Principal Investigator


Dr. Andreana N. Holowatyj, PhD, MS

Assistant Professor of Medicine & Cancer Biology

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine



Dr. Holowatyj has passionately worked for over 10 years to understand cancer development—both in the clinic and in the laboratory settings. She earned her PhD in Medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Holowatyj then became an NIH/NHGRI Fellow in Genomic Medicine as well as the Susan Cooper Jones Endowed Postdoctoral Fellow in Cancer Research at the University of Utah, where she also earned an MS in Clinical Investigation at the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, Utah.

At Vanderbilt, Dr. Holowatyj's team is dedicated to closing the major ‘gap’ in our understanding of appendiceal cancer biology and epidemiology—in order to make much-needed advances in disease prevention, detection, treatment and outcomes. She has served on the Expert Panel for the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) Staging Manual: Ninth Edition on Cancers of the Appendix. Dr. Holowatyj was also recently named as the Inaugural Chair for the Scientific Advisory Board for the Appendix Cancer Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (ACPMP) Research Foundation. She is also an active member of the Peritoneal Surface Malignancies (PSM) Consortium and the Board of Directors for the Vanderbilt Young Adult Cancers Center.

Her research has led to the first studies of appendix cancer genetics, biology, epidemiology and outcomes for young patients—including the discovery of the first prevalence and spectrum of germline genetic features in appendix cancer patients. She also found that approximately 1 in every 3 individuals diagnosed with appendix cancer is younger than age 50 years. These findings have contributed to the development of the GAP Study, where Dr. Holowatyj and her team are working to discover how changes in genes may contribute to appendix cancer development. We also hope to learn about how genetic changes inherited from a parent may increase the likelihood of developing appendix cancer.


Study Staff

Rebecca (Shreffler) Babyak, BA


Rebecca completed her undergraduate studies in Chemistry and Music at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. She is currently the clinical research coordinator for the GAP Study at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, where she is responsible for patient recruitment/enrollment, study visits and follow-up, data and sample collection as well as regulatory compliance.

Contact Rebecca at (615) 936-8544.


Rachel Francis, BS


Rachel graduated from the University of the South in Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a minor in Neuroscience. From there, she went on to expand her clinical laboratory-based training in diagnostic testing of infectious disease. Joining the Holowatyj Lab in 2023 as a Laboratory Coordinator, Rachel is responsible for all biospecimen processing and PREFACE/GAP Study biorepository management as well as experimental conduct in patient-derived organoid lines. Rachel’s research interests include cancer biology, cell biology and human genetics; she is eager to contribute to new, clinically-impactful discoveries in the Holowatyj Lab at Vanderbilt.


Alexander Adams, BS

Adams Headshot


Alex graduated from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and minors in Computer Science and Chemistry. After graduation, he pursued research at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, where he applied computational techniques to study metabolic signaling in animal studies. From there, he became a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Massachusetts General Hospital before joining the Holowatyj Lab in 2023. Alex's research interests include computational -omics and cancer epidemiology. He is particularly fascinated by the intersection of medicine and computer science, and is excited to bring this experience to the GAP Study Team here at Vanderbilt.


Lisa Long, BA



Lisa is the Senior Administrative Assistant for the Holowatyj Team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Lisa has been with Vanderbilt University since 2004, and has supported numerous cancer studies at the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center. She is excited to provide administrative support for the GAP Study.




Gracey Suggs

Adams Headshot


Gracey is an undergraduate student at Austin Peay State University studying Medical, Cellular, and Molecular Biology and minoring in Psychology. She joined our team in June 2024 as part of the competitive Vanderbilt Excellence in Cancer Research, Education, and Leadership (V-EXCEL) Program at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. At Austin Peay State University, she participates in the President’s Emerging Leaders Program, Honors Program, cheerleading team, and serves as President of the Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society ETA PI Chapter. In the Holowatyj Lab, Gracey’s summer research project is focused on cancer health disparities within the Genetics of Appendix Cancer (GAP) Study.



Samantha Keller, BA


Sam recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Medicine, Health and Society (MHS) and a minor in Psychology. She joined our team in January 2021, and received a 2021 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research Program Award supported by the Drs. Sidney and Becca Fleischer Undergraduate Summer Research Fund. Her research is focused on cancer survivorship among adolescents and young adults (AYAs). Sam’s professional interests include women’s health, psychology, oncology, nutrition and fitness. She also is thrilled to also get the opportunity to work on the GAP Study at Vanderbilt.