Learn more about our team at Drexel's Medical Cannabis Research Center.
Stephen E. Lankenau, PhD, Director
Dr. Stephen E. Lankenau, Professor at the Dornsife School of Public Health, has been leading research studies focused on the use and misuse of substances for over 20 years.
He is the Principal Investigator on a multi-year patient registry study funded by Agronomed that will track the health of medical cannabis patients recruited from 6 dispensaries in Pennsylvania.
He is the Principal Investigator on a 10-year longitudinal study funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (R01DA034067) focused on the health of young adult cannabis users in Los Angeles.
He is also co-leading two studies focused on overdose prevention in Philadelphia: one funded by NIDA (R34DA044758) that developed and tested the UnityPhilly app to deliver naloxone during overdose emergencies; and second funded by Arnold Ventures that will evaluate an overdose prevention site.
Wei Du, MD, MS, Co-Director
Dr. Wei Du is a professor and academic chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine at Drexel University and chair of the Department of Academic Medicine at Tower Health. Dr. Du also holds a secondary appoinment as professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at the College of Medicine.
He is the former director of the General Adult Psychiatry Residency program at Drexel University College of Medicine. He has won the Teacher of the Year Award in the department in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He provides lectures on psychopharmacology of depression and anxiety, and serves on the graduate student thesis committee.
Dr. Du is also involved in medical student education, providing lectures on schizophrenia, and neurobiology of depression and anxiety. He began a two-year term as the secretary of the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society in 2018.
Janna Ataiants, DrPH, Co-Investigator
Dr. Janna Ataiants is a Senior Research Scientist in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. Her research examines how gender, social contexts, and marginalization shape drug use experiences.
Her recent projects focused on opioid overdose in Philadelphia, including the investigation of personal and witnessed overdose among vulnerable women, as well as the effects of a pilot app-based overdose prevention intervention - a project supported by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (PI: Prof. S.E. Lankenau).
For the last 5 years, she has been a research analyst for a NIDA-funded cohort study of young adult cannabis users in Los Angeles (PI: Prof. S. E. Lankenau) where she was involved in data analysis and manuscript development.
Dr. Ataiants is the Co-Investigator on the PA medical cannabis patient registry study funded by Agronomed (PI: Prof. S.E. Lankenau).
Ekaterina Fedorova, DrPH, Co-Investigator
Dr. Ekaterina Fedorova is a Senior Research Scientist in the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. Her work included psychological counseling and research within HIV prevention cohort studies among opioid injectors in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Since 2013 she has been a part of a research team working on the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded longitudinal cohort study of young adult medical cannabis users in Los Angeles (PI: Prof. S.E. Lankenau) where she was involved in the survey instrument development, data collection, data management and analysis, and manuscripts development.
Dr. Fedorova is the Co-Investigator on the Pennsylvania medical cannabis patient registry study funded by Agronomed (PI: Prof. S.E. Lankenau).
Denia Cai Shi, PhD, Co-Investigator
Denia Cai Shi is the current Janssen-Drexel Psychiatric Drug Development Fellow, where she spends 70% of her time working in the Neuropsychiatry Division of Janssen Pharmaceuticals and 30% of the time working in the Department of Psychiatry at Drexel University School of Medicine.
She completed her PhD in Plant Biology from the Rutgers University-New Brunswick where she investigated natural compounds found in monk fruit and citrus peel for human health benefits in C. elegans.
At the Medical Cannabis Research Center, she is involved in managing a clinical study to examine whether medical cannabis impacts quality of life outcomes in patients living with HIV as well as other comorbid conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and neuropathic pain.
Ben Cocchiaro, MD, MPH, Co-Investigator
Dr. Ben Cocchiaro is an Assistant Clinical Professor in the department of Family Medicine and Community Health in the College of Medicine at Drexel University. He is the former director of medical education and board treasurer at Prevention Point Philadelphia, and has served on the Philadelphia Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opiate Epidemic Data Analysis and Sharing Subcommittee.
Dr. Cocchiaro has given invited lectures on substance use disorders for the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Pennsylvania Society for Addiction Medicine, the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society, and area medical schools and clinics. He has also given grand rounds on applications of medical cannabis at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.
Jim Seaberg, MPH, Assistant Director
Jim Seaberg earned his MPH with a concentration in Healthcare Management and Policy at Drexel University and is a graduate of Susquehanna University.
He has worked in the medical cannabis industry since 2019, working in patient education and relations. Jim has also worked in relationship management for the banking and finance industry and has lived internationally in Spain and the UAE.
He is responsible for building and managing the community and scientific advisory boards for the MCRC and is designing an ongoing guest speaker series on medical cannabis. He is passionate about developing evidence-based policy initiatives to address issues of social justice, patient access, legalization, and public health related to cannabis.
Lyric Kleber, MPH, Project Manager
Lyric Kleber earned his MPH from the University of Michigan in 2022 with a concentration in Health Behavior and Health Education, where he also obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Public Health Sciences.
Previously, he was a clinical subjects coordinator on an opioid use disorder prevention study with the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan Medicine. This study employed motivational interviewing strategies in an effort to modify substance use behavior of study participants in the emergency department setting. He has also worked in fundraising for higher education and healthcare systems.
Lyric is involved with managing the day-to-day procedures of the patient registry study (PI: Prof. S.E. Lankenau). He is particularly interested in the social justice impacts that medical cannabis research can have on marginalized communities.
Ojaswini Parab, MPH, Project Manager
Ojaswini, with a Master of Public Health from Drexel University and a Bachelor of Medicine from Maharashtra University of Health Sciences, India, boasts a well-rounded foundation in both public health and medicine.
In her previous roles with US EPA, Nationalities Service Center and Texas Medical Center, Ojaswini demonstrated her proficiency in instrument design, data collection, and analysis, directly aligning with the responsibilities of managing a patient registry study for medical cannabis patients. In her diverse roles, she has managed projects, led teams, and spearheaded initiatives, displaying a structured approach to delivering high-impact solutions.
She wishes to bring a fresh perspective to health policy, particularly in the realm of medical cannabis. Her interest lies in exploring innovative approaches to bridge gaps in understanding, access, and policy formulation in this evolving landscape.
Maddy Finkelstein, MSW, PhD Student
Maddy is a PhD student at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health. Her background in social work focused on trauma-informed care, and she has direct practice experience in both violence prevention and adolescent mental health. Her current research interests center around cannabis use for chronic pain and how race and gender interact to influence pain care.
At the Medical Cannabis Research Center, Maddy is one of the lead interviewers for the qualitative arm of the registry study and she plans to conduct her dissertation research using registry study data.
David Sherrell, MA, PhD Student
David Alan Sherrell is a veteran of global schools-based substance misuse prevention, having delivered interventions in over 15 countries from 2009-2021. He received his Master’s in Psychology from Rutgers University in 2017. After over a decade in the field, he is excited to be on an academic journey, expanding his knowledge and skills.
Victoria Ryan, MSPH, PhD Student
Victoria Ryan is pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Drexel, and working as a doctoral fellow on Dr. Stephen Lankenau’s grant, “Medical Marijuana, Emerging Adults, and Community: Connecting Health and Policy.” Her focus areas are substance use, mental health, and infectious diseases. Victoria’s work with the Medical Cannabis Research Center involves analysis of survey and purchase data.
Prior to entering the doctoral program, Victoria worked as a data manager and analyst at Drexel on a multi-site, randomized, controlled trial examining screening and treatment for toddlers with autism; and on observational studies examining the association of community-level factors with the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the US. Prior to this, she was based in Washington, D.C., and served as a strategic information advisor for the US Agency for International Development for HIV/AIDS programs, working with teams in countries such as Ukraine and Mozambique. She obtained her MSPH from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Interventions.
Katherine Ardeleanu, MS, LGPC, PhD Student
Katherine is a PhD student in the Department of Health Management and Policy at Dornsife. She is interested in studying disparities in mental health and access to mental health services, as well as how to address these disparities and increase access to mental health care for under resourced populations. In addition to being a researcher and PhD student, Katherine is also a licensed mental health counselor and has seen firsthand in both research and clinical work how inequities in access to mental health services negatively impact people.
Katherine aims to address this issue in two ways. First is developing a better understanding of barriers to mental health care and how to address these barriers in order to improve accessibility of care. Second is researching mental health treatments for diverse populations and creating and implementing culturally informed treatments that are appropriate for minoritized groups who have historically been underrepresented in research.