Meet the Team
The Nurture Science Program team includes professionals from many different backgrounds and disciplines, but they’re all dedicated to one thing – helping children and parents.
They bring a multidisciplinary approach to developing, testing and promoting nurture-based care - rooted in rigorous research - to help families establish and maintain emotional connection.
Learn more about them below.
Martha G. Welch, MD | Director
Dr. Martha G. Welch has been a pioneer in the treatment of emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders for over 40 years. Decades of clinical observations led her to create a new paradigm employing the primacy of co-regulatory vs. self-regulatory processes in optimal child development.
Today, as the Director of the Nurture Science Program at Columbia University Medical Center, Dr. Welch leads a team of world-class researchers in testing her Family Nurture Intervention and exploring the scientific explanation for the underlying biological phenomenon she termed emotional co-regulation. Emotional co-regulation is the key component of her Calming Cycle Theory, which posits that symptomatic behavior can be eliminated through re-establishing and maintaining co-regulatory processes within the family, initially between the mother and child.
Dr. Welch attended Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. There, she was mentored by two Columbia University pioneers, surgeon Hugh Auchincloss and J. Lawrence Pool, Chairman of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neurological Institute. Following the completion of her residency at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, she was recruited into their child fellowship program. In 1977, after completion of a Fellowship in Child Psychiatry, she became a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and was appointed Instructor in Child Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
While at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Welch began questioning the current treatment of autism. Drawn to the work of ethologist and Nobel Laureate Nikolaas Tinbergen, Dr. Welch found parallels between Tinbergen’s descriptions of approach-avoidance conflict in animal behavior and her observations of approach-avoidance conflicts in children with autism. She conceived and began testing her new therapy, which involved calming interactions. Through close contact with family, these calming sessions helped comfort the affected children, who previously avoided physical interaction. After her intervention improved symptoms in her first few patients, Dr. Welch contacted Tinbergen with her findings and began a ten-year collaboration with him.
In 1975, Dr. Welch began a private practice, and in 1978, she founded the Mothering Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the treatment of children with emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders, including autism.
In 1979, Tinbergen visited the Mothering Centers in New York City and Greenwich, CT, to observe the therapy firsthand. Tinbergen became convinced that Dr. Welch’s new therapy was indeed successful in overcoming the child’s conflict and avoidance behavior. He was especially struck by an autistic child’s ability to play imaginatively following a therapy session. A close collaboration between Dr. Welch and Tinbergen followed and resulted in the publication of two books: Tinbergen’s Autistic Children: New Hope for a Cure (Allen & Unwin, 1983) and Dr. Welch’s Holding Time (Simon & Schuster, 1988); both books were published in many languages. Tinbergen believed that Dr. Welch’s work represented a paradigm shift from the prevailing ideas about behavior and was, accordingly, a major advancement in the treatment of autism and developmental disorders. Up until his death in 1988, he devoted his energy to engaging with Dr. Welch regarding the biological basis of the intervention and working to bring attention to this breakthrough.
Following the publication of Holding Time, Dr. Welch’s approach was criticized in the media when it became confused and conflated with therapies by untrained "attachment therapists" using what they termed "holding therapy." Some attachment therapy therapists adapted the techniques described in Holding Time appropriately and reported the therapy as to be helpful in treating behavioral disorders in adopted children. However, others used the book to justify unrelated, and, in some cases, coercive and abusive therapies. There is no connection between the method of holding therapy developed by Dr. Welch and therapies associated with the abuse of children. Despite the misinterpretation of her work, Dr. Welch remained committed to the central belief that her insights into the nurturing interactions between families and children would someday lead to new treatments and preventative medical strategies for developmental disorders. In the late 1990s, she began a research career focused on investigating the biological underpinnings of emotional co-regulation and nurture.
During her fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Welch was introduced to the work of other researchers who would become important mentors and collaborators: Myron A. Hofer, M.D., and even still Michael M. Myers, Ph.D., and their group in Developmental Psychobiology. Dr. Hofer’s fundamental research and ideas greatly influenced Dr. Welch’s initial thinking about the important interplay between biological and behavioral processes during infant and early childhood development. Dr. Hofer’s group moved to Columbia University Medical Center where Drs. Myers and Welch eventually initiated clinical studies with premature infants, a population specifically vulnerable to developmental disorders. Today the paths of Dr. Welch and the Hofer-Myers group have merged, creating a dynamic and essential collaborative team in the Nurture Science Program.
With the support of Dr. Hofer, Dr. Welch was appointed a faculty position in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in 1997. In collaboration with renowned neuroanatomist David A. Ruggiero, Ph.D., Dr. Welch began testing one of her hypotheses: that behavior was being mediated by signaling from the gut to the brain, as opposed to the reverse. The adverse behavior associated with emotional dysregulation may be coming from signals arising from a stressed or inflamed gut, rather than originating in the brain. Thus, she began testing a novel treatment for gut inflammation in an animal model. The novel idea that the gut might control certain behavior was contrary to the then prevailing thinking in psychiatry.
For years, following treatment sessions in her clinic, Dr. Welch had heard mothers describe feeling as though they had just given birth or just nursed their child. As these two events were known to be associated with oxytocin release, she developed the hypothesis that peptidergic signaling was involved in the observed behavioral changes in both the mother and the child following the calming therapy. She was eager to explore this signaling together with the physiological and systemic manifestations associated with it.
Around the same time, another peptide, secretin, was receiving attention after a gastroenterologist published findings showing that three children with autism, who had been given this gut hormone as a probe of abnormal pancreatic function, spoke and made eye contact for the first time. Dr. Welch had observed that many of the gut problems of her patients with autism had resolved after the nurture intervention and postulated that mother-child calming interactions might be releasing two peptides, oxytocin and secretin, and that these and possibly other hormones were leading to improved social behavior and improved gut status in the child.
Dr. Welch’s work in this area became the basis for a series of six publications. One of these showed that combined secretin and oxytocin treatment of experimentally-induced colitis in rats, overcame inflammation in the gut. With the help of Columbia University’s Science and Technology Ventures, she applied for a patent. The patent was issued in 2011 for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. During this period, Dr. Welch also spearheaded a research program aimed at understanding brain-gut signaling and how it is involved in the mutual regulation of gut function and behavior. She was the first to demonstrate secretinergic neurons in the forebrain and that secretin activates visceral brain regions involved in both autism and inflammatory bowel disease. In 2004, Dr. Welch co-founded the Brain-Gut Initiative, along with Michael D. Gershon, M.D., the Chairman of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Columbia. Their labs demonstrated for the first time that oxytocin receptors were present and developmentally regulated in the enteric nervous system and in the epithelium of the gut. Their pioneering work shows that mice lacking oxytocin receptors have abnormal barrier function of their gut epithelium, lower villus height, and decreased crypt depth, and are more prone to inflammation.
Dr. Welch has collaborated with a number of other faculty members at Columbia University. With Harry Shair, Ph.D., she tested her hypothesis that ultrasonic vocalizations in rat pups are mediated by gut signaling. Initial studies show that cutting the vagus nerve between the gut and brain abolishes potentiation of ultrasonic vocalizations in rat pups twice separated from their dams. Collaborations with Susan Brunelli, Frances Champagne, and James Curley focus on exploring differential central oxytocin receptor expression in selectively bred high-anxiety versus low-anxiety rat dams.
Together with Hadassah Tamir, Ph.D., and Benjamin Klein, M.D., Dr. Welch has elucidated gut oxytocin and oxytocin receptor signaling. In a series of biochemical and molecular biology studies, they have found that oxytocin has a modulatory role in the stress signaling pathway in a gut cell line, as well as a modulatory role in protein translation during a critical postnatal developmental period. Recently, they discovered that oxytocin in colostrum has a protective effect on the postnatal gut villi. Colostrum OT was shown to attenuate the impact of inflammation, as well as protect against amino acid insufficiency-induced stress. Ongoing research surrounds stress and inflammation signaling in hypothalamic and other brain areas in response to the colostrum impact on gut villi.
Thus far, Dr. Welch’s innovative research has been supported through private philanthropy. In 2008, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust urged Dr. Welch to begin translating the promising results of her basic research into practicable clinical interventions that can be used to help infants, children, and families. With Michael M. Myers, Ph.D., the Director of Development Neuroscience, she initiated a randomized controlled trial of Family Nurture Intervention. This trial has examined early development in premature infants treated with either Family Nurture Intervention or standard care in the neonatal intensive care unit. Multiple papers have been published, including a paper in Clinical Neurophysiology that describes robust increases in electroencephalographic power in the Family Nurture Intervention babies at near-to-term age. According to the research findings, there was a 36 percent increase in power in the frontal polar region of infants that received Family Nurture Intervention.
This finding is considered highly significant because an electroencephalographic power increase in the frontal polar region predicts better cognition, language, and attention, as well as emotion regulation. Preterm infants often have deficits in these areas. The Family Nurture Intervention results also showed positive effects on mothers’ levels of anxiety, depressive symptoms, and sensitivity to their infants during feeding. Together with Manon Ranger, Ph.D., Dr. Welch aims to uncover new biomarkers of risk for suboptimal neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants using a rodent model. The overall goal is to examine the adverse effects of repeated maternal separation on electrical brain activity and cardiac response in rat pups using wireless EEG/ECG implants. With a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms explaining these adverse effects, Dr. Welch aims to test high nurturing intervention methods to mitigate the impact of these undesirable events.
Combining her observations in her clinical work with the results of her basic science and clinical studies, Dr. Welch has developed the Calming Cycle Theory as an explanation for the profound effects of the Family Nurture Intervention. She theorizes that emotional co-regulation, the key component of the Family Nurture Intervention is primarily a visceral/autonomic, as opposed to a cognitive/central, phenomenon. Furthermore, she believes that emotional behavior is the product of Pavlovian conditioning, as opposed to operant conditioning, which may help to explain why physical contact and communication between family members is so important.
The next steps in the research are multi-site replication studies, currently being set up at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York City, Children’s Hospital at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, and the Valley Hospital in New Jersey. These will be followed by an effectiveness trial to determine if this intervention can be effectively applied to all babies in a NICU. The hope is that in the next three years, the Nurture Science Program will be ready to promote Family Nurture Intervention in NICUs around the country and help even more children and families.
Martha Welch Awards and Honors
- 2014 Gold Medal for Meritorious Service to Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons
- 2013 Physicians and Surgeons Alumni Lifetime Learning Award
- 2011 Columbia University Alumni Medal for Meritorious Service
- 2011 Autism Research Institute Award
- 1995 Middlebury College Distinguished Alumni Award
- 1985 Gold Medal Award in Community Psychiatry, American Psychiatric Association, Nominee
Michael M. Meyers, PhD | Co-Director
Dr. Myers is Professor of Behavioral Biology in Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center and former Research Chief of the Division of Developmental Neuroscience at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. As Co-Director, Dr. Myers brings extensive research expertise to the Nurture Science Program.
He has over 45 years of research experience in the field of developmental psychobiology, with over 140 peer-reviewed publications and continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1984. His animal model and human infant studies have focused on understanding the importance of the interplay between biological and behavioral processes during early development, especially as these relate to early mother-infant interactions as shapers of risk and resilience to emotional, behavioral, and developmental disorders.
Dr. Myers received his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in Biobehavioral Sciences. He completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Physiology & Biophysics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, after which he was appointed a Research Associate. From 1981 to 1984, he was an Attending Psychologist in the Psychiatry department of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1984, he was appointed an Assistant Professor in Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) as well as a Research Scientist V at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI). He was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in both Psychiatry and Pediatrics and then, in 2002, Professor of Behavioral Biology in Psychiatry and Pediatrics at CUMC. From 2001 to 2007, Dr. Myers served as the Chief of Developmental Psychobiology at NYSPI and then, Chief of Developmental Neuroscience until 2016. Dr. Myers’s integral involvement as Co-Director of the Nurture Science Program began in 2009 and continues to present day.
During his postdoctoral training, first at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and later at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Myers focused on the complex brain/behavior relationships involved in the expression of adult hypertension. Understanding how the central nervous system contributes to the expression of physiological disease was then, and remains, an important topic of mind/body research. His research during this period demonstrated that not only did the Spontaneously Hypertensive Rat (SHR), an important genetic model of hypertension, have peripheral differences in sympathetic control of blood vessel contractility, but these animals also express profound differences in central nervous system catecholamine circuits.
Moreover, behavioral hyperactivity was associated with these CNS findings. However, his later studies showed that although hyperactivity (and salt avidity), both reasonably considered to be associated with SHR hypertension through co-selection, were, in fact, genetically independent of the hypertensive trait of the SHR. These studies raised awareness of the pitfall of assuming the “intuitively obvious.”
After joining Myron Hofer’s group at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Myers launched a series of studies that focused on understanding how mother/infant interactions shape infant development. Findings from other groups showed that when SHR rats pups were reared by a normotensive mother, their adult pressures were lower. This suggested SHR mothers might be contributing to their offspring hypertension, but it was not known if this might be related to differences in their behavioral interactions. Dr. Myers conducted a series of mother/infant behavioral observational studies that led to the discovery that specific naturally occurring mother/infant behaviors (licking, grooming, arched nursing) were linked to individual differences in offspring physiology (blood pressure) in adulthood. These studies had a profound impact on shaping research in the field of developmental psychobiology. They also prompted a series of published studies that demonstrated the importance of early feeding activities in both animal models and human infants on the cardiovascular system.
Shortly after moving to Columbia, Dr. Myers engaged in studies that focused on understanding development of organized activities of the autonomic and central nervous systems during the prenatal period. These studies documented human fetal heart rate patterns associated with maternal depression or anxiety. However, a larger body of working encompassing 16 papers was done in collaboration with the group headed by Dr. Raymond Stark at Columbia, who had developed unique techniques for monitoring fetal baboon physiology 24 hours/day during the last few weeks of gestation. These studies characterized many key characteristics of fetal primate development. These were to the first studies to assess primate fetus behavioral sleep states using both autonomic and EEG signatures and that these states exhibited diurnal rhythms. Results from this model also showed the emergence of ANS control of heart rate as indexed by measures of heart rate variability and that these measures are profoundly affected by prenatal exposure to nicotine.
Paralleling the above studies in fetal baboons, Dr. Myers worked with Columbia colleagues to conduct and publish over a dozen studies documenting key features of early human physiological and state development of both term and preterm infants. These studies covered numerous issues but among the most significant of findings was the development of novel methods for analysis of infant EEG, documenting effects of prone/supine sleeping positions on the organization of sleep states, effects of diet on the quality of infant sleep, and the first study to show the effects of prenatal alcohol and smoking on Native American infants. This latter study played a major role in setting the stage for his involvement as Co-Director of the Physiological Assessment Center for a large scale (12,000 infants) Prenatal Alcohol in SIDS and Stillbirth Network study funded by NICHD, NIAAA, and NIDCD. This study, which lasted over 10 years, completed enrollment in 2016. It is the largest prospective study ever conducted for understanding how prenatal smoking and alcohol alter risk for early adverse outcomes.
As Co-Director of the Nurture Science Program, Dr. Myers has been able to conduct studies directly relating his animal studies of mother/infant interactions with clinical studies aimed at improving outcomes of preterm infants through a nurture-based intervention in the NICU. During the past few years several papers have been published from this study. Results from the program’s first RCT showed that facilitating mother/infant emotional connectedness in the NICU leads to increases in brain activity (EEG power) at term age, improved maternal caregiving sensitivity, lower levels of maternal depressive and anxiety symptoms post-discharge and, at 18 months of age, improved cognitive ability, language skills, fewer attention problems, and fewer problems related to social skills. A replication study of the effects of this intervention is underway, as well as a new study of Family Nurture Intervention for children starting to exhibit behavioral symptoms at 3-4 years of age. These innovative studies have set the stage for new approaches to interventions in the NICU and pediatric venues that focus not only on the clinical care of these infants but also on increasing mother and family nurturing.
Robert Ludwig | Associate Director
Robert Ludwig has worked closely with Dr. Welch for the last 20 years, first managing her private treatment clinic and subsequently her research program at Columbia University Medical Center. He is currently the Associate Director of the Nurture Science Program and is responsible for managing the research team and coordinating the research program.
He also coordinates the Program’s domestic and foreign research collaborations outside Columbia Medical Center.
With an undergraduate degree in Philosophy, Mr. Ludwig has researched and worked out the theoretical aspects of Dr. Welch’s work. Most recently, Mr. Ludwig has been articulating the Calming Cycle Theory for Dr. Welch. In addition, he contributes to the design of research experiments and co-authors manuscripts for publication.
Amie Hane, PhD | Director of Behavioral Coding
Dr. Hane is a developmental psychologist and an expert in the coding of maternal and infants’/children’s behavior. Dr. Hane’s research focuses on the social regulation of biobehavioral stress responding in infants and children.
Her work translates rodent epigenetic models of postnatal programming to human samples, and shows that high-quality maternal caregiving behavior buffers against dysregulated biobehavioral stress responding in infants and children. Dr. Hane received her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in Applied Developmental Psychology, completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Infant Behavioral Neuroscience, and a fellowship in Infant-Parent Mental Health. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Williams College, where she is a member of the faculty for the programs in neuroscience and public health. Dr. Hane is also a Visiting Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology in the Developmental Neuroscience Division of NYSPI. She is the Director of Behavioral Coding for the Nurture Science Program, where she collaborates on the development of behavioral assessments and directs the human behavioral coding projects.
Myron A. Hofer, MD | Professor Emeritus of Developmental Psychobiology and Special Lecture in Psychiatry
Dr. Hofer is the Sackler Institute Professor Emeritus of Developmental Psychobiology and Special Lecturer in Psychiatry, as well as the founding director of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Dr. Hofer’s research interests are centered on the role of parent-infant relationships as a major environmental influence on postnatal development. Working with animal models over many years, he discovered specific behavioral interactions within the early mother-infant relationship that exerted short- and long-term effects on infant physiology and behavior. He and his colleagues showed that prolonged early maternal separation resulted in significantly increased vulnerability to stress in adults and to laboratory models of diseases such as gastric stress ulcers and hypertension in adult life. Dr. Hofer contributes his years of experience and insight in weekly team meetings centered around Dr. Welch’s ongoing clinical studies designed to reduce the long-term developmental effects of the prolonged early maternal separation of preemies inherent in the NICU.
Raymond I. Stark, MD
Dr. Stark is a Professor of Pediatrics and Perinatology in Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Division of Neonatology at Columbia University Medical Center. He is also a retired Attending Physician in Neonatology at the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian.
In his animal work, Dr. Stark has studied the fetal baboon response to controlled maternal hypoxia and its effects on cardiorespiratory control. In his collaboration with the Nurture Science Program, Dr. Stark advises on study design and method. Dr. Stark brings years of clinical and translational experience to the research team, providing insights on patient care, sleep studies, and EEGs.
Richard A. Polin, MD | Chief, Department of Neonatology
Dr. Polin is the William T. Speck Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and has been Director of the Division of Neonatology at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian since 1998.
An Associate Pediatrician at Babies Hospital, NY, NY, from 1975 to 1977, he was named Outstanding Pediatric Attending for 1976-1977. He won similar honors for 1978-79 and 1982-83 at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he held the positions of Director of the House Staff Training Program, Assistant and Associate Physician-in-Chief, Academic Coordinator of Pediatrics, and Acting Director, Neonatology. Temple University’s Medical School named Dr. Polin its outstanding alumnus in 1995. In 1998, Dr. Polin returned to Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of NY-Presbyterian as the Director of Neonatology. In 2005, he received the Physician of the Year Award both from the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University Medical Center and the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, Division of Nursing. In the spring of 2006, Dr. Polin was the recipient of the National Neonatal Education Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Perinatal Pediatrics. He was the past Chair of the Sub-board of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine of the American Board of Pediatrics. Dr. Polin is the current Chair of the NICHD Neonatal Research Network Executive Steering Committee.
Philip G. Grieve, PhD
Dr. Grieve is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Biomedical Engineering (in Pediatrics). In his collaboration with the Nurture Science Program, Dr. Grieve focuses on developmental electrophysiology through the collection and processing of high density (128 lead) EEG.
Dr. Grieve’s work is focused on the differences in the development of brain function between extremely premature and term infants and their relationship to perinatal risk for poor neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Joseph R. Isler, PhD
Dr. Isler is an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics. He has had a varied career, first as an academic physicist and then in commercial software development, before being trained in developmental neuroscience 10 years ago in the Department of Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
His research interests include neural systems dynamics, especially in at-risk pediatric populations; development of novel techniques in EEG and ERP data analysis; and the perinatal development of the waking state and consciousness. Recently he has taken a lead role in the management and analysis of a massive trove of continuous physiological data from all of the NICU bedside monitors in the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian. He is very enthusiastic to be involved in the Nurture Science Program, having worked with this extraordinarily collegial group of diverse and highly talented colleagues for the past several years.
Howard F. Andrews, PhD
Dr. Andrews is Director of the Data Coordinating Center (DCC) at New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
The DCC develops and implements web-based data capture and management systems for many large-scale clinical trials and epidemiological studies at Columbia University Medical Center, including research conducted by the Nurture Science Program, the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Dr. Andrews is an expert in the management and analysis of large data sets and multi-level data.
Judy Austin, PhD
Dr. Austin began her professional training as an experimental psychologist focusing on research methods, study design, and data analysis.
At the Southern African Medical Research Council, Dr. Austin was a co-investigator on two cluster-randomized controlled trials of a behavioral intervention to increase treatment adherence among ambulatory tuberculosis patients: one in an endemic urban setting and the other in a rural farm setting. She then served in a tenured position at the School of Psychology, University of Natal, where she lectured in Statistics and, together with fellow faculty, co-authored a textbook, Numbers, Hypotheses and Conclusions: A Course in Statistics for the Social Sciences, published in 2002. Dr. Austin has consulted widely on statistical analysis in mental health, infectious disease, and reproductive health research, and serves as a reviewer for numerous international journals. Following a training fellowship in epidemiology at Columbia University, she focused on the development of sustainable monitoring and evaluation systems for public health services in low resource settings. Dr. Austin conducts database design, management, and maintenance and performs statistical analyses for all studies within the Nurture Science Program.
Joy V. Browne, PhD, RN
Dr. Browne is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics and Psychiatry, and Director of the Center for Family and Infant Interaction. Dr. Browne graduated with a Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of New Mexico with a specialty in developmental and health psychology.
She also has a B.S.N. and M.S.N. from the Medical College of Georgia with a specialty in maternal-child nursing. She also holds a Diploma from Georgia Baptist Hospital College of Nursing. Dr. Browne directs the Colorado Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program Training Center, the Family Infant Relationship Support Training, the Fragile Infant Feeding Institute and the BABIES and PreSTEPS programs. Her area of expertise is neurobehavioral assessment and intervention with high-risk infants and their families, especially as they transition from intensive care to the community, and infant and early childhood mental health. She consults nationally and internationally on systems change toward developmentally supportive and family-centered care. Dr. Browne plays a key role in the dissemination of the Nurture Science Program’s Family Nurture Intervention.
David Rubenstein, MD
Dr. Rubenstein, a consultant for the Nurture Science Program, is a Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center. Since arriving at Columbia University, he has served as Medical Director for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, as Fellowship Program Director, and as Vice Chair of the Division of Neonatal Medicine.
He has worked with neonates hospitalized at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia Campus since 1998. Prior to this appointment, he was a tenured Professor in Pediatrics and Associate Professor in Physiology at Temple University Health Sciences Center and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. He has served as a Director of the Division of Neonatal Medicine at Temple University and Vice Chair, Department of Pediatrics at St. Christopher’s Children’s Hospital, as well as Fellowship Training Program Director and Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Christopher’s. His research interests were studying perfluoro chemical liquids as a respiratory medium in preterm lambs.
Muhammed Anwar, MS
Mr. Anwar is a senior lab scientist with over 35 years of experience working with lab species including goldfish, rodents, dogs, cats, monkeys, and pigs.
Mr. Anwar performs all aspects of Nurture Science Program basic research, including blood draws, tissue cultures, perfusions, post-mortem excisions, and tissue processing. He has experience with immunocytochemistry and viral protocols. Students in the Nurture Science Program benefit from his extensive knowledge and experience, as well as from his strong mentoring. Mr. Anwar has been an integral part of our basic science program for nearly 20 years.
Michael D. Gershon, MD
Dr. Gershon is a professor in the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, the former Chair of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Columbia University Medical Center, and author of The Second Brain.
Dr. Gershon has devoted his career to understanding how the nervous system controls the behavior of the bowel. His 30 years of research have led to the extraordinary discovery that nerve cells within the gut act in a brain-like fashion to regulate gastrointestinal activity. His work has led to radical new understandings of a wide range of gastrointestinal problems. Dr. Gershon was an early collaborator with Dr. Welch, serving as co-director of the BrainGut Initiative. With Dr. Welch, Dr. Gershon discovered that intestinal nerve cells produce the nurture hormone, oxytocin, which helps to keep gastrointestinal inflammation from getting out of hand and ameliorates the adverse effects of prematurity on the gut. Dr. Gershon continues to work with the Nurture Science Program, helping to design experiments that study the effects of the molecules of nurture on brain-gut interaction during development.
Jasmine Kaidbey, MS
Jasmine Kaidbey is a research technician working on animal models of neonatal separation and nurture. Her work involves study designing, behavioral assessment, routine animal care, tissue processing, and data analysis.
She started at the Nurture Science Program as a Master's student studying the effects of vagotomy on maternal-offspring emotional connection in rat pups and their dams. She also worked as a student researcher at Children's National Medical Center in fetal and neonatal brain imaging, which prompted her interest in early development.
Benjamin Klein, MD
Dr. Klein is an expert in protein chemistry and cell and molecular biology. He is interested in the study of symbiotic mother-infant nurture interaction as it relates to disease prevention.
In collaborating with the Nurture Science Program, he aims to look at breastfeeding between mother and newborn at the molecular level. He is particularly interested in the role of breast milk in tumor suppression processes in the mammary gland, and in doing so studies peptides, such as oxytocin, which are secreted in the milk that find their way to gut epithelium. He is interested in looking at these signals in the gut and in the brain as a mechanism to elucidate mental and physical development of the infant.
Manon Ranger, PhD
Dr. Manon Ranger is a research scientist and registered nurse whose translational research focuses on integrating basic animal studies with clinical studies in preterm neonates undergoing intensive neonatal care to uncover mechanisms of vulnerability to early adversity (e.g. separation from the mother, stress, and pain) in relation to brain development.
Within the Nurture Science Program, her priority research areas are to undercover new biomarkers of risk for suboptimal neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants, with the overall goal to develop methods to mitigate the adverse effects of these undesirable events using animal models. She is looking beyond the boundaries of traditional nursing research by conducting cross-disciplinary translational research so that her work will have a direct impact for improving the health of the most vulnerable infants and their families.
Hadassah Tamir, PhD
Dr. Tamir works in the departments of Pathology and Cell Biology and Psychiatry. Dr. Tamir has a long-standing interest in the mechanism of storage and secretion of biogenic amines and in particular serotonin (5-HT).
Together with Dr. Gershon, she has been studying the parafollicular cells of the thyroid as a model of serotonergic neurons. More recently, Dr. Tamir has studied signal transduction pathways downstream of the 5-HT1A receptor. Dr. Tamir’s research has led her to be greatly interested in testing the activity of the peptide oxytocin on its receptors in the gut and finding the transduction pathways that may be activated. Dr. Tamir has been a valuable mentor to Dr. Welch for the past 15 years.
Suzanne Bryjak, MA, BSN, HN-BC
Suzanne Milkiewicz-Bryjak has been a neonatal intensive care (NICU) nurse for 20 years. She has developed family support programming in several New Jersey hospitals, developing Parent Advisory Councils with an emphasis on strengthening parent and staff education on successfully supporting NICU families.
She holds a board certification in holistic nursing and is co-creator of Visionary Healing: Incorporating Holistic Care and Integrative Modalities in the NICU, which looks at stress reduction modalities for family and staff to incorporate improved outcomes. She has co-authored posters on integration of family-centered care in the NICU for the Vermont Oxford Network and the Gravens Conference and works on quality improvement initiatives to successfully involve families in NICU care. Her master’s thesis focused on identifying gaps in care in the NICU through qualitative interviews and narrative from both family and staff perspectives. She is currently working on a doctorate in medical humanities at Drew University. Her dissertation research will focus on evaluating medical narrative as a form of support in the NICU. Suzanne’s current work as a Nurture Specialist includes helping families in the NICU establish and strengthen emotional connection, as well as directing Nurture Specialist training initiatives for the Nurture Science Program.
Mary McKiernan, RNC
Mary is a Nurture Specialist with the Nurture Science Program. Previously, Mary worked as a certified registered nurse in the Neonatal ICU at Children’s Hospital of New York for over 20 years.
She also has experience working with special needs children in the home care setting. Mary facilitates Family Nurture Intervention, and helps collect medical data, both with families in the NICU and preschool-aged children enrolled in other Nurture Science Program’s studies.
Beatriz Preter, LCSW
Beatriz Preter is a Nurture Specialist and a licensed clinical social worker, supporting the Connecticut study for Preschool Family Nurture Intervention (FNI).
She actively recruits families to be part of the study and facilitates the group sessions. She also translates all necessary documents from English to Spanish.
Constance Rubenstein, BSN, RN
Constance is a Nurture Specialist with the Nurture Science Program. She screens and recruits participants and facilitates the Family Nurture Intervention.
This also includes documentation of all interventions and collaboration with the NICU staff, research assistants, and the principal investigator. She is also a Nurture Specialist at the Connecticut study site, which works with mothers and children ages 2.5 to 4.5 years who have behavioral and developmental concerns. At the weekly sessions, she assesses the emotional connection of the mothers and children using the Welch Emotional Connection Screen (WECS). She prepares the assessment materials and supports the mothers and children during the study days. Together with the other Nurture Specialists, she translates observations into strategies to promote further emotional connection.
Katherine Velez, LMSW
Katherine Velez is a licensed social worker with experience working with vulnerable families in the nonprofit sector with a concentration on the Spanish-speaking population.
As the research coordinator in the Connecticut study for Preschool Family Nurture Intervention (FNI), she is part of a team conducting randomized clinical trials to validate the Nurture Science Program’s intervention. Katherine also works as a Nurture Specialist in our NICU FNI randomized controlled trial.
Morgan Firestein, PhD Candidate
Morgan Firestein is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. Working closely with the Nurture Science Program and faculty in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, her research spans the prenatal period through early childhood years in order to understand influences of neurodevelopmental trajectories.
Specifically, her research explores prenatal and early postnatal factors that may contribute to the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders with an emphasis on the role of placental regulation. Her work with the Nurture Science Program has focused on studying placental biomarkers which may indicate risk for abnormal neurodevelopment among preterm infants and investigating how high maternal nurture in the early environment may buffer infants against behavioral phenotypes associated with autism. She was a 2012 Amgen Scholar and as a doctoral student, Morgan has received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and a Society for Pediatric Research Student Research Award. She is also a member of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology, the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, and the Society for Neuroscience.
Joe Barone, BS, BFA
Joe Barone is a research coordinator at the Nurture Science Program. He started as a volunteer at the Nurture Science Program (NSP) in 2014, after working as an EMT in New York City.
Currently, he is involved with most aspects of the NSP, from basic and clinical research at CUMC to the growing number of off-site research locations, both in NICUs and community health centers across the country. Joe’s goal at the NSP is to continue his research and discover the biological basis of nurture and its positive effects on the long-term outcomes of both children and parents.
Mai Mitsuyama, BA
Mai Mitsuyama is a research coordinator at the Nurture Science Program. Previously, under the direction of Dr. Amie Hane, she worked on coding mother-infant interactions of four-month-old infants and their mothers for the original Family Nurture Intervention study.
She is currently an integral part of NSP as she recruits potential participants, administers questionnaires, collects samples, and conducts follow-up visits for the FNI RCT replication study and other studies conducted by NSP.
Mitsuyama, M. (May, 2016). Family Nurture Intervention and Mother-Infant Emotional Connectedness at Infant Correct Age Four Months. Honors thesis, Department of Psychology, Williams College
Mitsuyama, M., Wieman, S., Austin. J., Beebe. B.B., Ludwig, R., Myers, M., Hane, A., & Welch, M.G. Family nurture intervention and mother-infant social engagement at infant corrected-age four months. Presented as a poster at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Austin, TX.
Mitsuyama, M., Wieman, S., LaCoursiere, J.N., Myers, M.M., Ludwig, R.J., & Welch, M.G. Emotional connection in mothers and preterm infants and infant biobehavioral responding to the still-face paradigm. To be presented as a poster at the meeting of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology, Washington, DC.
Alexandra Schulz, BA
Alexandra Schulz is a research coordinator for the Nurture Science Program. She works with the participants in the randomized controlled trial at MSCHONY, and coordinates data collection, storage, and follow-up assessments.
She also assists in coordinating basic science lab research. Alexandra’s interests in psychobiology of infant development began while she was a student at Barnard College. Her goal is to contribute to the Family Nurture Intervention research and strengthen her clinical research skills. She hopes to help set the replication RCT on a successful path, and continue her career studying medicine and behavioral interventions which may improve developmental outcomes.
Tang K, Sharpe W, Schulz A, Tam E, Grosse I, Tis J, Cullinane D. (2014) Determining Bruise Etiology in Muscle Tissue using Finite Element Analysis. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 59(2): 371-374.
Calakos KC, Blackman D, Schulz AM, Bauer EP (2017) Distribution of type I corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF1) receptors on GABAergic neurons within the basolateral amygdala. Synapse. 71(4).
Schulz A. (May, 2016). The Effects of Acute Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Administration on Fear Memory Reconsolidation. Senior thesis, Department of Neuroscience, Barnard College.