Our Team

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 9 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 and laboratory continues to focus on the essential need to treat the whole patient for whom multiple life domains are impacted after a cancer diagnosis—specifically among individuals younger than age 50. She created and leads the Reproductive Health After Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment (REACT) Study which has identified key challenges that individuals within this population are facing across their cancer journey. These findings have contributed to the development of the PREFACE Study, where we are working to discover new ways to improve reproductive health and survivorship for patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 50.

Dr. Holowatyj's team is also dedicated to closing the major ‘gap’ in our understanding of appendix cancer biology and epidemiology—in order to make much-needed advances in disease prevention, detection 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 is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Vanderbilt Young Adult Cancers Center.

Her research has led to the first studies of appendix cancer biology, epidemiology and outcomes for young patients—including the discovery that approximately 1 in every 3 individuals diagnosed with appendix cancer is younger than age 50. 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.


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 and PREFACE Studies 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) 936-6204.


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 he aims to gain more experience in translational cancer research as he works towards his next career steps.


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.


Lisa Long, BS


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 and PREFACE Studies.






Luke Kopco


Luke is an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt University majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society (MHS) with a concentration in Health Behavior and Health Sciences. He is also pursuing a minor in German Studies. Luke joined the Holowatyj Lab in the beginning of 2023, with research interests that include cancer survivorship within the adolescent and young adult population. He is also a recipient of a 2023 Vanderbilt Undergraduate Summer Research Program Award supported by the Drs. Sidney and Becca Fleischer Undergraduate Summer Research Fund. Overall, Luke is excited to contribute to the PREFACE and GAP Studies, the Holowatyj Lab/Team and the Vanderbilt community.