MEET OUR TCORS TEAM

Directors

Mary Ann Pentz, Ph.D.

Professor, Preventive Medicine
Sidney R. Garfield Chair in Health Sciences
Director, Institute for Prevention Research
Director, Administrative and Career Enhancement Core

Dr. Mary Ann Pentz is Director of the Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (IPR), Director of the Division of Health Behavior Research in Preventive Medicine, and co-Director of the Cancer Control Program of the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. All of her research and leadership experience over the last 25 years has focused on prevention of chronic diseases of lifestyle, with a primary emphasis on adolescents and their families. Her prevention research has focused on developing and evaluating interventions to prevent the multiple health risk and disseminating both programmatic and policy interventions for tobacco and alcohol use, physical activity, sedentary behavior, nutrition, obesity, stress, and sleep in large randomized trials that involve communities, schools, and families, for all of which she has been PI. As PI of the NIH Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS, with Jon Samet), her TCORS research has developed and disseminated evidence-based tobacco prevention strategies and promoted adoption of evidence-based prevention policies. Dr. Pentz has also organized and coordinated large teams of transdisciplinary researchers and resources required for large-scale trials.


Adam Leventhal, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Director of Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory
Director and Project 4 Lead

Adam Leventhal, Ph.D., Professor of Preventive Medicine and Psychology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, is an addiction psychologist and public health scientist. He is the Founding Director of the USC Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory (USC-HEAL; heal.usc.edu), a group of five faculty investigators and 20 staff and trainees who study the causes, consequences, treatment, and prevention of addiction and mental illness across the lifespan. Having been awarded more than $32M in grant funding from the NIH and other agencies, USC-HEAL’s current areas of focus are: (1) adolescent and young adult use of tobacco, cannabis, and opioids; (2) the co-occurrence of addiction and mental illness; (3) the development of new medications to promote smoking cessation; (4) science to inform public policies for regulating tobacco and other consumer products; and (5) cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention. Dr. Leventhal has authored over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, including publications in JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, and other journals. His work has been covered by the Associated Press, NBC Nightly News, New York Times, and other media outlets. Dr. Leventhal is active in policy arenas, having served on expert panels on the health effects of e-cigarettes and tobacco products for the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the US Surgeon General. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Health Behavior and American Psychological Association and recipient of awards for early and mid-career contributions to science and mentoring.


Administrative Staff

Lilit Aladadyan

Center Director

Lilit Aladadyan is currently Center Director for the USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS), a research center that generates scientific evidence to help inform FDA regulations on the manufacture, marketing and distribution of the diverse array of tobacco products. Prior to this, Lilit spent eight years as Director of Health Education for a community-based organization, where she developed and directed several community-wide and school-based health education programs in the areas of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and oral health. During the same time, Lilit earned her MS in Regulatory Science and is currently completing her doctorate in Regulatory Science at the USC School of Pharmacy. Lilit’s interests are in reducing the burden of preventable diseases through effective public policy and regulations.


Directors and Leads

Jon-Patrick Allem, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Lead

Jon-Patrick Allem is an Assistant Professor of Research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Dr. Allem’s work focuses on developing cutting-edge methodologies to improve population health surveillance and policy. Dr. Allem’s multidisciplinary expertise in behavioral science, preventive medicine and data science has led to data-driven public health insights featured in prominent media and scholarly outlets such U.S News & World Report, CNN, and the American Journal of Public Health. Using data from online platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google Web Search, Dr. Allem’s research includes studies on the effectiveness of mass media campaigns in the U.S. and Latin America, population mental health in the U.S. and Australia, public interest in climate change in the U.S., use and appeal of hookah, e-cigarettes, and flavored cigars in the U.S., HIV education in the U.S., and documented cases of hazardous driving in the U.S. His current projects are focused on understanding user experience with emerging tobacco products, the impact of product placement in music videos on product appeal, and the influences of automated social media accounts (social bots) on health-related attitudes and behaviors.


Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 2 Co-Lead and Administrative Core Co-Investigator

Dr. Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati is Associate Director for Community Engagement of the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, Associate Dean for Community Initiatives and a tenured Professor in Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She is also Faculty Advisor to Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC), and holds a Courtesy appointment in the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She is the Director of the KSOM Center for Health Equity in the Americas and of the Community Schomar Collaborative on Health Equity. Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati has a long history of successful Research, teaching and services to protect Californians from the deleterious effects of tobacco use and tobacco exposure. Her work on multiunit housing and second hand smoke is pioneering, as work as on retailers in racial/ ethnic community, and preventing youth from smoking. She continues her regulatory scientific endeavors on  retailers that sell to acco and on vape shops, now expanded use and exposure of smoke from cannabis. Her research  deals with adolescents, acculturation, drug and tobacco use, obesity and physical activity most of it conducted using community based and community participatory methods to address health disparities and social determinants of health. She has five academic degrees from around the world. Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati has a Ph.D. in Public Health and an M.P.H. from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a M.A. in Medical Psychology from Universite Catholique de Louvain, in Belgium. She obtained two bachelor’s degrees in Clinical and Industrial Psychology at the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Urena; from the Dominican Republic (DR). Raised between Santo Domingo, DR and New York, she has been a resident of Los Angeles for the last 36 years. She is well recognized nationally and internationally for her extensive record of publications in prestigious journals in her field and has won numerous awards and recognitions for her work. Dr. Baezconde-Garbanati speaks multiple languages fluently, including French and Spanish and is highly sought out as a speaker for her work on the role of culture and sociodeterminants of health in helping to eliminate health disparities in vulnerable populations.


Jessica Barrington- Trimis, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 3 Co-Lead and Project 4 Co-Investigator

Dr. Barrington-Trimis is an epidemiologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California, and faculty in the USC Health, Emotion, and Addiction Laboratory, and the USC Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research (USC-IPR). Dr. Barrington-Trimis completed her postdoctoral training at USC within the USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science prior to beginning her faculty position. She co-leads Project 3 of the USC TCORS with Dr. Rob McConnell. Dr. Barrington-Trimis’ research focuses on identifying behavioral and psychological factors associated with tobacco product use (including e-cigarette use) in adolescence and early adulthood, and the biobehavioral consequences of adolescent tobacco us


Rob McConnell, M.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 3 Co-Lead and Population Core Co-Investigator

Dr. Rob McConnell is a physician and environmental epidemiologist, and Professor of Preventive Medicine. He has led the development of studies examining the role of e-cigarettes as a gateway to cigarette and tobacco product use, and of other risk factors for tobacco product use, in youth in the large cohort studies conducted in the USC Tobacco Center for Regulatory Science Project 3, for which he is the co-PI. He has also studied the effects of e-cigarette use on respiratory health. Dr. McConnell directs the NIH/Environmental Protection Agency-supported Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center. He has studied the effects of air pollution and smoking on children’s health, including the development of asthma and lung function deficits, early markers for cardiovascular disease, obesity and metabolic disease, and neurodevelopment. He has investigated susceptibility to the effects of environmental exposures conferred by psychosocial stress and social factors, exercise, genetics and co-exposures associated with housing conditions. He co-directs the NIEHS T32 training program in environmental genomics and the Career Development Program of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center. Prior to coming to USC, he directed a World Health Organization regional environmental health center for Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. McConnell is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


Steve Sussman, Ph.D., FAAHB, FAPA

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 2 Co-Lead

Steve Sussman, Ph.D., FAAHB, FAPA, received his doctorate in social-clinical psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1984. He is a professor of preventive medicine, psychology, and social work at the University of Southern California (USC), and he has been at USC for 35 years. He studies etiology, prevention, and cessation within the addictions arena, broadly defined, as well as translation research and program development. He has over 500 publications. His programs include Project Towards No Tobacco Use (young teen tobacco use prevention), Project Towards No Drug Abuse (older teen drug abuse prevention), and Project EX (older teen tobacco use prevention/cessation), which are considered evidence-based programs at numerous agencies (i.e., CDC, NIDA, NCI, OJJDP, SAMSHA, CSAP, Colorado and Maryland Blueprints, Health Canada, U.S. DOE and various State Departments of Education). Dr. Sussman also has been involved in research on tobacco products, and retail and vape shops, on the USC TCORS, and he was the co-leader of the previous TCORS-1 National Special Interest Group on Vape Shops (2013-2018). He received the honor of Research Laureate for the American Academy of Health Behavior in 2005, and he was President there (2007-2008). Also, as of 2007, he received the honor of Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Division 50, Addictions). He is the current Editor of Evaluation & the Health Professions (SAGE Publications). His newest text is: Substance and Behavioral Addictions: Concepts, Causes, and Cures (Cambridge, 2017).


Jennifer Unger, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Lead

Jennifer B. Unger, Ph.D. is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. Her research focuses on the psychological, social, and cultural influences on health-risk and health-protective behaviors, with the ultimate goal of developing improved prevention programs to reduce health disparities. She and her colleagues have conducted several longitudinal studies of acculturation and substance use among Hispanic adolescents. Her research also has examined cultural influences on substance use among American Indian adolescents, Chinese adolescents, and African American adults. She is interested in entertainment-education strategies for health education among low-literacy minority populations and has collaborated on the design and evaluation of fotonovelas and telenovelas about secondhand smoke exposure in multiunit housing; diabetes; asthma; immunization; and kidney transplantation. She is a co-investigator in the USC Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS), where she studies diffusion of messages about emerging tobacco products to vulnerable populations through social media. Dr. Unger directs the Ph.D. program in Preventive Medicine / Health Behavior Research. She is a Deputy Editor for Nicotine & Tobacco Research and an Associate Editor for Substance Use and Misuse and Tobacco Regulatory Science.


Heather Wipfli, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Clinical Preventive Medicine and International Relations
Career Enhancement Core Co-Director

Associate Professor in the Department of Preventative Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and Department of International Relations at the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Dr. Wipfli holds a Ph.D. in International Studies from the Graduate Institute of International Studies at the University of Geneva. Her research focuses on international cooperation and governance approaches to improve health, specifically global chronic disease control including tobacco use, obesity, and exposure to air pollution. Prior to joining USC, Dr. Wipfli directed research and training for the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and worked on the development of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as a technical officer at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva. She has published work on global tobacco control, globalization and health, capacity building in low- and middle-income countries and health security.


Project Co-Investigators

Alayna Tackett, Ph.D.

Project 4 Co-Investigator
PI of Rapid Response Project
Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine

Dr. Tackett is a pediatric psychologist and Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at the USC, and faculty member in the USC Health, Emotion, and Addiction Laboratory and the USC Institute for Addiction Science. She is also a current Pediatric Research NIH Loan Repayment recipient. Dr. Tackett received her MS and PhD in Clinical Psychology (Pediatric Specialty) from Oklahoma State University (2012-2017) and completed her clinical residency and postdoctoral research fellowship training (2016-2018) at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Dr. Tackett’s research follows a team-science model to examine the respiratory effects of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine/cannabis delivery devices (e.g., heat not burn, cannabis) among youth and young adults. Dr. Tackett is also interested in developing and testing novel methods to a) incorporate objective measurements of respiratory health and symptoms; b) reduce children’s exposure to secondhand aerosol from non-combustible tobacco products; and c) contribute scientific evidence to regulate tobacco products to protect public health.


Tyler Mason, Ph.D.

Project 3 Co-Investigator
Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine

Tyler Mason, Ph.D., is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California and Associate Director of the Real-Time Eating Activity and Children’s Health (REACH) lab. Broadly, his research interests include the etiology and treatment of eating disorders and obesity. In particular, his research studies trait- and state-based processes that affect individuals ability to engage in self-regulation and goaldirected behaviors among diverse groups such as adults, children, and minorities. Specifically, he investigates how the interplay of factors such as affect, executive functioning, and social stressors are associated with unhealthy behaviors in the context of regulatory, control, and goal 47 theories. Much of this research uses ecological momentary assessment to measure the momentary processes that maintain various eating and diet behaviors and physical activity. Further, he is interested in the use of advanced statistical methodology to further obesity and eating disorder research including multilevel modeling, latent variable modeling, and network analysis. His research has culminated in over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and his research has been featured in top journals such as Psychological Bulletin, Health Psychology, Obesity, and the International Journal of Eating Disorders. Finally, he serves on the editorial boards of two international peer-reviewed journals: Eating Behaviors and Eating and Weight Disorders.


Talat Islam, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 3 Co-Investigator

Dr. Islam has developed a line of research involving the effect of sun exposure and vitamin D on immune mediated conditions. He leads the USC research team as part of a multi-center study of integrative genomic research of asthma. The objective of the study is to consolidate genetic, epigenetic and gene expression data to better understand the genetic risk factors and pathways involved in asthma onset and exacerbation. Dr. Islam also conducts research focused on the effect of polymorphisms in oxidative stress genes on asthma incidence and lung function in children and their interaction with air pollution and tobacco smoke exposures; the effect of air pollution on IMT in healthy young adults and children; and identifying environmental risk factors of multiple sclerosis.


Sandy Eckel, Ph.D.

Project 3 Co-Investigator
Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine
Director, PhD Program in Biostatistics

Sandy Eckel, Ph.D. is an associate professor of Biostatistics at the University of Southern California and Director of the USC Biostatistics PhD Program. Her work focuses on statistical methods and applications in environmental epidemiology. Dr. Eckel leads the statistical team of an NIBIB-funded project to develop sensor-based, integrated health monitoring systems for measuring environmental, physiological, and behavioral factors in pediatric epidemiological studies of asthma. Dr. Eckel also leads NIEHS-funded research on statistical methods for modeling air pollution effects on exhaled breath biomarkers.


Jimi Huh, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 2 Co-Investigator

Dr. Jimi Huh has joined the University of Southern California in 2011. She has a background in psychology and epidemiology, with specific interests in the topics of health disparities, acculturation and immigrant health. Since joining IPR, she has expanded her research to include developmental aspects of various health behaviors and has acquired various analytic skills, with special emphasis on multilevel modeling, mixture growth curve modeling, piecewise growth curve model, latent class analysis and latent transition analysis. Her past projects, funded by Tobacco Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) examines cultural influences on tobacco use and environmental exposure to smoking among Korean American emerging adults, using mixed methods. With her American Cancer Society (ACS)-sponsored project, she has developed a mobile-based just-in-time (JIT) cessation intervention designed to help young Asian American adult smokers. She is currently working on applying innovative statistical models pertinent to Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) and JIT intervention data such as mixed-effects location scale model and time-varying effect models.


Matt Kirkpatrick, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 1 and 4 Co-Investigator

Matt Kirkpatrick, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Research in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. He is associate director of the USC-Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory (USC-HEAL), which conducts interdisciplinary research at the intersection between drug abuse, emotion, and health-related behaviors. He earned his B.A. in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Ph.D. in Psychology at Columbia University. Dr. Kirkpatrick completed postdoctoral training in neuropsychopharmacology at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kirkpatrick’s research utilizes human behavioral pharmacology methods to investigate how interactions between drugs of abuse and environmental contexts alter mood, cognition, behavior, and physiological function.Dr. Kirkpatrick is also investigating the impact of various e-cigarette product characteristics (for example, flavorings) on the appeal and abuse potential of e-cigarettes.


Junhan Cho, Ph.D.

Project 3 & 4 Co-Investigator
Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine

Junhan Cho is an Assistant Professor of Research in the Department of Preventive Medicine in the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He is the Director of Methodology and Statistics for the USC-Health, Emotion, & Addiction Laboratory, which conducts interdisciplinary research on substance use and related risk factors. With a strong interest to develop advanced research methodologies, Dr. Cho’s research aims to address how diverse social contexts and psychological vulnerabilities intersect to increase risk of substance use among youth and young adults. His studies incorporate both theoretical and methodological frameworks necessary to conducting longitudinal and prevention studies on various psychosocial processes associated with substance use. His current studies include: 1) developmental trajectories of use and co-use patterns of multiple tobacco products across adolescence and young adulthood; and 2) longitudinal risk and protective pathways linking early contextual stressors and psychological vulnerabilities to subsequent substance use behaviors.


Raina Pang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Research Preventive Medicine
Project 4 Co-Investigator

My research utilizes human behavioral pharmacology and Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) methods to investigate mechanisms underlying tobacco related health disparities (e.g., sex/gender differences, female-specific factors in tobacco addiction, psychiatric comorbidity). Currently, I am PI on an EMA study investigating ovarian hormones on naturalistic smoking patterns. Additionally, I am PI on a laboratory behavioral pharmacology study investigating negative reinforcement mechanisms of smoking reinstatement in Major Depressive Disorder, and whether these associations are amplified in women compared to men.


Thomas Valente, Ph.D.

Professor of Preventive Medicine
Interim Chair of Preventive Medicine
Project 1 Co-Investigator

Thomas W. Valente, PhD, is Professor and Interim Chair in the Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, at the University of Southern California. He is author of Social Networks and Health: Models, Methods, and Applications (2010, Oxford University Press); Evaluating Health Promotion Programs (2002, Oxford University Press); Network Models of the Diffusion of Innovations (1995, Hampton Press); and over 175 articles and chapters on social networks, behavior change, and program evaluation. Valente uses social network analysis, health communication, and mathematical models to implement and evaluate health promotion programs designed to prevent tobacco and substance abuse, unintended fertility, and STD/HIV infections.  He is currently working on specification for analyzing network models of diffusion and contagion with the R package NetdiffuseR. Valente is also well-known for his work developing network models of program implementation and network interventions. Valente has received the Simmel Award from INSNA and the Rogers award from APHA.  Valente has also received the USC Melon award for graduate student mentoring.  Valente earned his BS in Mathematics from the University of Mary Washington, his MS in Mass Communication from San Diego State University, and his PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. From 1991 to 2000 he was at the Bloomberg School of Public Health; in 2008, he was a visiting senior scientist at NIH (NHGRI) for 6 months; and in 2010-2011 he was a visiting Professor at the École des Haute Études en Santé Publique (Paris/Rennes).  Valente is co-editor (with Martin Everett) of Social Networks, and on the editorial boards of Network Science and the Journal of Health Communication.


Trainees

Saida Coreas

Pre-doctoral Scholar

Saida Coreas is a pre-doctoral TCORS Fellow and PhD Student in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. She graduated from California State University, Los Angeles in 2018 with a B.S in Public Health. She completed a 3-year (2018-2021) post-baccalaureate Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) fellowship at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland where she worked on research projects looking at racial/ethnic differences in tobacco products use patterns among U.S. adults, as well as relationships between cigarette smoking susceptibility and smoking initiation among U.S. youth. Other work includes investigating the relationship between acculturation and cardiometabolic risk factors among U.S. Latinos. Her research focuses on understanding how factors relating to social determinants of health influence tobacco use among minority populations.


Jessica Braymiller, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Scholar

Dr. Jessica Braymiller is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Braymiller earned her B.A. in Psychology from Mercyhurst University (2014) and her MS and PhD in Biobehavioral Health from Penn State University (2016, 2019). Her research seeks to identify population-level patterns and trends in tobacco product use during adolescence and young adulthood, with a specific focus on the use of novel nicotine delivery systems (e.g., e-cigarettes). Dr. Braymiller is interested in using advanced statistical models (e.g., finite mixture models, time-varying effect models) as tools for better understanding transitions in tobacco use patterns as individuals age, as well as differences in product use over historical time.


The University of Southern California's Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (USC TCORS) for Vulnerable Populations is one of 9 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science in the U.S. We were created to serve in the production of relevant scientific data to inform the regulatory decision making at the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products. Additionally, we are here to educate and train the next generation of tobacco regulatory scientists.

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