2021 Fellows

Saul Alamilla, PhD

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Science
Kennesaw State University

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Andrea Hussong, PhD

Dr. Alamilla is a faculty member in the Department of Psychological Science at Kennesaw State University. Prior to joining KSU, he was a Faculty Fellow in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University, where he was also affiliated with the Center for Practice and Research at the Intersection of Information, Society, and Methodology. Dr. Alamilla’s research and scholarship address the social ecology of health and wellbeing among diverse, marginalized, and underrepresented groups. He is interested in the antecedents and consequences of multiculturalism, especially the implications for the health and wellbeing of diverse populations. His work utilizes interdisciplinary perspectives to examine the impact of contextual factors including cultural factors, adversity, and resilience on wellbeing and substance use in particular. He primarily teaches courses in research methods and statistics in psychology, multicultural psychology, and applied psychology. In addition to research and teaching, he serves as a reviewer for several journals and is senior associate editor of Behavioral Medicine (Taylor & Francis). He received a PhD in Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2009, where he received a Eugene-Cota Robles Fellowship.

Selected Publications:

Alamilla, S. G., Barney, B., Small, R., Wang, S. C., Schwartz, S. J., Donovan, R. A., & Lewis, C. (2019). Explaining the Immigrant Paradox: The influence of acculturation, enculturation, and acculturative stress on problematic alcohol consumption. Behavioral Medicine. 10.1080/08964289.2018.1539945


Adelis Cruz, BS

Doctoral Student, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
Texas A&M University

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Alicia Izquierdo, PhD

Adelis Cruz is a third-year PhD student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University where she is pursuing a degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Behavioral and Cellular Neuroscience. She received a BS in Biological Sciences and a minor in Psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso and where she received research training through the BUILDING SCHOLARS program. As an undergraduate, Adelis worked under the mentorship of Dr. Edward Castañeda investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of behavioral sensitization to amphetamine using a rodent model. As a graduate student, Adelis works under the mentorship of Dr. Rachel Smith investigating the neurobiological mechanisms of compulsive drug seeking and relapse using rodent models of drug addiction. She has conducted research concerning the role of neuronal projections from the prelimbic prefrontal cortex to rostromedial tegmental nucleus in cue-induced reinstatement of cocaine seeking. Her current research focuses on the neural mechanisms that control compulsive drug seeking. Specifically, she aims to investigate the role of the prefrontal cortex and thalamus in the recruitment of neural mechanisms that regulate compulsive drug seeking. Her long-term career goal is to become an independent neuroscientist and to contribute to research focused on dysfunctional neural mechanisms associated with drug addiction.

Selected Publications:

Cruz AM, Spencer HF, Kim TH, Jhou TC, Smith RJ (in press) Prelimbic cortical projections to rostromedial tegmental nucleus play a suppressive role in cueinduced reinstatement of cocaine seeking. Neuropsychopharmacology.

Cruz AM, Kim TH, Smith RJ (in press) Monosynaptic retrograde tracing from prelimbic neuron subpopulations projecting to either nucleus accumbens core or rostromedial tegmental nucleus. Frontiers in Neural Circuits.

Mercedes Hernandez, PhD

Assistant Professor, Steve Hicks School of Social Work
University of Texas at Austin

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Felipe Gonzalez-Castro, PhD

Mercedes Hernandez is an assistant professor at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at University of Texas at Austin. She received her PhD in social work from the University of Southern California. Her research interests are informed by her extensive clinical practice experience in community mental health settings and are focused on addressing mental and behavioral health disparities among Latinx with an emphasis on help-seeking behaviors and early intervention outcomes. Her work in the area of serious mental illness and Latinx revealed the challenges presented by illness-related stressors and the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism with negative individual and social consequences. Dr. Hernandez’s current research expands on previous work by examining the role of sociocultural factors and the unique mechanisms contributing to risk for and resilience against risky drinking behavior among Latina adults.

Selected Publications:

Hernandez, M., von Sternberg, K. L., & Velasquez, M. M. (2020). Alcohol use and problems among Latinas at risk of an alcoholexposed pregnancy: The role of acculturation and interpersonal factors. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/15332640.2020.1777609

Hernandez, M., von Sternberg, K. L., Castro, Y., & Velasquez, M. M.(2019). The role of acculturation and alcohol problems on frequency of cannabis use among Latinas at risk of an alcoholexposed pregnancy. Substance Use & Misuse, 54 (12), 19801990. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2019.1625399


Marilyn Horta, PhD

Postdoctoral Scholar, Public Health
University of Florida

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Losin

Marilyn Horta is a NIDA T32 Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Florida Substance Abuse Training Center in Public Health. She is affiliated with the University of Florida Center for Addiction Research and Education as well as the Pain Research and Intervention Center of Excellence. Marilyn’s research interests are in the neurobiological and psychosocial contributors to pain and substance use across development, primarily in aging. As a graduate student, she studied the effects of oxytocin on social cognition, which is not well-described yet in older adults, and sought to better understand the therapeutic potential of intranasal oxytocin on a brain and behavioral level. Currently, Marilyn is examining the impact of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic on pain and substance use in older adults. In an upcoming pilot, Marilyn will examine the impact of chronic pain on decision-making, reward processing, and substance use among older adults. Her long-term goal is to conduct rigorous, inclusive research that can inform the development of effective interventions to promote healthful aging.

Selected Publications:

Horta, M., Pehlivanoglu, D., Ebner, N. C. (2020). The Role of Intranasal Oxytocin on Social Cognition: an Integrative Human Lifespan Approach. Current Behavioral Neuroscience Reports. DOI: 10.1007/s40473-020-00214-5

Horta, M., Kaylor, K., Feifel, D., Ebner, N. C. (2020). Chronic oxytocin administration as a tool for investigation and treatment: A cross-disciplinary systematic review. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.10.012

Horta, M., Ziaei, M., Lin, T., Porges, E. C., Fischer, H., Feifel, D., Spreng, R. N., Ebner, N.C. (2019). Oxytocin alters patterns of brain activity and amygdalar connectivity by age during dynamic facial emotion identification. Neurobiology of Aging. DOI: 10.1016/J.NEUROBIOLAGING.2019.01.016

Alejandra Jacotte-Simancas, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Physiology
Louisiana State University

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Laura O’Dell, PhD

Dr. Jacotte received her PhD in Neuroscience from Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain where she studied the effect of voluntary physical exercise and citicoline on reducing cognitive deficits following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Currently, her research is focused on elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying post-TBI escalation of alcohol consumption and anxiety-like behavior using different approaches such as behavioral analysis, electrophysiology, circuit-based manipulations, and site-specific neuropharmacology. Her long-term research interest includes examining the effectiveness of physical exercise to reduce different comorbidities associated with TBI, specifically pain and substance use disorder and its impact on post-TBI recovery.

Selected Publications:

Jacotte-Simancas A., Costa-Miserachs D, Coll-Andreu M., Torras-Garcia, M., Borlongan C., Portel-Cortes I. (2015) Effects of voluntary physical exercise, citicoline and combined treatment on object recognition memory, neurogenesis and neuroprotection after traumatic brain injury in rats. Journal of Neurotrauma. 32:739-751.


Anel Jaramillo, PhD

Postdoctoral Scholar
Vanderbilt University

eIRTI Senior Mentor: Marisela Morales, PhD

Anel A. Jaramillo was born in Texas from Mexican-immigrants and is a first-generation college graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. After receiving her B.S. in Biology, Dr. Jaramillo attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and obtained her PhD in Neuroscience in 2017. She is currently a postdoctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University where she uses preclinical alcohol and stress models to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying anxiety and abstinence-induced affective disturbances. Outside of academia, Dr. Jaramillo enjoys exploring the Nashville music scene, gardening, and doing things that keep her dog active.

Selected Publications:

Jaramillo A.A., Williford K.M., Marshall C., Winder D.G., Centanni S.W. Transient BNST activity associates with approach behavior in a stressful environment and is modulated by the parabrachial nucleus. Neurobiology of Stress. 2020 Aug 1; 13:100247. PubMed PMID: 33344702

Jaramillo A.A., Van Voorhies K., Besheer J. Silencing the insularstriatal circuit decreases alcohol selfadministration and increases sensitivity to alcohol. Behavioral Brain Research. 2018 Aug 1;348:7481. PubMed PMID: 29660441

Jaramillo A.A., Randall P.A., Stewart S., Fortino B., Van Voorhies K., Besheer J. Functional role for corticalstriatal circuitry in modulating alcohol selfadministration. Neuropharmacology. 2017 Mar 1;130:4253. PubMed PMID: 29183687