Meet the TRIP Team
Thomas Brandon, PhD
Thomas Brandon, Ph.D. is the Director of the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program and Chair of the Department of Health Outcomes and Behavior at Moffitt Cancer Center. He is also Professor of Psychology and Oncologic Sciences at the University of South Florida. Dr. Brandon’s research focuses on factors that maintain tobacco dependence, as well as the development of novel tobacco-cessation and relapse-prevention interventions. His research has examined the problem of cigarette smoking and smoking relapse via several different modalities, ranging from basic human laboratory research on smoking motivation, through applied research on smoking cessation and relapse prevention across populations. With interventions, he has concentrated on theory-based behavioral treatments and self-help interventions. The Forever Free® self-help programs have been validated in four randomized controlled trials and are disseminated by NCI and health organizations nationwide. Recently, Dr. Brandon expanded his research to study addiction mechanisms and potential clinical utility of electronic cigarettes.
David Drobes, PhD
David J. Drobes, Ph.D., is Associate Director of the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. He is a Senior Member in the Department of Health Outcomes & Behavior at the Moffitt Cancer Center, and a Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Oncologic Sciences at the University of South Florida. Dr. Drobes has conducted extensive human laboratory studies of cue reactivity and withdrawal among cigarette smokers, with a long-term goal to translate laboratory findings into novel behavioral and pharmacological smoking cessation treatments. Recent work has focused on effects of low nicotine cigarettes on smoking behavior and cessation. He has served as Principal Investigator on grants from federal, state, and private agencies, and has over 85 publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Dr. Drobes received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Purdue University, followed by post-doctoral fellowships at the University of Florida (psychophysiology) and the Medical University of South Carolina (substance abuse).
Vani Simmons, PhD
Dr. Simmons’ research interests include the development of smoking cessation and relapse-prevention interventions for special populations (at-risk/vulnerable groups) including cancer patients, college students, and ethnic minorities. Smoking among cancer patients can result in numerous adverse health consequences. Dr. Simmons and her team have developed a line of research to create a novel, theory-based smoking-relapse prevention intervention for cancer patients. Her work with cancer patients has recently extended to electronic cigarette use and to understanding barriers and facilitators to low-dose computed tomography as a screening tool for high-risk smokers. Dr. Simmons has also conducted research on the development of culturally appropriate smoking relapse-prevention and cessation intervention materials for Hispanic smokers and she is currently co-leading (with Dr. Brandon) a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of a Spanish-language self-help smoking cessation intervention for Hispanic smokers. Her research has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, Florida Department of Health James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program, and other foundations.
David Evans, PhD
Dr. Evans’ research program seeks to understand the role of cognitive control in smoking behavior. Cognitive control involves the ability to pay attention and remember information relevant to the task at hand. Cognitive control is positively associated with the ability to regulate emotions and the efficient completion of daily tasks. Some cigarette smokers may thus find smoking more reinforcing because of nicotine’s capacity to enhance cognitive control, including the reversal of withdrawal-related deficits in cognitive control. Dr. Evans has completed grant-funded projects that examine nicotine withdrawal-related deficits in cognitive control. His research suggests that individuals with suboptimal levels of cognitive control as a stable trait may experience greater nicotine withdrawal-related deficits in cognitive control. Dr. Evans’ research interests have recently expanded to include the study of cognitive control in the context of self-control. The ability to control attention and related processes is positively associated with self-control. Dr. Evans is first interested in determining which measures of cognitive control are the most robustly associated with self-control over smoking. Second, he is interested in developing interventions that enhance cognitive control in an effort to improve the capacity for smokers to resist smoking.
Christine Vinci, PhD
Dr. Vinci’s research broadly focuses on cognitive and effective mechanisms (e.g., affect, affect regulation, expectancies) implicated in the development, maintenance, and treatment of cancer-risk behaviors. More specifically, her work aims to understand the mechanisms underlying smoking cessation and decreased alcohol use among underserved populations in order to inform the development and modification of treatment interventions. She has a specific interest in mindfulness-based treatments, as these interventions have the ability to target mechanisms that are central to changing certain behaviors including quitting smoking and decreasing alcohol use. She currently has a K99/R00 award from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities that is utilizing advanced technology (i.e., ecological momentary assessment, human sensing) to examine the impact of mindfulness strategies sent via text message on key mechanisms underlying smoking cessation among a sample of low socioeconomic and racially/ethnically diverse smokers.
Karen Obremski Brandon, PhD
Karen Obremski Brandon, PhD, is a Research Scientist at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. Dr. Brandon received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Indiana University. She focused on familial and individual difference characteristics of alcohol use and abuse in children, adolescents and adults before joining TRIP. She currently contributes to projects on self-help for smoking cessation, health disparities in smoking cessation treatments, and e-cigarette use for smoking cessation.
Lauren Meltzer, MPH, TTS
Research Project Manager
Lauren Meltzer, MPH, is a Research Project Manager for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She has 11 years of research experience and is currently managing several studies developing and testing smoking cessation and smoking relapse interventions among niche populations. Ms. Meltzer earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and her Master’s degree in Public Health at the University of South Florida. Her research interests include smoking cessation and relapse prevention among special populations, including cancer patients and e-cigarette users.
Melissa Conn, BA, TTS
Research Coordinator III
Melissa Conn is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program and is currently working on a smoking cessation study investigating the impact and feasibility of low-nicotine cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. Ms. Conn has worked on several studies, including leading a multi-site project evaluating the effects of various nicotine levels on smoking behavior and related outcomes. She received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of South Florida and is currently pursuing her Master’s in public health degree at the same institution.
Patricia Medina-Ramirez, MPH
Research Coordinator II
Patricia Medina-Ramirez, MPH, is the lead Research Coordinator for an NIH and FDOH – funded research project assessing the efficacy of a Spanish-language self-help intervention for smoking cessation in a nationwide randomized control trial. She has 5 years of experience recruiting Hispanic participants and working with cancer survivors. She received her master’s degree in Public Health from the University of South Florida, specializing in Global Health and Epidemiology. Patricia has a special interest in Latino Cancer Health Disparities and language/culturally adapted health interventions.
Yenis Lorenzo, BA
Research Coordinator I
Yenis Lorenzo joined the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP) as a Research Coordinator for Dr. Drobes. Yenis is currently working on The Countdown Study, a smoking cessation study using low nicotine cigarettes. Yenis is also taking part in a study aimed at understanding relationships between medical (and recreational) marijuana and tobacco use. Yenis graduated from the University of South Florida with her B.A in Psychology.
Manda Mainville, BS
Research Coordinator I
Manda Mainville is a Research Coordinator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP). She received her B.S. in Biomedical Sciences with a minor in Public Health at the University of South Florida. Manda is currently working on a study examining changes in smoking and e-cigarette use over time among dual users.
Fiorella Gonzales, MPH CPH
Research Coordinator II
Fiorella Gonzales, MPH, is a Research Coordinator II for ¡Libre del cigarrillo!, a randomized control trial evaluating the efficacy of a self-help smoking cessation intervention among Spanish-speaking smokers. Fiorella completed her master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Epidemiology and Maternal and Child Health from the University of South Florida. Her research interests include smoking cessation, health disparities, and community-based participatory research.
Lauren Malkhasyan, BA, TTS
Research Coordinator II
Lauren Malkhasyan, BA, is a Research Coordinator at the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She is currently coordinating an NIH-funded study called Time2Quit that incorporates mindfulness-based strategies in smoking cessation Treatment. She also coordinates another study, FOCUS: A Mindfulness-Based Intervention for HCT Cancer Caregivers, that pilot tests a mindfulness-based program for HCT Cancer Caregivers to examine changes on variables associated with reduced stress. Additionally, she is also assisting on Countdown, a randomized control trial that delivers a smoking cessation intervention with reduced nicotine cigarettes.
Leslie Sawyer, BS
Leslie Sawyer is a graduate student in the doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of South Florida. Dr. Thomas Brandon is her major professor. Her research and clinical interests are broadly geared toward elucidation of behavioral processes that promote or attenuate substance misuse, including processes that correlate with improved treatment outcomes. At TRIP, Leslie is currently working on studies involving e-cigarettes and smoking cessation utilizing low-nicotine cigarettes.
Amanda Palmer, MA
Amanda Palmer entered the clinical psychology doctoral program at University of South Florida and began working at TRIP in 2014. Dr. Thomas Brandon is her major professor, and her clinical and research interests lie at the intersection of addictions and health psychology. Amanda works on various projects in the lab, including studies utilizing e-cigarettes, interventions with Moffitt patients, and providing smoking cessation group therapy.
Patricia Calixte-Civil, B.A.
Graduate Student, Health Policy Research Scholar
Patricia Calixte-Civil is a graduate student at the University of South Florida pursuing a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and working under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Brandon. At TRIP, she is exploring tobacco-related health disparities among under-resourced populations, primarily Black smokers. Patricia is also receiving funding and policy training from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a Health Policy Research Scholar. She is a proud alumna of the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, Project L/EARN, and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey-New Brunswick, where she completed an honors major in psychology with a focus on substance use disorders. Previously, Patricia worked as a research assistant in the department of Addiction Psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School on a study testing the efficacy of a computer-based intervention for smokers with psychosis.
Ursula Martinez, PhD
Dr. Martinez received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain) in 2015. Her overall research goal is to reduce tobacco consumption through the development of effective interventions for smoking cessation. During her graduate training, her research focused on examining how psychopathology influences the smoking cessation process in smokers receiving treatment. At the end of her predoctoral training, she received a grant to spend 6 months at the University of Newcastle (Australia) where she started working in the field of smoking cessation in the cancer patient population. During her postdoctoral fellowship, she is studying smoking cessation treatments in special populations, including cancer patients and Hispanics, and nicotine dependence in e-cigarette users.
Viola Voncken-Brewster, PhD
Dr. Voncken-Brewster is a post-doctoral fellow in the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She received her PhD in Health Psychology from Maastricht University, focusing on the development and evaluation of a computer-tailored intervention to help COPD patients and people at risk for COPD to stop smoking and be more physically active. Her research interests include the development of smoking cessation interventions, technology-based intervention modalities, the use of low nicotine cigarettes for smoking cessation, and Marijuana and Tobacco Co-use.
Administrative Support Staff
Samantha Diaz-McGimsey is the Division Coordinator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program (TRIP) and the Health Outcomes and Behavior Department. She has been with Moffitt Cancer Center since 2005 and currently provides administrative support to TRIP faculty, graduate students, staff members, and undergraduate research interns, as well as coordinating support from other Moffitt departments.
Associate Grant Administrator II
Brenda Medero, is an Associate Grant Administrator II. She supports Thomas H. Brandon, PhD, Director of Tobacco Research and Intervention Program, Department Chair and Program Leader of Health Outcomes and Behavior. She also supports all TRIP faculty with administrative and grant duties. Brenda has been at the Moffitt Cancer Center since 1989.
Terri White-Jones is a Grant Administrator for the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program. She has 13 years of experience in the financial and administrative management of sponsored projects. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College. Prior to Moffitt she worked at the University of South Florida and Raymond James Financial.