Who we are: The BBOP (Baby Brain Optimization Project) at the Emory + Children's Pediatric Institute is a multidisciplinary team of physicians, therapists, researchers, psychologists, engineers, community partners, educators, and students. 

Who we serve: Preterm infants, children with cerebral palsy or other developmental conditions, families, community organizations, academic partners, students, and healthcare providers of all types

What we do: We primarily focus on applied research. We develop low-cost interventions based on neuroscience. We increase families’ access to these interventions, especially in areas with poor social determinants of health. We support family empowerment through education, providing resources for those with developmental disabilities. We implement the best evidence in research with our stakeholders to transform healthcare, education and community programs. 

3 for the Under 3: A new intervention to support parents of children with movement delays!

*This study is not currently enrolling*

We teach parents of young children with motor delays how to help their child learn new movement skills using group discussions, the best new research, and practical videos posted on Facebook. If you have a child under 3 years old with or at high risk for a motor delay and would like more information, please email us at BBOP@emory.edu or call/text at (470) 372-8378.

Who can participate in the study?

Any child under the age of 3 who has a motor (movement) delay.

Find out more information here:


APPLES-Tele: Supporting parents to help babies and toddlers develop arm and hand function

This study was created to test if early intervention in children with Cerebral Palsy (CP) can improve unimanual fine motor skills. Implementing a parent-centered approach increases participation and using telemedicine can improve accessibility to the medical team.

Who can participate in the study? Children may be able to participate if they are between 4 and 13 months of age and have cerebral palsy or have been told they are at high risk for cerebral palsy.

Find out more information here: 




GMAT: General Movements Assessments in the NICU

Early detection and referral to evidence-based interventions can improve long-term outcomes of infants with neurological and motor disorders. ​Cranial ultrasounds can be very specific in predicting these problems, but not all NICU infants can recieve a cranial ultrasound due to location or the expense of cranial ultrasounds. This study works to develop a sensory mat technology to measure pressure in infant movements and improve early screening and referral in high-risk infants.​ 

Who can participate in the study?

Babies between 36-44 weeks Corrected Gestational Age who are not on mechanical ventilation, have not had major thoracic or abdominal surgery for 7-days, and have not been administered opiates or sedatives for at least 24-hours. 

MIND: Multisensory Intervention for Infant Neurodevelopment​

Due to high interest in this study, we are no longer enrolling new participants. 

This study was created for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. It tests whether consistent exposure to a parent's voice (auditory), exposure to a parent's scented cloth (olfactory), modified skin-to-skin holding with therapists (vestibular and auditory), and kangaroo care binders (tactile and proprioceptive)​ can improve multisensory processing and result in improved motor and language outcomes at 1 and 2 years of age. 

Who can participate in the study? 

Almost any baby who has reached the corrected age of 32 to 36 weeks and is NOT on the ventilator at that time (CPAP is okay).

Find out more information here: 


Additional resources from our lab members

Nationwide Children's Hospital Doctor featured in Netflix docuseries Babies | Fox28 News


  • Video clip of Dr. Maitre's work at Nationwide Hospital:


How touch can shape babies’ brain development | Reuters


Summer 2023 Camp

Our camp is for children between 9 and 36 months with possible motor delays or Cerebral Palsy. If you are interested in signing up, scan the QR code or go to this link:


Nathalie Maitre, MD, PhD - Principal Investigator

Dr. Maitre is a board-certified neonatologist and research investigator with a focus on neurodevelopment in high-risk newborns and developmental interventions after neural injury. In the Department of Pediatrics at Emory, she serves as the Director of Research in Early Development and Cerebral Palsy. Dr. Maitre’s lab’s research focuses on neurodevelopment in high-risk newborns and rehabilitation of long-term disabilities. She emphasizes the development of quantitative measures of neural function in infants to allow the rational design and testing of parent-based and technology-assisted strategies. She continues to work with engineering and mathematical modeling teams in the US and Switzerland to develop new methodologies for brain-based assessment and therapy in infants and young children.

Melissa Murphy, PhD - Director of Research Projects

Dr. Murphy is a developmental psychologist with a PhD in Educational Psychology who is passionate about empowering individuals and teams to reach their potential. Her early research focused on language and cognitive development of youth with genetic vulnerabilities for developmental disorders and the role of family characteristics, including parental well-being, on child outcomes. Building upon this work, she has also studied how factors, such as teacher knowledge and experience, influence child outcomes and how to translate knowledge of such factors into teaching practice and classroom settings.

Since becoming the Director of Research Projects, Dr. Murphy has worked collaboratively with Dr. Maitre and the BBOP team to build the infrastructure necessary to support successful pediatric research initiatives focused on clinical intervention, early detection of cerebral palsy, knowledge translation, and implementation science.

Jennifer Denbo, MBA - Program Administrator

Jennifer Denbo, MBA, is Program Administrator at BBOP; she is responsible for financial management of all lab operations, as well as project management of several research studies for which BBOP is serving as the neurodevelopmental core. Having spent over a decade in higher education administration at New York University and Columbia University, she came to this role with extensive prior experience in financial, operations and grants management.

Mary Lauren Neel, MD - Assistant Professor, Neonatology 

Dr. Neel is an assistant professor, physician-scientist, and clinical researcher. She is passionate about how parents can improve neurodevelopmental outcomes in preterm infants and studies parenting and parent/child interactions in multimodal ways including questionnares, behavioral coding, and EEGs.

Larken Marra, PhD - Cerebral Palsy Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Larken received her PhD in Kinesiology, with a focus in Adapted Physcial Activity, from the University of Michigan. Prior to that, she received her bachelors and masters degrees from Indiana University, where she was a Sam H. Jones Scholar and Service Learning Assistant for the Adapted Motor Programs housed within the Department of Health and Human Sciences. Larken's past experiences have shaped her research interests in community-based programming for individuals with disabilities. At BBOP, she is continuing her work in community-based physical activity programming with an emphasis on infants and children at high-risk for CP.   

Caitlin P. Kjeldsen, PhD, LPMT, MT-BC (NICU-MT) - Postdoctoral Fellow

Pronouns: She/her

Dr. Caitlin P. Kjeldsen is a postdoctoral fellow on the BBOP team with a PhD in Speech and Hearing Science from The Ohio State University (Go Buckeyes!). Before completing her PhD, Dr. Kjeldsen worked with the BBOP as a board-certified music therapist, primarily working with preterm infants and their families. Dr. Kjeldsen now leads the lab's EEG efforts and conducts research both in the NICU and in the lab. Her research interests include the intersection of music and movement in early childhood, particularly how auditory experience both in the NICU and after discharge shapes the long-term neurodevelopment of high-risk infants. One of Dr. Kjeldsen's favorite past lab expereinces was leading the mobility station at CAMP 2023!

Lynn Comerford - Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Lynn has worked in the NICU for 23 years, first as a bedside nurse and then as a nurse practitioner. For the past 16 years, she has worked in a High Risk Follow-up Clinic, doing developmental follow-up for NICU graduates. Currently, her time is divided between working in the High Risk Follow-up Clinic and the Baby Brain Optimization Program (BBOP). At BBOP, she performs neurologic exams and participates in parent education.

Megan Moran, MMT, LPMT, MT-BC (NICU-MT) - Research Music Therapist

Megan is a board-certified music therapist and has her NICU Music Therapy certification through the National Institute for the Infant & Child Medical Music Therapy. She has been practicing music therapy for 6-years with in a wide variety of settings to include infants, children, and adults. She has a Master of Music Therapy degree from Maryville University St. Louis and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Pepperdine University. She is most interested in the effects of singing on various outcomes such as development, speech, and respiratory function. 

Lisa Pinson, PT, DPT - Physical Therapist

 Lisa is a pediatric physical therapist with over 20 years of clinical and research experience. At the BBOP, Lisa primarily focuses on the APPLES-tele research study. In addition to Lisa's BBOP work, she is involved in NICU clinical care at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta - Egleston.

Natalie Brane, MS, CCC-SLP - Speech-Language Pathologist

Natalie is a licensed speech-language pathologist on the Baby Brain Optimization Project (BBOP) team. Natalie conducts intervention protocols in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) designed to improve sensory processing and language and motor outcomes in toddlerhood. Natalie also evaluates developmental and language skills within longitudinal research protocols.   In addition to Natalie’s BBOP contributions, she is also involved in clinical and research programs at Marcus Autism Center. In this role she investigates early emergence of autism spectrum disorder, evaluates early social communication development, and delivers early intervention to address delays in social communication and social interaction.

Allison McIntyre, MOT OT/L, CCRP - Lead Occupational Therapist

Allison McIntyre, MOT OT/L CCRP is the lead Occupational Therapist at the BBOP Lab. She has worked across the lifespan in neurorehabilitation as an occupational therapist and is interested in research protocols that promote  access to evidence-based interventions across social determinants of health and other barriers. Allison leads a team of occupational and physical therapists for the APPLES-tele study, a telemedicine study for early childhood constraint and parent-delivered therapy for infants with or who are at risk for cerebral palsy. Allison studied Movement Science at University of Michigan, received her master’s in occupational therapy from Eastern Michigan University, and is completing a fellowship in Clinical and Translational Research Ethics at the Medical University of South Carolina. 

Sara Bolivar, MS, OTR/L  - Occupational Therapist

Sara is a bilingual registered and licensed pediatric occupational therapist and occupational therapy researcher. She holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy from Brenau University. Sara is passionate about providing evidenced-based and family-centered occupational therapy services. Her research interests include early intervention, health disparities and parent and family education. She is committed to improving the quality of life of children and their families and caregivers by providing therapeutic intervention, education, and life skills training.

Will Kjeldsen - Health Educator

Will is a licensed educator; his primary focus at BBOP is on the 3 for the Under 3 study, which is an educational study for parents that have children with motor delays. Will also works with community programming at the BBOP lab, including CAMP, and is passionate about further supporting children and parents in the metro-Atlanta community. Will is also part of the lab's social media team.

Paige Scarbrough Ryals, BA - Clinical Research Coordinator

Paige grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta and graduated from Duke University in 2016 with a degree in psychology. She worked on a few projects while she was at Duke, including a study looking at how infants understand and learn about emotional expressions and a study evaluating a music therapy program for kids with autism. In the BBOP Lab, Paige coordinates the MIND NICU study and APPLES-tele study.

Ty Dudley, BS - Clinical Research Coordinator

 As a Clinical Research Coordinator, Ty collaborates with the research team to conduct clinical studies in pediatrics and coordinate research needs.



Katie Shin - Undergraduate Clinical Research Assistant

Katie is an undergraduate student at Emory University double majoring in Engineering Sciences and Music. She is currently focusing on supporting the MIND study in the NICU as well as the APPLES-Tele study. Her research interests include using different forms of music therapy for rehabilitation in clinical settings.

Kate Huang - Undergraduate Research Assistant

Kate is an undergraduate student at Emory University studying Chemistry and Global Health on the pre-med track. At BBOP, Kate primarily works with APPLES-Tele team on recruitment, participant visits, and data evaluation.

Chaya Tong - Undergraduate Research Assistant

Chaya is an undergraduate student at Emory University double majoring in English and biology. At BBOP, she is currently focusing on supporting the 3 for the Under 3 study and helps run the lab's social media.

Amarianna Hines - Undergraduate Research Assistant

Amarianna is an undergraduate biomedical engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. At BBOP, she is currently working as an engineering intern to process and analyze EEG data and helping to develop standard guidelines for future EEG data processing and analyses. 

Jodit Yimenu- Undergraduate Research Assistant

Jod is a Junior at Emory University on the Pre-med track. She is a Human Health major and Spanish minor with a specific research interest in maternal and child health. At the BBOP Lab, she assists in data evaluation and participant follow-up as a student research assistant to the MIND and SNAKE studies.