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2018 Symposium Speaker Information

We are pleased to welcome excellent speakers in various organizations and experience levels. Check out the schedule to see when you can hear these speakers throughout the day.

KEYNOTE: Dr. Lynn Matrisian, PhD, MBA
​Chief Science Officer, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

Lynn_Matrisian headshot.jpeg

Lynn M. Matrisian, PhD, MBA, is Chief Science Officer at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, based in Manhattan Beach, CA and Washington DC.  She focuses on understanding and impacting the scientific and medical activities within the pancreatic cancer field to advance the organizations goal to double survival from pancreatic cancer by the year 2020. She has oversight of the organization’s research activities, including the Grants Program, Clinical Trial Finder, Patient Registry, Know Your Tumor and Early Detection Initiative, and sits on the Executive Committee of the personalized medicine initiative Precision Promise.

Dr. Matrisian is formerly Professor and the founding Chair of the Department of Cancer Biology at Vanderbilt University. She received her PhD in molecular biology from the University of Arizona and MBA from Vanderbilt University.  She is past President of the American Association of Cancer Research, a Fellow of the AACR Academy, and the recipient of the Paget-Ewing award from the Metastasis Research Society. She served as co-chair of the National Cancer Institute’s Translational Research Working Group and Special Assistant to the Director of the NCI. Research in her laboratory revolved around the molecular mechanisms underlying tumor progression and metastasis, with emphasis on the biology of matrix-degrading proteinases.

PANELIST: Julio Ayala, PhD
Associate Professor, Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Julio Ayala Photo.jpegJulio Ayala, Ph.D., is currently an Associate Professor in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Prior to his current role, he served as a faculty member at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in Florida (2009-2017) after his time as a Research Assistant Professor (2007-2009) in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and Technology Transfer Director for the Vanderbilt-NIH Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center. Dr. Ayala received his Ph.D. and conducted his post-doctoral studies in molecular physiology and biophysics at Vanderbilt University. His postdoctoral work was at Vanderbilt with Dr. David Wasserman, focusing on regulatory mechanisms that control insulin-stimulated muscle glucose uptake.



PANELIST: John Barnes, PhD
Research Microbiologist/Team, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

fzq9_0010.jpgJohn R. Barnes began forming the Influenza Genomics Team in 2007 in an effort to consolidate surveillance sequencing within CDC Influenza Division. John has 15+ years of experience in high throughput sequencing with expertise in data management, data and process integration, molecular biology and biochemistry. Under John’s direction, the Influenza Genomics Team has become one of the highest producers of influenza genetic data in the world, producing thousands of influenza genomes for analysis per year. Recently, the team reported the sequencing of the first full-length influenza genome using direct RNA sequencing, a discovery that has recently been featured in Nature News. John and Influenza Genetics team staff have trained numerous researchers around the world in the generation of influenza sequence and genetic analysis.





Sonja Headshot.jpegPANELIST: Sonja Brooks Fulmer, PhD
Guidance Advisor, Office of Policy, Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), Food & Drug Administration

Dr. Sonja Brooks Fulmer serves as a Guidance Advisor in the Office of Policy, within the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  In this role, Sonja assists in policy and guidance development for priority initiatives related to the regulation of medical devices, such as implementation of consistent benefit-risk decision making, interpretation of medical software provisions in legislation, establishment of new regulatory paradigms for digital health products, and management of CDRH’s guidance program.  Sonja originally came to FDA through the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) Scholar Program, during which she worked on medical device regulations and guidance documents to provide the public with accurate, science-based information to communicate the regulatory decisions and policies of CDRH. Sonja received her Ph.D. in Chemical and Physical Biology from Vanderbilt University in 2014 and her B.S. in Chemistry with a Biochemistry Concentration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in 2009.  Sonja completed an internship with Life Science Tennessee as a legislative policy intern and created the Students for Science Policy program as part of the Life Science Tennessee-Academic Alliance.

PANELIST: Katie Coate, PhD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition and Dietetics
Director, Master of Science in Nutrition Program, Samford University

Coate.pngDr. Katie C. Coate, PhD is currently an Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics and Director of the Master of Science in Nutrition program at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. She is also an Adjoint Assistant Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Coate received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from Auburn University in 2005 and 2007, respectively, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics from Vanderbilt University in 2011, under the mentorship of Dr. Alan D. Cherrington. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the joint laboratory of Drs. David Mangelsdorf and Steve Kliewer in the Department of Pharmacology and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center (2011 – 2015). Dr. Coate has had a long-standing interest in studying the nutritional and metabolic aspects of chronic diseases, namely obesity and type 2 diabetes. She has developed research and teaching expertise in the fields of integrative physiology, nutrition, and metabolic regulation, and has established a reputation as an accomplished basic scientist and educator. Dr. Coate is passionate about teaching and mentoring students and young professionals using the talents, skills, and abilities God has gifted her with. She and her husband, Matt, are actively involved in their local church and share in the desire to live healthy abundant lives – especially in the South! They may often be found cooking nutritious meals or exercising together.

PANELIST: Brian Dattilo, PhD
Manager of Business Development, Waisman Biomanufacturing

Dattilo linked in photo.jpeg​Brian Dattilo, PhD is the Manager of Business Development at Waisman Biomanufacturing. Dr. Dattilo received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Vanderbilt University where he focused on recombinant protein production, purification, and analytical characterization. Prior to Waisman Dr. Dattilo was in public service serving as a Program Manager at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), where he was responsible for a multi-million dollar development budget supporting novel platform technologies and their application to vaccine, biological therapeutic, and diagnostic development for pandemic influenza and biodefense applications.  Since joining WB in 2012 he has led client interaction, technical product development plan development, project budgeting and cost estimation, and built business cases for new platform investment.

PANELIST: ​Tom Ekman, PhD
Dean of Math and Science, Vol State Community College

Ekman headshot - 2017-09-13 - 559 KB.jpegDr. Thomas Ekman is the Dean of Math and Science at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, TN. He taught chemistry at the college for the last four years and previously served as Chair of the Science Department. Dr. Ekman worked for the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, as project consultant at the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery for six years. He was associate director in the Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations, and later served as Director of Medical Center Corporate and Foundation Relations. Ekman also taught chemistry at Vanderbilt as a Visiting Associate Professor of Chemistry. He has held teaching positions at two other universities. He earned a B.A. degree in Chemistry from Lyon College, and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Louisiana State University.

PANELIST: Amicia Elliott, PhD
PRAT Fellow, NIH

Elliott.pngAmicia Elliott is a PRAT fellow in the laboratories of Benjamin White, National Institute of Mental Health, and Hari Shroff, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Elliott completed her Ph.D. in molecular physiology and biophysics at Vanderbilt University with David Piston, where her primary focus was studying the role of paracrine factors in the glucose-dependent inhibition of glucagon secretion from pancreatic alpha cells. She also developed methodologies for studying, simultaneously, calcium and cAMP signaling in live cells using real-time hyperspectral imaging. Elliott’s current work also combines technique development and research. She is designing a light-sheet microscope which she will use to study behaviorally-associated neural activity in the fruit fly. Her project exploits the advanced genetics of the Drosophila model system with novel microscopy and computational biology methods to analyze brain-wide activity at cellular resolution. Her broad interests lie in systems neuroscience and technology development for the life sciences.

PANELIST: Jeremy Fagan, PhD
Research Associate, Montefiore Health System

Jeremy Headshot.pngAfter completing his Bachelors’ degree, Jeremy relocated to New York City to attend Albert Einstein College of Medicine to further his academic studies. Jeremy successfully completed a PhD in Biomedical Sciences in the department of Developmental and Molecular Biology where he studied Planar Cell Polarity Signaling. Following his graduate studies, he decided to change fields by working as project coordinator at the NY State Department of Health-AIDS Institute on a host of projects related to HIV/AIDS, HCV and STI prevention, quality. improvement and digital health and technology. He currently works as Research Associate in a sexual healthcare clinic where he studies novel biomedical HIV Prevention interventions and their implementation among at-risk communities and the effectiveness of a web-based tobacco cessation intervention for people living with HIV(PLWH).

PANELIST: Mallory Hacker, PhD
​Research Assistant Professor, Neurology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Hacker_Mallory 2.jpegMallory Hacker is Research Assistant Professor of Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a B.S. in Chemistry and earned her doctorate in Cell & Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University studying neurodegenerative pathways arising from Coenzyme Q deficiency. Dr. Hacker received postdoctoral training in neurology clinical research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and was a visiting assistant professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in 2016. She completed the American Neurological Association’s Translational and Clinical Research Course for Clinician Scientists (2014) and the NINDS Clinical Trials Methodology Course (2016). Dr. Hacker attained approval from the FDA for Vanderbilt to lead a multicenter, pivotal clinical trial testing deep brain stimulation in early stage Parkinson’s disease (IDE#G050016). She has received funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the American Parkinson Disease Association, and the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation to support planning efforts for the pivotal clinical trial. Her research interests include developing clinical trials to test new therapeutics for neurodegenerative diseases.

PANELIST: Michelle Reniere, PhD
Assistant Professor of Microbiology, University of Washington School of Medicine


Michelle Reniere received her B.S. in Chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology. As a graduate student in Eric Skaar’s laboratory at Vanderbilt University her thesis focused on the product and process of heme degradation in Staphylococcus aureus. During her post-doctoral fellowship in Dan Portnoy’s laboratory at UC Berkeley she studied the intricacies of virulence gene regulation in Listeria monocytogenes. Michelle began as an Assistant Professor in the Microbiology Department at the University of Washington in Seattle in January 2016. The Reniere Lab is currently investigating the mechanisms by which intracellular pathogens recognize the host environment in order to activate their virulence programs.

PANELIST: Wallace Sharif, PhD
Assistant Professor of Biology, Morehouse College

wallace.jpegWallace Sharif is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Sharif teaches General Biology and Biochemistry, and serves as an academic advisor to several on-campus science research scholarship programs. Dr. Sharif graduated from Morehouse College with a degree in Chemistry, and received his Ph.D. from the Vanderbilt University Department of Biochemistry in 2003, where he studied meiotic homologous recombination. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in the laboratories of Drs. Woody Wright and Jerry Shay, studying the suppression of gene expression and recombination in telomeric regions of human chromosomes. His current research interests involve cellular and molecular biology and the biology of aging, developing pedagogical tools to engage students in the biological sciences, and analyzing methods to improve career outcomes for STEM students.