SARRC Research Faculty
Christopher J. Smith, Ph.D.
Chief Science Officer
Dr. Christopher J. Smith is an experimental psychologist with expertise in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder and measuring associated traits. Dr. Smith oversees all diagnostic evaluations and assessments for our clients while also directing all internal and external research projects. Prior to joining us at SARRC, he worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he still maintains a faculty position. Originally drawn to study autism because of the complexity of the disorder, here at SARRC, Dr. Smith values the ability to work with clients across all age groups and engage in out-of-the-box research endeavors. Originally from New York, when he’s not doing science, he enjoys running, biking, hiking, and being active with his family.
Nicole Matthews, Ph.D.
Director of Research
Dr. Matthews’ research program includes multiple lines of research with a broad goal of improving quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Her recent research includes: (1) development and testing of adaptive functioning and social skills interventions for adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD); (2) the development of novel methods for improving access to ASD screening and evaluation, and (3) the experiences of individuals with ASD and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Raun Melmed, M.D.
Medical Director and SARRC Co-Founder
Raun D. Melmed, MD, co-founder and medical director of SARRC, is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and is director of the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is an Adjunct Senior Researcher at the Translational Genomics Institute in Phoenix and on faculty at Arizona State University. Dr. Melmed earned his medical degree at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa, and completed a fellowship at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Boston, where he was an Instructor at Harvard Medical School.
Research Coordinator I
Jasem is responsible for recruiting and assessing participants for the SPARK for Autism study. He is interested in learning more about neurodevelopmental disorders and their underlying genetic factors. In his free time, Jasem enjoys spending time with his family and friends as well as playing video games and sleeping.
Summer Boyd, PsyD
Diagnostic Rater II
Summer is a school psychologist that currently assists with a research study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) which is examining the progress and benefits of early intervention services. After helping educational teams for years, Summer decided to change roles so she can utilize her evaluation skills for various autism research studies and diagnostics. Her specific research interests involve measuring outcomes for students with autism who attend school in various educational settings. When not studying for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), Summer enjoys spending time with her children, hiking, billiards, yoga, and bowling.
Research Coordinator I
Sophia is responsible for coordinating multiple clinical research studies, most of which aim to investigate how medications and therapies can be used to improve symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder. Her responsibilities include communicating with participants and study staff, scheduling, recording data, recruitment, administering study tests when needed, and most importantly ensuring all aspects of the trial run smoothly. In her free time, you can find Sophia traveling, spending time with her friends and family, or scouring Arizona for the best coffee shop.
Kyle Ernest, PhD
Clinical Trials Manager
Kyle likes to think of herself as a utility player. She handles clinical trial contracts and budgets, provides support to clinical research staff, and works to improve operational efficiency. Her work requires frequent contact between sponsor representatives and SARRC staff involved with clinical trials. Kyle helps maximize participant enrollment by negotiations for funding, facilitating marketing campaigns, and addressing recruitment challenges as a liaison with SARRC’s recruitment core.
Zoë E. Hunter
Research Coordinator 2
As a Research Coordinator, Zoë is responsible for the MEASURE study looking at the Earlipoint eye tracking technology for measuring changes in social communication awareness and the effectiveness of interventions over time. She also oversees clinical trial recruitment and is in the process of learning to administer the assessments that are a part of the active studies. She graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Psychology and Honors College program (+ BA in Dance with Theatre minor) from Grand Canyon University (April 2022). Zoë loves the mission of SARRC and values the applied research focus of the research team. In the future she is planning to pursue higher education in psychology and continue, through research and future clinical work, to provide resources for individuals to reach their full potential in holistic well-being and purpose.
Stephen James, Ph.D.
Research Data Manager
Stephen is responsible for the organization, consistency, and integrity of data collected, and the export, analysis, and summary of data for publications. Stephen’s research interests include sex/gender differences in ASD and improving early screening and access to early diagnosis among underserved populations. Outside of doing research, Stephen enjoys traveling and spending time with his wife and their two dogs.
Data Entry Specialist
Will is a Data Entry Specialist with over a decade of experience. His roles include entering assessments, management of physical folders, and creating reports through scoring programs. In his free time, Will enjoys drawing, watching movies, and eating pizza with his dog in central Phoenix.
Padmaja Lakamsani, BS; CCRC
Senior Clinical Research Coordinator
Padmaja received her bachelor’s degree in science from Andhra University, India. She has experience in phase II-IV clinical trials for ADHD, Fragile X, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her responsibilities include coordinating studies in compliance with study protocol, local/federal laws and regulations, and overseeing the work of research coordinators. Padmaja loves her job and believes it is giving her the opportunity to help improve lives of individuals with ASD and their families. Padmaja is also a member of DEI committee at SARRC. She speaks English, Telugu and Hindi languages. In her free time, she loves spending time with her family and friends, watching movies, and cooking.
Research Training Manager
Amanda is the primary psychometrist for SARRC’S research team. She administers a variety of diagnostic assessments for research studies and other SARRC-wide programs, and trains other staff to administer these tools. She has experience working with infants as young as six-months old, toddlers, and young children, but teens and adults are her favorite population. After spending many sessions as the PEERS Teen Instructor, Amanda is currently the Parent Group Leader for the PEERS program. In her free time, she can be found creating in her studio, reading, spending time with her menagerie of cats, rockhounding, and cooking.
Zakiyyah oversees several different clinical trials which are focused mainly on decreasing symptoms of irritability in children and adolescents with ASD, assisting with data management, and helping administer evaluations for research participants. In her free time, Zakiyyah enjoys breakdancing with the local breaking community in Arizona, when she is not dancing, she is either rewatching her favorite Netflix shows or playing video games with her friends.
Senior Research Coordinator
Melissa is responsible for coordinating a research study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) which is examining the progress and benefits of early intervention. She also administers psychometric assessments and assists with recruitment for clinical trials. Melissa’s other roles outside of research include Teen Instructor in the PEERS Program as well as Chair of SARRC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. In her free time, she can be found reading, doing yoga, or spending time with family and friends.
Research Coordinator I
Hannah plays a supporting role in SARRC’s ongoing studies by reaching out to families and individuals for study recruitment, assisting with data entry, and administering various assessments. Having grown up with an autistic sibling and worked with many families like her own, she believes in SARRC’s vision and the breadth of support and research they provide to families in the Valley. Some of her research interests include parent-implemented intervention, peer mentoring, and the development of more culturally sensitive services. Hannah is new to the Valley and is looking forward to exploring, hiking, and jogging around the area with her husband, Shogo.
As a research associate at SARRC, Riley has various roles that include study recruitment, research data entry and administration of assessments. Riley graduated from Northern Arizona University and has a background in Research that allows her to contribute to her role here at SARRC. Riley has a passion for developmental biology and working with SARRC has allowed her to further her knowledge of ASD. One of her favorite things about working with SARRC is that we utilize applied behavior analysis which allows for a hands-on experience with clients. This has allowed her to develop future skills and a rapport with SARRC families. Riley’s hobbies include walking her dog and trying as many restaurants in Arizona as possible.
Richard B. Tayrien, DO, FACOI, FAMIA
Dr. Tayrien is board certified in internal medicine, practicing acute and critical care medicine at Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. Developing midcareer interests and training in medical informatics Dr. Tayrien served as Chief Health Information Officer for Dignity Healthcare and HCA Healthcare where he led the digital transformation of over 170 US hospitals. Dr. Tayrien’s experience in applied information theory, terminology management and systems specification for heath information informs and supports related interests in bioinformatics and neuroscience. He joins the SARRC research team enthused to contribute to the understanding of mechanisms and potential solutions for ASD patients and supporting community. Dr. Tayrien and wife, Cecilia, live in the greater Phoenix area where they raised their four children. They enjoy many outdoor activities, water sports, travel and photography. Cecilia, a former elementary teacher, has invested much of the past 3 years better understanding ASD, nutritional interventions and available resources. They are both active members of the SARRC grandparents’ group.
Amy is a research associate with SARRC and is responsible for study recruitment, assisting with data entry and administering various assessments. Amy is a graduate of Grand Canyon University and has experience working in the clinical mental health field, providing psychotherapy to adults and adolescents. Amy enjoys the investigative process to understand why people engage in maladaptive behaviors and find solutions for how people can utilize healthier adaptive coping strategies. Having a sibling on the autism spectrum has drawn her towards wanting to be part of the work to advance understanding of autism resources.
Research Coordinator I
Hyerin is responsible for coordinating the Mindfulness-Based Intervention Study for Teens with Autism, which is examining telehealth behavioral intervention for adolescents and their parents or caregivers. The study program teaches various mindfulness strategies that may help participants better manage stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. She also administers psychometric assessments and assists with recruitment for clinical trials. Hyerin’s other roles outside of research include being an active member of SARRC’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee. Hyerin supports the neurodiverse community and believes everyone deserves to live their best lives. In her free time, Hyerin loves to visit new coffee shops with her husband, Andre and snuggle with her orange cat Olly.
Diagnostic Services Staff
Diagnostic Network Manager
Jessica oversees the programming and recruitment of network partners and collaborates with community stakeholders for the Arizona Autism Early Diagnostic Network (AAEDN). The AAEDN is comprised of pediatricians and psychologists committed to helping families who have concerns about their child’s development and shortening the time gap between an initial autism screening by a pediatrician and a formal autism diagnosis evaluation. In her free time, Jessica can be found staying active at the gym, hiking, playing golf, exploring new restaurants, and planning her next travel adventure.
Diagnostic Program Assistant
Nancy assists with program enrollment screening as well as coordination of services for SARRC’s amazing team of Licensed Clinical Psychologists. Nancy loves working at SARRC because she’s able to support SARRC’s clients and families through the process of obtaining their formal diagnosis – the ticket to life-altering services. When out of the office you can find Nancy quilting, reading, and hiding from the sun while cooking with her five children.
Research Interns and Volunteers
Afzal Ariff is a senior at Sandra Day O’Connor High School. He has volunteered with SARRC since the fall of 2020. During that time, he has assisted with data entry and data validation for a project examining how autism features appear among children who are the only child in their family with autism (as opposed to children who come from families with multiple children on the autism spectrum). He is drawn to volunteering at SARRC because it combines data-based research with clinical application of that research. Afzal hopes to become a neurosurgeon in the future and to continue research in college.
Justin Huynh assists with data entry. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s in biomedical sciences and is looking to gain experience to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology. In his free time, Justin enjoys reading.
Adriana is a Senior at Arizona State University majoring in Psychology. Since beginning her internship at SARRC, Adriana has assisted with participant communication for the COVID and ASD survey study, development of materials for the Strengthening Skills study, and is currently serving as a behavior coach in the PEERS for Teens program. In her free time, Adrian enjoys playing video games, reading, and playing with her two bunnies.
Jared is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in Biomedical Sciences. Jared assists with the Strengthening Skills Study, COVID and ASD survey study, and the Early Screening Follow up study. In his free time, Jared enjoys traveling with his friends and staying active. Jared aspires to go to medical school and become a doctor in the future.
Marcellina is a second-year medical student at Midwestern University-AZCOM. Since starting her internship with SARRC, Marcellina has assisted with the NIMH study and the Telehealth Validation study. She is excited to learn more about Autism screening and ongoing research to be informed for her future patients. In her free time, Marcellina enjoys reading, trying new restaurants, and baking.
Lillian Zerga is a Junior at Arizona State University majoring in Psychology. Lillian assists with the Strengthening Skills Study and Teen PEERS. In her free time, Lillian enjoys travelling, reading, and hiking. Lillian aspires to go to graduate school for clinical psychology.