Current Fellows

Claudia Aguirre, BA

PhD Student, Psychology Behavioral Neuroscience 

University of California, Los Angeles

IRTI Senior Mentor: Dr. Silvia Lopez-Guzman, PhD, NIH National Institute of Mental Health

IRTI Peer Mentor: Natalia Quijano Cardé, PhD, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

Claudia Aguirre is a PhD candidate in the Psychology Behavioral Neuroscience Program at UCLA. She received her BA in Psychology from USC where she conducted nicotine and tobacco research in clinical populations at under the mentorship of Dr. Adam Leventhal. She is currently working on her PhD at UCLA under the mentorship of Dr. Alicia Izquierdo. Her research broadly informs the neural mechanisms underlying cognitive flexibility and focuses on the contribution of cortico-amygdalar circuits to flexible reward learning under varying levels of uncertainty and under different conditions for learning (i.e. learning about stimuli vs. actions). During her post-doctoral training, she would like to examine how neuroadaptations following alcohol experience may arise, and ultimately lead to cognitive impairments and maladaptive decision-making. Her long-term goal is to become an independent neuroscientist at a major research university working towards integrating preclinical and clinical models of alcohol addiction. 

Selected Publications:

Nieto, S.J., Grodin, E.N., Aguirre, C.G., Izquierdo, A., Ray, L. Translational opportunities  in animal and human models to study alcohol use disorder. Translational Psychiatry 11, 496  (2021). 

*Harris, C., *Aguirre, C.G., Kolli, S., Das, K., Izquierdo, A., & Soltani, A. (2021). Unique  features of stimulus-based probabilistic reversal learning. Behavioral neuroscience, 135(4),  550–570. (*co-first authors

Aguirre, C. G., Kanak, D., Stolyarova, A., Marty, V., Spigelman, I., Ray, L., & Izquierdo, A  (2020). Sex-dependent effects of chronic intermittent voluntary alcohol consumption on  attentional, but not motivational, measures during probabilistic learning and reversal. PLOS  ONE 15(6): e0234729.

Raul Bejarano-Romero, MA

PhD Student, Interdisciplinary Research on Substance Use
San Diego State University / University of California, San Diego

eIRTI Senior Mentor: David Goodman, PhD, University of California Los Angeles

eIRTI Peer Mentor: Miguel Pinedo, PhD, University of Texas at Austin

Raul Bejarano-Romero is a third-year PhD student in Interdisciplinary Research on Substance Use (IRSU) at SDSU/UCSD. He earned his B.A. in Political Science from the National & Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and his M.A in Political Science from the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE). His research interests are in cannabis regulation, blood-borne disease prevention among people who inject drugs, harm reduction, human rights in the context of the war on drugs, and organized crime in Mexico. As a senior drug research fellow at CIDE’s Central Region Drug Policy Program (PPD), he led a program that sought to measure the size and value of the marijuana markets in Mexico. This initiative has received funding by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and is a pioneering tool to orient policy makers in the path forward towards regulation. Currently, he is conducting research on the role that community violence exposure plays on HIV/HCV risk behaviors and treatment access among people who inject drugs in the Tijuana/San Diego region. 

Selected Publications:

Bejarano Romero, R (2021) Electoral Competition, Protection Rackets, and Organized Crime  Related Violence in Mexico. Política y Gobierno. 28(1): 1-21. 

Treviño Rangel, J, Bejarano Romero R, Atuesta L, & Velázquez S, (2021) Deadly force and denial:  the military’s legacy in Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’. International Journal of Human Rights, 26(4):  567-590. 

Pitpitan, E., Wiginton, J., Bejarano Romero R & Abu Baker, D. Promoting HIV care continuum  outcomes among people who use drugs and alcohol: A systematic review of randomized  trials published from 2011 to 2021. Under Review.

Marybel Robledo Gonzalez, PhD

Assistant Project Scientist, Department of Psychiatry
The Ohio State University

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Felipe González Castro, PhD, Arizona State University

eIRTI Peer Mentor: Nalini Negi, PhD, University of Maryland

Dr. Marybel Robledo Gonzalez is an Assistant Project Scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Gonzalez’s research investigates bio-social ecological models of risk and resilience for alcohol use, and cognitive and mental health among youth. Dr. Gonzalez’s research also focuses on the social determinants of alcohol use and other substance use among Latinx/Hispanic youth and potential co-emerging mental health disparities in adolescence. She is trained as a developmental neurocognitive scientist, obtaining her doctorate in Cognitive Science at UCSD. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Dr. Gonzalez has worked extensively on large neurocognitive studies of adolescent substance use, including the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) ® Study and the National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence (NCANDA) Study. She is the recipient of the UC Berkeley undergraduate Regents’ and Chancellor’s Scholarship, the Cota-Robles Fellowship and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Award. 

Selected Publications:

Gonzalez, M.R., Uban, K.A., Tapert, S., Sowell, E.R. (2023). Prenatal tobacco exposure associations with physical health  and neurodevelopment in the ABCD cohort. Health Psychology.

*Sanchez, M.,*Gonzalez, M.R., Fernandez, A., Wang, W., Barton, A., Diaz, V. (accepted). Sociocultural Influences of  Alcohol Expectancies in Early Adolescence: Findings from the ABCD Study. Health Psychology. M.R.G. contributed to the  conceptualization of the study, plan of analysis, writing of the manuscript draft, edited and reviewed the manuscript at all stages. 

Gonzalez, M.R., Brown, S., Pelham, W.E., Bodison, S.C., MCCabe, C., Baker, F., Baskin-Sommers, A., Dick, A.S.,  Dowling, G.J., Gebreselassie, S., Guillaume, M.J., Marshall, A.T., Sheth, C.S., Sowell, E.R., Van Rinsveld, A.M., & Tapert,  S. (Accepted). Family Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Risks of Financial Insecurity and Coping. Journal  of Research on Adolescence. 

Danielle Levitt, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology & Sports Management 
Texas Tech University

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Jason Collier, PhD, Louisiana State University

eIRTI Peer Mentor: Luis Natividad, PhD, University of Texas at Austin

Danielle Levitt is an Assistant Professor of Exercise Physiology in the Department of Kinesiology & Sport Management at Texas Tech University. She earned her PhD in Biology with a concentration in Exercise Physiology at the University of North Texas and completed a T32/F32 postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Physiology and the Comprehensive Alcohol-HIV/AIDS Research Center at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-New Orleans. Her long-term research goal is to understand the mechanisms by which lifestyle factors, contribute to metabolic dysfunction and to identify therapeutic strategies to improve metabolic outcomes in affected individuals. Currently, her foci are: 1) alcohol-mediated impairment of myoblast bioenergetic function and its impact on skeletal muscle regeneration; 2) relationships between impaired mitochondrial and glycolytic function and risk for metabolic disease and 3) interorgan crosstalk and the impacts of alcohol and exercise. Her primary goal for eIRTI is to work with her tri-mentoring team and successfully compete for R-series funding to elucidate mechanisms underlying alcohol-mediated metabolic changes that may contribute to development of type 2 diabetes with a focus on interorgan communication. 

Selected Publications:

Levitt, DE, Luk, H-Y, and Vingren, JL. (2023). Alcohol, resistance exercise, and mTOR pathway signaling:  An evidence-based narrative review. Biomolecules. Special Issue: Molecular Biology of Skeletal Muscle  Regeneration and Adaptation. 13(1):2. PMID: 36671386. DOI: 10.3390/biom13010002

Bourgeois, BL, Levitt, DE, Molina, PE, and Simon, L. (2022). Differential expression of adipocyte and  myotube extracellular vesicle miRNA cargo in chronic binge alcohol-administered SIV-infected male  macaques. Alcohol. Ahead-of-print. PMID: 36351490. DOI: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2022.11.001. 

Levitt, DE, Simon, L, Lin, H-Y, Siggins, RW, Ferguson, TF, Molina, PE, and Welsh, DA. (2022). Alcohol use,  physical activity and muscle strength moderate the relationship between body composition and frailty risk  among people living with HIV. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 46(11):2041-2053. PMID:  36124866. DOI: 10.1111/acer.14941. 

Raymond Moody, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Sciences
University of Connecticut 

IRTI Senior Mentor: Carlos Rodriguez Diaz, PhD, Boston University

IRTI Peer Mentor: Diana Sheehan, PhD, Florida International University

Raymond L. Moody is a clinical psychologist engaged in research that examines the impact of social and psychological stress on substance use and sexual behavior among marginalized groups, including sexual and gender minorities. Ray earned his PhD in Health Psychology & Clinical Science from The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2020 and is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the T32 Substance Abuse Epidemiology Training Program at Columbia. In August 2023, he will join the University of Connecticut as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Sciences. His R36-funded dissertation examined executive attention and emotion regulation as mediating mechanisms linking syndemic conditions and HIV transmission risk behavior among sexual minority men. His current projects focus on understanding health inequities among individuals living at the intersections of multiple forms of marginalization. He has published more than 25 publications in peer-reviewed journals and is developing a K-award application to examine the multilevel impacts of intersecting stigmas on substance use and sexual health among Hispanic sexual minority men who use drugs. His eIRTI goals include advancing his grant writing skills, strengthening his K application, and networking with Hispanic substance use experts. 

Selected Publications:

Moody, R. L., Carter, J. A., Talan, A. J., Sizemore, M., Russell, S. T., & Rendina, H. J.  (2022). Associations of adverse and protective childhood experiences with thwarted belongingness, perceived burdensomeness, and suicide risk among sexual minority men. Psychological Medicine, 1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0033291722002823.

Moody, R. L., Chen, Y. T., Schneider, J. A., Knox, J., Timmins, L., Hanson, H., Koli, K., Durrell, M., Dehlin, J., Eavou, R., Martins, S. S., & Duncan, D. T. (2022). Polysubstance use in a community sample of Black cisgender sexual minority men and transgender women in Chicago during initial COVID-19 pandemic peak. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy, 17(1), 1-8. PMCID: PMC8796750.

Shrader, C-H, Stephenson, R., Moody, R. L., & Knox, J. (2022). Binge drinking moderates unprotected sex among HIV sero-similar same-sex male couples: An Actor-Partner Interdependence Model. AIDS and Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10461-022-03914-z.

Nathan Vardeleon, MA

Doctoral Student, Behavioral & Cellular Neuroscience
Texas A&M University

IRTI Senior Mentor: Mary Kay Lobo, PhD, University of Maryland

IRTI Peer Mentor: Vena Martinez, PhD, Yale University

Nathan Vardeleon is a second year PhD student attending Texas A&M University’s College of Psychological & Brain Sciences in the Behavioral & Cellular Neuroscience Program under the lab and mentorship of Dr. Carlos Bolaños. As a graduate student he has taken part in several projects that investigate the long- and short-term effects of clinical treatments of commonly prescribed therapeutics such as: methylphenidate, alprazolam, and fluoxetine, and how these pretreatments in adolescence may create physiological and behavioral consequences in adulthood. His current project seeks to elucidate the physiological and behavioral side effects of a co-treatment of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) such as fluoxetine (Prozac), and an anxiolytic such as alprazolam (Xanax) as there has been an increase in the polypharmacy among adolescents in the past decade. His long-term career goal is to continue in the pursuit of knowledge of the underlying mechanism(s) of drug use and abuse and continue to grow as a thorough and diligent neuroscientist. 

Selected Publications:

Iñiguez, S. D., Flores-Ramirez, F. J., Themann, A., & Lira, O. (2021). Adolescent fluoxetine exposure induces persistent gene expression changes in the hippocampus of adult male C57BL/6 mice. Molecular Neurobiology, 58(4), 1683-1694.

Garcia-Carachure, I., Flores-Ramirez, F. J., Castillo, S. A., Themann, A., Arenivar, M. A., Preciado-Piña, J., … & Iñiguez, S. D. (2020). Enduring effects of adolescent ketamine exposure on cocaine-and sucrose-induced reward in male and female C57BL/6 mice. Neuropsychopharmacology, 45(9), 1536-1544.

Flores-Ramirez, F.J., Garcia-Carachure, I., Sanchez, D.O., Gonzalez, C., Castillo, S.A., Arenivar, M.A., Themann, A., Lira, O., Rodriguez, M., Preciado-Piña, J. and Iñiguez, S.D., 2019. Fluoxetine exposure in adolescent and adult female mice decreases cocaine and sucrose preference later in life. Journal of psychopharmacology, 33(1), pp.145-153.