UNC Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD)
100 Renee Lynne Ct, Carrboro, NC 27510
Dr. Shen is an assistant professor (tenure-track) at UNC School of Medicine, with appointments in the Department of Psychiatry, UNC Neuroscience Center, and Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD). Dr. Shen is a translational neuroscientist who directs a research program with three aims: (1) To conduct longitudinal neuroimaging and deep phenotyping of infants to identify early markers and therapeutic targets for neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) including: autism, Fragile X syndrome, and Angelman syndrome. (2) To reverse-translate these findings in children to mechanistic studies in animal models and in vitro cell models. (3) To forward-translate this research to clinical trials delivering novel therapeutics to individuals with NDDs.
As an example of these three aims, (1) Dr. Shen’s lab published the first MRI study to longitudinally measure brain growth trajectories in infants prior to their diagnosis of autism, which demonstrated that brain enlargement in autism is detectable in infancy. Additionally, in three independent studies and cohorts of children, his lab replicated the consistent finding that infants and toddlers who were diagnosed with autism had excessive volume of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) surrounding the brain as early as 6 months of age, preceding the onset of diagnostic symptoms. (2) Dr. Shen is PI of a 5-year NIH-funded study, leading a collaboration of clinical and basic scientists to study early CSF pathophysiology and its downstream effects on brain development – using neuroimaging in infants with NDDs and mechanistic studies in corresponding mouse models of these NDDs. (3) Dr. Shen serves as PI or co-PI of multiple industry-sponsored clinical trials and studies, partnering with neurologists to collect CSF samples for biomarker discovery, obtain sleep and EEG measures, and deliver novel gene-based therapies to individuals with NDDs via CSF.
This work has received numerous recognitions. For two consecutive years, Dr. Shen’s first-authored papers were ranked as “Top 10 Papers of the Year” by Autism Speaks. In addition, five of his lab’s papers have been nominated by NIH as finalists for their annual report of “the most significant advances in autism research”. In 2018, Dr. Shen was named the Young Investigator of the Year by the International Society for Autism Research.
Prior to his research career, Dr. Shen worked for six years doing clinical work in the community as a behavioral treatment specialist to young children with autism, as well as adults with mental health challenges. Dr. Shen serves in several positions for the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), including founding officer of the INSAR Early Career Committee (supporting junior faculty worldwide); founding member of the INSAR Community Advisory Committee (advocating for autistic individuals and their families); and the standing study section of the Awards Committee. He serves on the Executive Committee, Genetics Core, and MRI Core of the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) Network – an NIH Autism Center of Excellence (https://ibis-network.com/).