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Current Staff

PRIME Principal Investigator

Staff image of Diana PerkinsFor the past 15 years, Dr. Perkins has been funded by the NIMH to research psychosis risk prediction and early intervention, as well as investigations of the genetic basis of schizophrenia. She is currently the site Principal Investigator for ProNET, part of the AMP-SCZ program. She is the director for the ProNET project’s genetics and biospecimen core, overseeing the sample collection and biobanking at 28 different research sites. Learn more about ProNET here.

Dr. Perkins continues to have a strong interest in developing a genetics research program. She is UNC site investigator on a multi-site NIH grant headed by Carlos Patos that will collect DNA from 10,000 schizophrenia and 10,000 unaffected subjects. In addition to contributing blood samples to the NIMH, a UNC biospecimen repository was established to store DNA, total blood RNA, plasma, and cryopreserving white blood cells. Dr. Perkins has discovered a method of culturing small pluripotent stem cells from peripheral blood. The plan is to transdifferentiate these cell lines to neuronal stem cells with the aim of studying the genetics of neurodevelopment in schizophrenia. Dr. Perkins continues to work with developing protocols to study neuronal stem cells from the olfactory epithelium and investigating microRNAs in schizophrenia. Learn more about PRIME’s research affiliates here.

In addition to her research, Dr. Perkins is also the Director of the Early Psychosis Intervention Advisors of North Carolina. Learn more about EPI-NC here.

PRIME Research Faculty & Lead Clinician

Ms. Nieri received her B.A. in Sociology in May of 1991 from Washington College, Chesterfield, MD and her MSW in Clinical Mental Heath in May of 1996 from the University of Maryland at Baltimore. Her extensive Social Work training includes the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, MD, and the University of MD Community Psychiatry in Baltimore. Ms. Nieri worked as a Taylor Manor Hospital Clinician from 1996-98 in Ellicott City, MD, after which she joined University of North Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry Staff. As a Clinical Social Worker, Ms. Nieri served with distinction as a key member of the Schizophrenia Treatment and Evaluation Program (STEP) from 1998-2001, when she then accepted her current rank as Faculty. Ms. Nieri is an active clinician and researcher, with a current focus on the prodromal phase of schizophrenia. She has functioned as the assistant director of the Clinical and Functional Outcomes Assessment Unit of the NIMH funded CATIE Project, responsible for clinician rater training at the 54 participating sites involved in this multicenter project. She has also helped develop educational and cognitive behavioral therapy materials for patients with psychotic disorders and their family members. Her interests involve first episode and early intervention treatments and community education and awareness of psychotic disorders. She is a member of the International Early Psychosis Association. She has several publications to her credit including a chapter in the textbook Comprehensive Care of Schizophrenia.

Currently, Ms. Nieri serves as the lead clinician for the PRIME program, overseeing the majority of recruitment and clinical data collection for all current studies.

PRIME Research Program Manager

Staff image of Rachel BleggiRachel received her B.S. in Psychology with a Neuroscience minor in May of 2020 from UNC Chapel Hill. After spending the majority of her undergraduate career working in the UNC Department of Psychiatry’s NIRL Lab as a research assistant, she developed a passion for early psychosis research. During her time with NIRL, she assisted with data collection for the NAPLS and CogNIT projects. She joined PRIME in early 2021 as a Research Assistant where she assisted in the site startup for ProNET and briefly acted as the Administrative Coordinator for EPI-NC. Rachel is currently the Research Program Manager for PRIME, overseeing the participant coordination, study visits, and new staff training. She is also one of the lead contacts for the ProNET Genetics and Fluids core, assisting with the training and coordination of sample collection and biobanking. Rachel supervises PRIME’s undergraduate work study students. Learn more about PRIME’s Undergraduate Work Study Program here.

Daphney Bryan, B.S., MBS

PRIME Clinical Research Coordinator

Daphney Bryan staff photoDaphney was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She attended the University of South Florida and received her Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Public Health. During her undergraduate career, Daphney participated in an NIH-funded research program at the University of Florida. Her research study focused on the production of Interleukin-1 Beta in hypoxic gestation fetal sheep. This opportunity deepened her desire for research and medicine. Daphney then attended Duke University to further her education and obtained her Master’s in Biomedical Sciences. Upon graduating, Daphney worked as a Molecular Laboratory Technician at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. When her contract ended, Daphney desired to continue to work in research and gain clinical exposure. She has been working with the PRIME research team as a Clinical Research Assistant since February 2023 and is beyond blessed to be a part of this amazing team. This opportunity has allowed her to work with excellent researchers and continue to expand her knowledge in the field of research.

Calli Holshouser-McDaniel, B.A.

PRIME Clinical Research Coordinator

Calli was born and raised in Cornelius, North Carolina. She first attended University of North Carolina at Charlotte then transferred to Western Carolina University her junior year of college. Calli graduated with a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice. While she was in undergrad, Calli was a research assistant in the Psychology department and worked directly with Dr. Alvin Malesky and Dr. Cathy Grist studying the correlation between academic integrity and personality types. Calli recently joined the PRIME lab at UNC Chapel Hill in February 2023 as a clinical research assistant. Calli plans to pursue her Master’s in Publish Health or Women’s Health and make research her full-time career. After struggling with Endometriosis and PCOS for many years, Calli would like to dedicate her research career to researching the correlation between Endometriosis and mental health.