Improving Lives, Building Connections

The TREES Lab, for the Timely Recognition of Early and Emerging Signs Of Neurological and Cognitive Dysfunction in Infancy


About TREES Lab

Our laboratory’s primary focus lies in investigating the long-term cognitive development of children, particularly those affected by perinatal brain injuries (PBIs) as well as children with cerebral palsy. We aim to identify imaging, neurophysiological, and behavioral markers that can predict executive dysfunction and cognitive disability in these at-risk populations. Ongoing projects also aim to understand the natural history of cognitive function development following perinatal brain injuries (PBIs) through validated assessments, with the aim to comprehensively understand the trajectory of executive function in affected children over time.

Utilizing this data, we tailor interventions to mitigate cognitive impairment in children with PBIs, who often face challenges in academic achievement and school engagement throughout their lives. One of our transformative initiatives is the adaptation of the Abecedarian Approach into a Hybrid A2 intervention, combining virtual and in-person elements, to make cognitive rehabilitation more accessible to children with PBIs. Our upcoming research objectives include not only the development of this hybrid intervention, but also the collection of preliminary feasibility data to assess its effectiveness and to understand the needs of patient families in engaging in scientific research in a way that respects their values and goals.

Finally, our laboratory is currently engaged in the creation of a Parent Reported Outcome Measure, the Middle Childhood Executive Function and School Engagement Survey for Parents with Children with CP (MC-EFSE-PCP). This survey aims to capture the goals and expectations of families with children with cerebral palsy, regarding cognitive development, academic achievement, and school engagement.

In sum, we are a dynamic and forward-thinking lab committed to health equity, where ensuring optimal opportunities for all individuals to achieve the best health possible is our guiding principle. Through our innovative research endeavors, we strive to address disparities and promote inclusivity, making meaningful strides towards a healthier and more equitable society.


Continuing Education

The Neonatal Neurology Program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health is committed to providing the highest quality of care among newborns with neurological disorders. Our providers offer comprehensive and family-centered care, with a focus on neuroprotection. Team members are involved in a wide range of clinical and translational research projects that seek to optimize long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes among these high-risk infants. Our program offers ample opportunities for trainees: medical students, residents and fellows across a wide variety of specialty fields are welcome to gain expertise with our team, with the ultimate goal to become the next generation of leaders in the field.


TREES Biomarkers

Biomarkers Study

The study will identify early predictors of long-term cognitive disability among at-risk children. Methods include use of MRI, EEG, and behavioral/cognitive assessments to meet study goals.

TREES Language and Brain Development

Language and Brain Development

This study aims to understand the early brain markers associated with optimized language development in the first 12 months of life.

TREES Outreach


The project aims to use evidence-based protocols to improve access to best-medical practices for treating newborns with neurological disorders.

Our Measures


Toddler during an EEG session

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a non-invasive test that detects electrical activity in your child’s brain using small, metal discs (electrodes) attached to a hat that your child will be asked to wear. Because you and your child’s brain cells communicate via electrical impulses and are active all the time, this activity shows up as brain waves on an EEG recording! Your child’s brain activity will be assessed using EEG while your child is playing and cuddling with you.

Play-based Assessments

Toy rabbit

Another way to test what children know is by having them play different games that require for them to think, plan and focus. We will play several games with your child, to learn how children develop attentional and memory abilities.



Melisa Carrasco McCaul, M.D.

Melisa Carrasco McCaul, MD, PhD
Principal Investigator

I am a pediatric neurologist with specialty training in Neonatal Neurology (Johns Hopkins Hospital, 2019-2020) and Pediatric Epilepsy (University of Michigan, 2020-2021). I am also currently an Assistant Professor and Director of Neonatal Neurology at the University of Wisconsin. My research focuses on the long-term cognitive development of children, following a neonatal brain injury and acute symptomatic neonatal seizures. In my spare time, I love to spend time with my wonderful family and dance!

TREES Jacky Dickman

Jacky Dickman
Research Fellow

I am a second-year medical student in the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine (WARM) program. My passion for rural healthcare has been fueled by my experience as a first responder in a rural area and my residence in that same community. I have seen and navigated the disparities that rural residents experience, including the lack of access to funding and more advanced resources. I am interested in improving these disparities through research and through providing quality care to rural communities as a physician.

TREES Noah Trapp

Noah Trapp
Research Fellow

I am a fourth-year medical student and neurology research fellow at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. As a former public school teacher, my love for child neurology stems from my cherished experiences working with students with special needs. My research focuses on the clinical utility of radiological biomarkers in predicting cognitive outcomes in children born premature. After medical school, I plan to complete a residency program in pediatric neurology. When I’m not in the lab or hospital, I love hiking and mountain biking with my wife and daughter!

TREES Pengying Sun

Pengying Sun
Research Assistant

I recently graduated from UW-Madison majoring in Neurobiology and Nutritional Sciences with Biocore certificate. I will be working as an EMT while studying for the MCAT until I apply for medical school next year. And of course, I will keep on my study and research at the TREES lab which I absolutely enjoy. Growing up, I have been intrigued by the human brain, so I am looking to get into medical school and become a neurosurgeon one day.

Ashley Chen
Research Assistant

I am a junior studying Neurobiology and Political Science, with a certificate in Education & Educational Services at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. Nurtured by personal experience with cognitive disabilities and time spent volunteering with children, I left my hometown of New Jersey to explore the fields of neurology and psychiatry. The TREES Lab is an exciting opportunity for me to learn about direct patient care and clinical research, as I plan to apply to medical school after I graduate.

Peyton Bender
Research Assistant

I am a senior studying Neurobiology with a certificate in Disability Rights and Services here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My passion for neuroscience has been fueled by my highly valued experiences working with individuals with a variety of neurodevelopmental disorders and cognitive-linguistic impairments. As I will be applying to medical school after I graduate, being a part of the TREES Lab is an incredible opportunity to gain knowledge from Dr. Carrasco McCaul and experience in clinical research.



TREES Maeve Ryan

Maeve Ryan

Maeve Ryan will be graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2024 and plans to pursue a career in education.

Olivia Gibbs

Olivia Gibbs

I am a Senior studying Neurobiology with a certificate in Entrepreneurship! Throughout the entirety of my academic career, I have been fascinated by the anatomy, physiology, and plasticity of the human brain. This intrigue, along with my passion for entering the healthcare field as a PA, greatly sparked my interest in joining Dr. Carrasco McCaul’s TREES lab to learn more about the cognitive development of children following a neonatal brain injury!

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Naba Rao

Naba Rao graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2023 and is taking a gap year in anticipation of pursuing a career in medicine.


  • Clinical Science Center at the UW University Hospital, 600 Highland Ave, Madison, WI 53705
  • Room K4/358A and B

    Lab News

    Olivia Gibbs was invited to present her data as part of this year’s University of Wisconsin Undergraduate Symposium and did a terrific job during the posterior presentation.