Graduate Students

 Andrew Vo: I am currently completing my doctoral studies in Psychology (Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience) under the direction of Dr. Penny MacDonald at the Brain and Mind Institute, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario.  I am interested in the role of dopamine and the striatum in different aspects of cognition.  My dissertation explores how cognitive functions mediated by the ventral striatum evolve with the progression of Parkinson’s disease and how dopaminergic therapy might address these symptoms.  We use behavioural, psychopharmacological, and functional MRI in both patients with Parkinson’s disease and healthy volunteers to test our hypotheses.
4W9A1280_webAbdullah Al-Jaja: My name is Abdullah Al Jaja. I am completing my PhD in neuroscience under the co-supervision of Dr. Penny MacDonald (PI) and Dr. Jessica Grahn. My research investigates several aspects of Parkinson’s disease (PD). From a molecular level, we are looking at the genetic polymorphisms that increase or decrease dopaminergic signaling in the striatum. In another study, I am examining the effect of cognitive training and anxiety reduction on freezing of gait in PD patients. And lastly my third project investigate the changes in brain EEG activity and neural connectivity following auditory and visual processing. Globally, my projects aim to increase and strengthen our understanding of the dorsal and ventral striatum in PD.  
4W9A0387_web2Nicholas Handfield-Jones: I am a Master’s of Neuroscience student completing my thesis under the co-supervision of Dr. Penny MacDonald (PI), Dr. Ali Khan, and Dr. Adrian Owen. My research focuses primarily on understanding the neuroanatomy and neurocircuitry of the substantia nigra pars compacta and the ventral tegmental area, two important midbrain nuclei involved in a wide range of behaviours and diseases. My thesis aims to distinguish them and to map their neural projections using magnetic resonance imaging. I am also conducting a study investigating cognitive assessment scores of Parkinson’s disease patients.  
4W9A0365_web2Erind Alushaj: I am completing my MSc in Neuroscience under the co-supervision of Dr. Penny MacDonald (PI), Dr. Ali Khan, and Dr. Adrian Owen. My research focuses on defining the effects of early-stage Parkinson’s disease on the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area. We are using magnetic resonance imaging to parcellate these nuclei into sub-regions and detect changes in their structure, projections, and iron susceptibility using various techniques. I am also conducting a study looking to uncover preclinical biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease in patients with REM Sleep Behaviour Disorder (RBD).  
Dimuthu Hemachandra: I am a Ph.D. student in the School of Biomedical Engineering at UWO. I completed my undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and I obtained my MSc. in Astrophysics from the University of Western Ontario. My current research project is focused on analyzing the structural connectivity of the brain using Diffusion MRI to find a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease. I am co-supervised by Dr. Ali Khan & Dr. Penny MacDonald  
Maggie Prenger: I am a MSc Neuroscience student under the co-supervision of Dr. Penny MacDonald and Dr. Adrian Owen. I am primarily interested in how emotion processing and social cognition are affected by Parkinson’s disease. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and electromyography, we are investigating the role of brain and facial muscle activity in emotion recognition. We are also looking at brain activity during the comprehension and appreciation of jokes. The results of these investigations will inform about the role of dopamine in brain regions responsible for important social processes. We will also gain knowledge regarding the relatively understudied emotional and social symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and how best to treat these symptoms.  
Oren Princz-Lebel: I am completing a MSc in Neuroscience under the co-supervision of Dr. Penny MacDonald, Dr. Tim Bussey & Dr. Lisa Saksida. I am interested in the neuropathology that underlies cognitive impairments in psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. My research focuses on exploring the role of the dorsal and ventral striatum in stimulus-response learning, and how these regions are affected in disease states like Parkinson’s. We are using pharmacological, behavioural and optogenetic techniques in animal models to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms that drive this process and in hopes of providing new avenues for treatment and diagnosis in the clinic.  


Kasey Van Hedger: I am joining Dr. Penny MacDonald’s lab as a postdoc in the summer of 2018 to pursue my research interests in the neural, cognitive, and behavioral effects of psychiatric disorders. I began my research career as an undergraduate at Smith College where I worked on projects assessing hazardous alcohol use and drinking games participation among high school and college students with Byron Zamboanga. I completed my PhD in 2015 at the University of Chicago studying the psychophysiology of time perception with Greg Norman, and have spent the past three years as a postdoc in the Human Behavioral Pharmacology Lab working with Harriet de Wit. I am interested in psychophysiology, neuropsychopharmacology, and neuroimaging, particularly as each contributes to our understanding of substance use disorders.  


4W9A0350_web2Ozhand Ganjavi: To be completed  



  • Adrian Owen
  • Mel Goodale
  • Ali Khan
  • Tim Bussey
  • Lisa Saksida
  • Frank Prato
  • Lena Palaniyappan
  • Stefan Kohler
  • Brian Corneil
  • Richard Kim
  • Jessica Grahn
  • Mandar Jog: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Mary Jenkins: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Hooman Ganjavi: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Daniel Mendonca
  • Jennifer Barr: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Marcus Povitz: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Alia Kashgari: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry
  • Michael Mak: UWO – Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry


Trainees: Current & Past

Current Undergraduate Thesis Students


Western Work-Study Program

  • Jeffrey Liang (2018-2019)

Research Assistant

  • Ivan Witt

Current Volunteers

  • Jeffrey Liang
  • Jackshani Jeevaretnam

Lab Alumni


  • Yoshiko Yabe, PhD

Graduate Students

  • Shiny Yang, MSc
  • Nole Hiebert, MSc, PhD (completed both degrees in the lab, UWO Medical School, Class of 2022)
  • Daniel Glizer, MA
  • Kate Merritt, MSc (UOttawa Medical School, Class of 2022)
  • Brian Robertson, MSc (UWO Medical School)

Thesis Students

  • Jessica Chuchin (Graduate Student, Ryerson University, Fall 2019)
  • Cleo Davies-Chalmers
  • Audrey Cullis
  • Rita Gustainis
  • Marc Lawrence (Medical School @ University of Ottawa)
  • Brian Lauzon (McMaster University, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine)
  • Lauren Chan
  • Marc Manzo
  • Collier Jiang (Medical School @ UofT)
  • Halley Gallant
  • Shiny Yang
  • Alyson Zwicker (Grad student, Pathology, Dalhousie University)
  • Jeffrey Lam
  • Omer Dost, MD (Resident Physician – Alberta Health Services)
  • Alexander Yan (MD/PhD student, UWO)
  • Allyson Partridge
  • Brian Robertson
  • Andrew Vo

Other Undergrad Research Electives/Courses

  • Lauren Chan
  • James Joon-Hyuck Im
  • Shreya Roy  (Medical Student Research Elective)
  • Cody Van Valkenburg, MD (Medical Student Research ElectiveUWO, Class of 2018)
  • Stephanie Solcz (Medical Student Research Elective)

Visiting Students

  • Wannipat Buated, PT, BME, PhD (Japan)

Medical Residents (Research Electives)

  • Mimma Anello (Neurology, UWO)

Schulich Research Opportunities Program

  • Rajas Tipnis (Medical Student, UWO)

NSERC Summer Students

  • Kelvin Zhou (2018) (Class of 2021 @ Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University)

PEL Co-op Placement

  • Jack Bai (2018, A.B. Lucas Secondary School)
  • Alice Sung (2018, A.B. Lucas Secondary School)

Western Work-Study Program

  • Jessica Chuchin (2017-2019)
  • Jeffrey Liang (2018-2019)


  • Ravneet Nagra
  • Nikil Patil

Former Research Assistants

  • Alex A. MacDonald, MD (UofT Class of 2018, UWO Psychiatry Resident (2018-2023))
  • Ruzbeh Tamjeedi, LL.B
  • Stephanie Solcz, MD (UWO, Class of 2015)
  • Allison Berger

Note: Current status not available for all former students.