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Basic Science Network Advisory Committee Members
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Mariella De Biasi, PhD
Dr. Mariella De Biasi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the director of the Program on Cholinergic Mechanisms in Addiction and Mental Illness, and is a member of the Neuroscience of Behavior Initiative (NBI) at U Penn. Dr. De Biasi received her PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology from the University of Padova, Italy. Her research focuses on the neurobiological mechanisms involved in cholinergic signaling that contribute to nicotine addiction. In her efforts to define the molecular basis of nicotine dependence and withdrawal, she has made significant contributions to our understanding of the role of various nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits throughout the brain. Currently, her work focuses on nicotine and alcohol co-dependence, nicotine's interactions with stress, and cholinergic involvement in neurodegenerative disease and mental illness.

Christie D. Fowler, PhD
Dr. Christie Fowler is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. She earned her PhD from Florida State University and completed postdoctoral training at The Scripps Research Institute. Dr. Fowler's interests are centered on elucidating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying motivated behaviors. Recently, she found that nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the medial habenula-interpeduncular pathway control the aversive effects of nicotine and thereby limit consumption of the drug. Her current research seeks to further define the neurobiological mechanisms underlying nicotine reinforcement, with an underlying goal of identifying novel targets for therapeutic development.

Advisory Committee Members:

Melissa D. Blank, PhD
Dr. Melissa Blank is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience Program, at West Virginia University. She earned her PhD in Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Moffitt Cancer Center in 2012. Her research focuses on the evaluation of novel (e.g., electronic cigarettes, snus) and alternative (e.g., waterpipes, cigars) tobacco products alone, as well as concurrently with cigarettes among smokers (e.g., polytobacco use). Dr. Blank currently serves as the Tobacco Team Co-Leader of the West Virginia Prevention Research Center, and as a member of the SRNT Trainee Network Advisory Committee.



Caroline O. Cobb, PhD
Dr. Caroline Cobb is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to this appointment, she served as the Ellen R. Gritz Post-Doctoral Fellow in Tobacco Control at the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy. Dr. Cobb's program of research consists of several overlapping areas including clinical laboratory evaluation, population patterns of tobacco use, and tobacco regulatory science. A primary focus has been investigating the influence of novel and/or alternative tobacco products such as waterpipes, little cigars/cigarillos, and electronic cigarettes on individual and population health.

Alexander D. Duncan, BS
Alexander Duncan is a doctoral candidate in the Chemical Biology program at The Scripps Research Institute. He earned his undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from the University of Cincinnati. He joined Dr. Paul Kenny's lab at The Scripps Research Institute in 2012 and is continuing his research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. His research interests include defining neurobiological mechanisms of nicotine addiction and psychiatric disorders. He is also interested in physiological mechanisms that underlie the sex differences observed in these conditions.


Suzi Gage, PhD
Suzi Gage is a post-doctoral researcher at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, UK. She completed her PhD in 2014 at the University of Bristol, investigating associations between cigarette and cannabis use and mental health in a large birth cohort. Her current research focuses on using genetic epidemiology and other study designs to aid causal inferences about associations between lifestyle behaviors and mental health. She has a particular interest in untangling the associations seen between cigarette smoking and schizophrenia.


Cassandra Gipson, PhD
Cassandra D. Gipson is an Assistant Professor in the department of Psychology at Arizona State University. She received her B.S. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego in 2004, and received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Kentucky in 2010 followed by a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr. Peter Kalivas at Medical University of South Carolina. Her work has focused on discovering neural substrates underlying nicotine addiction, specifically the neurobiological underpinnings of cue-triggered motivation and conditioned reinforcement. To date, her work has focused on alterations in synaptic plasticity and glutamatergic signaling following withdrawal from a self-administered nicotine, as well as during relapse to nicotine-seeking. Her principal interest in neuroscience has developed around examining cellular dynamics and synaptic strength underlying nicotine cue-triggered motivation, and this research has provided the foundation for a K99-R00 grant from NIDA to examine the neurobiology underlying nicotine relapse.

Patricia E. Grebenstein, PhD
Dr. Grebenstein is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Behavioral Pharmacology at the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation and University of Minnesota. She obtained her PhD in Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience from the University of Florida. Her dissertation research examined the relationship between nicotine and ingestive behaviors in rats. Her current research focus is on investigating changes in food intake and weight gain during an animal model of nicotine reduction policy. Her research interests also extend to the role non-nicotine constituents and individual differences in nicotine pharmacokinetics play in nicotine's effects on ingestive behaviors, reward, and reinforcement.


Paul T. Harrell, PhD
Dr. Paul Harrell is a post-doctoral fellow in Behavioral Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. He earned his Ph.D. in Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience from American University in Washington, D.C. His research has involved human laboratory, clinical, and epidemiological research examining cognition, drug perception, and population-level differences. Dr. Harrell’s previous work at Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Drug Abuse examined cigarette smoking among cocaine and opioid users.  His current program of research focuses on reducing the harm related to tobacco use by better understanding tobacco product perception and how product perception relates to decision-making processes by tobacco users.

Mark G. LeSage, PhD
Dr. Mark LeSage is a Senior Investigator in the Department of Medicine at the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation and Adjunct Professor in the Departments of Medicine and Psychology at the University of Minnesota. He earned his PhD in Experimental Psychology and Behavioral Pharmacology at Western Michigan University. His research is primarily focused on the behavioral pharmacology of nicotine and tobacco, with a focus on using nonhuman drug self-administration and other models to address issues related to tobacco harm reduction and FDA regulation of tobacco products. He also employs nonhuman models to develop immunotherapies (e.g. vaccines) and other types of medications to treat drug abuse.

Jason A. Oliver, MA
Jason Oliver is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center. He is currently completing his clinical internship in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University. Over the past ten years, he has been involved in a diverse array of research examining tobacco use and other addictive behaviors, including human laboratory, clinical and policy studies. His recent work has focused on the cognitive effects of nicotine delivery/nicotine withdrawal, as well as the overlap between tobacco and alcohol use.


Vaughan Rees, PhD 
Dr. Vaughan Rees is lecturer on Social and Behavioral Sciences and Interim Director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health. His research addresses the intersection of tobacco product design, potential for dependence, product use and individual risk, and control of tobacco harms through policy and other interventions. Dr. Rees established the Tobacco Research Laboratory at HSPH, where biobehavioral and cognitive research among tobacco users, and product physical design analyses are conducted. Dr. Rees trained at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and did postdoctoral training through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Laura Rupprecht, BS 
Laura Rupprecht is a doctoral student in the neuroscience program in the Center for Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation research in the laboratory of Drs. Alan Sved and Eric Donny focuses on the mechanisms of nicotine-induced body weight suppression. Her interests also extend to the relationship between nicotine and obesity, and the potential impact of nicotine reduction policy on body weight, food intake, and reinforcement.



Heath D. Schmidt, PhD
Dr. Heath Schmidt is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry and the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Schmidt earned a PhD in pharmacology and biomedical neurosciences from the Boston University School of Medicine in 2006 and completed a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr. Ron Duman at Yale University in 2008. Dr. Schmidt's current research aims to identify drug-induced neuroadaptations that promote drug-taking and drug-seeking behaviors. Specifically, Dr. Schmidt and his research team are investigating the neurobiological mechanisms underlying nicotine self-administration and the reinstatement of nicotine seeking in rodents, an animal model of smoking relapse.

Jerry A. Stitzel, PhD
Dr. Jerry Stitzel is Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He earned his PhD in Biology from Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Stitzel's research focuses on genetic strategies to identify the underlying biological bases for the behavioral and physiological actions of drugs of abuse with special emphasis on nicotine. His current work seeks to understand at a molecular level how genetic variability, particularly with respect to nicotinic receptor genes, influences risk for drug dependence and co-morbid psychiatric disorders.

Jill Turner, PhD
Dr. Jill Turner is an Assistant Professor in the SC College of Pharmacy Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences at the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina. Her research investigates the genomic alterations resulting from chronic nicotine administration and withdrawal using Next Next-Gen sequencing and how these changes impact both behavior and concordant transcriptionally-driven circuitry adaptations. These altered preclinical genomic targets serve as candidates for SNP analysis in the smoking population. Dr. Turner earned her PhD with Dr. Ken Kellar at Georgetown University and completed post-doctoral training with Dr. Julie Blendy at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction (CIRNA), University of Pennsylvania.

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