
Genetic Counselor II

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. 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
Genetic Counselor II

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.

 

Lisanna Paulino

Lisanna Paulino
Program Coordinator

Lisanna Paulino joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in June of 2017 as our program coordinator. She manages the clinical program and is the primary point person, both for referrals and for communicating with families about scheduling and providing intake information.
 
Lisanna graduated from Wheelock College with a BS in Human Growth & Development with a focus in Counseling Psychology with minors in Child Health, and Child Life. Lisanna transitioned from Boston Childrens Hospital Radiology Department and has worked in the children and families in a variety of settings including afterschool programs, hospitals, and foster care.

 

Catherine Shain, MPH
Research Program Manager

Catherine Shain joined the Epilepsy Division in 2009 and the Epilepsy Genetics Program in 2011 at its inception. In her role as Research Program Manager, she manages the program’s research portfolio and ongoing projects. She is also responsible for establishing and maintaining clinical trials.

Catherine received her BS in Public Health Sciences from Clemson University’s Honors College in 2007 and her MPH in Epidemiology from Boston University in 2012.

 

Emma Sexton
Research Assistant

Emma Sexton joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program in June 2019. She is a research assistant who enrolls patients in research studies to better understand the genetic etiologies of epilepsy. Emma graduated from Wake Forest University with a B.S. in Health & Exercise Science and Anthropology. She hopes to attend medical school in the near future. 

 

Devon Knight
Research Assistant
Devon joined the Epilepsy Genetics Program as a Research Assistant in June of 2019.  She is responsible for recruiting and enrolling families to participate in research studies aiming to investigate and better understand genetic factors of epilepsy.  Devon graduated from UNC Chapel Hill in May 2019 with a B.A. in Biology and Neuroscience. She aims to work in the field of neurology in the future. 


Laboratory Team

 

Mark LacoursiereMark Lacoursiere
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.

 

Chris McGraw, MD, PhD
Research Fellow

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 RobensBarbara Robens, PhD
Research Fellow

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 TurnerLaura 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.

 

Ikhianosen UkhuedobaIkhianosen Ukhuedoba

Ikhianosen joined the Poduri Lab and Epilepsy Genetics Program as a Research Assistant in May 2019. She is responsible for conducting experiments in zebrafish aimed at investigating the genetic etiologies of epilepsy. Ikhianosen graduated from Regis College in 2019 with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. She plans to pursue a medical school degree in the coming years.