Meet the Staff
Over forty scientists, software engineers, data analysts, system analysts, web designers and a communications team are the inspiration and driving force behind SPARK. This large team is responsible for connecting researchers to interested participants and ensuring researchers have access to quality data to move the field of autism research forward. In addition to all the staff that makes the study run so efficiently; SPARK works with 31 clinical sites throughout the United States to recruit participants and raise local awareness about autism research. Together, we can make a difference.
Meet SPARK’s leadership team, below.
Alpha Amatya, M.S.
Director of Software Engineering
Alpha Amatya joined the Simons Foundation in 2014 to lead ongoing and new software development efforts. As the lead for the SPARK project, she is instrumental in working with the internal staff and external vendors, and building the internal engineering team. She is responsible for the system architecture, specification, design, and development of the SPARK system and manages planning, organizing and executing the software implementation of various applications for SPARK. Amatya holds a B.S. in mathematics with a minor in computer science from Washington College in Maryland and an M.S. in computer science from Pace University in New York.
Wendy Chung, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of Clinical Research, SFARI
Wendy Chung serves as the principal investigator of SPARK, overseeing all aspects of SPARK development, with an emphasis on genetic research components of the project. She is also the P.I. for the Simons Variation in Individuals Project, which characterizes behavior and brain structure and function in participants with genetic variants believed to play a role in autism spectrum disorders. As principal investigator of SPARK, she is leading the effort to build a community of individuals with autism and their families, working with them to better understand the causes of autism and to develop better means of supporting individuals with the condition. She evaluates opportunities to develop new treatments and supports for autism and new outcome measures to evaluate the efficacy of these treatments.
A clinical and molecular geneticist, Chung received a B.A. in biochemistry and economics from Cornell University, an M.D. from Cornell University Medical College, and a Ph.D. in genetics from Rockefeller University. She is currently the Kennedy Family Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Columbia University, where she directs the clinical genetics program and performs human genetics research. At Columbia, she clinically assesses children with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disabilities and uses advanced genomic diagnostic methods, including whole-exome sequencing, to identify the underlying genetic basis for neurological conditions. In her work, she strives to facilitate the integration of genetic medicine into all areas of healthcare in a medically, scientifically and ethically sound, accessible and cost-effective manner.
Chung has received the American Academy of Pediatrics Young Investigator Award, the Medical Achievement Award from Bonei Olam and a career development award from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and is a member of the Dade County Hall of Fame. A renowned teacher and mentor, she is a member of the Glenda Garvey Teaching Academy and has won many awards for teaching, including the Charles W. Bohmfalk Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching, the American Medical Women’s Association Mentor Award, and the Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. In 2014, Chung delivered a frequently viewed TED Talk, “What We Know About Autism.”
Amy Daniels, Ph.D.
Senior Program Manager
Amy Daniels is the Project Manager of SPARK, a SFARI-led research study to recruit, engage, and retain a cohort of 50,000 individuals with autism and their immediate family members. As Project Manager, Daniels oversees the day-to-day activities of SPARK from recruitment efforts to online participation to the recontacting of families to participate in new research efforts. She joined the Simons Foundation in 2015 after working as assistant director of public health research at Autism Speaks. At Autism Speaks, Daniels oversaw the Global Autism Public Health portfolio in Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet republics, focusing on awareness, research, and building service capacity. Before that, Daniels was project director of the Behavioral Health Leadership Institute, where she evaluated community-based treatment programs for individuals with behavioral health problems, and research coordinator at the Interactive Autism Network. She holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and an M.H.S. and Ph.D. in Public Health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Pamela Feliciano, Ph.D.
As a Senior Scientist with SFARI, Pamela Feliciano is deeply involved in the development and management of several projects whose mission is to build research cohorts of individuals with autism. She is also involved in SFARI’s efforts to develop objective and reliable outcome measures for autism clinical trials. Feliciano joined the Simons Foundation in 2013 and has a son with autism. Previously, Feliciano worked as a senior editor at Nature Genetics, where she was responsible for managing the peer review process for research publications in all areas of genetics. While at Nature Genetics, Feliciano was engaged with the scientific community, attending conferences and giving talks and workshops on editorial decision making at academic institutions worldwide. Feliciano holds a B.S. from Cornell University, an M.S. from New York University and a Ph.D. in developmental biology from Stanford University. The journal Science named her Ph.D. thesis work on the parallel evolution of wild populations of three-spine stickleback fish part of the “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2005.
Alex E. Lash, M.D.
Chief Informatics Officer
Alex Lash contributes to SPARK by providing guidance and advice to a very talented group of software engineers, data analysts, and technology engineers. Lash joined the Simons Foundation in 2012; prior to that he worked for nine years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He worked previously at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Lash earned his M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Natalia Volfovsky, Ph.D.
Director, Data and Analytics
Natalia Volfovsky came to the Simons Foundation to oversee quantitative informatics analysis, data storage and data curation. Prior to joining the foundation, Volfovsky served as manager of the computational genomics group at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR) in Maryland, where she was responsible for the design and development of computational methods to process and analyze genomics data. While at the FNLCR, Volfovsky also organized bioinformatics training sessions and participated in collaborative research projects. She holds an M.S. in mathematics from Kharkiv State University, Ukraine, and a Ph.D. in computer science from Hebrew University, Israel. She completed her postdoctoral work in bioinformatics at the Institute for Genomic Research with Dr. Steven Salzberg.