Vanessa Fitsanakis, Ph.D.

Academic Title(s)

  • Adjunct Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences


I am definitely my dad’s daughter. I grew up as an 8th generation farmer, but earned a PhD in neuroscience, with an emphasis in toxicology. Not too surprising, based on my up-bringing, my research focuses on the relationship between pesticides and disease of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease. If you didn’t know I had a PhD, you probably wouldn’t guess because I don’t see myself as any more clever or better than anyone else. Rather, because of my advanced degree, I believe that I have an obligation to make my research and my knowledge accessible to those around me. I enjoying mentoring students in the lab, and I love teaching in the classroom. I live by a simple motto: I teach because I get paid; I explain things because you deserve to know.

Area of Expertise/Research Interests

My lab uses the microscopic worm, C. elegans, as a model organism to assess how exposure to various pesticides may lead to damage in the nervous system that could increase a person’s risk for neurodegeneration. We focus predominantly on damage to mitochondria (the organelle that is responsible for a cell’s energy production), changes in levels of harmful reactive molecules (reactive oxygen species), and transport proteins that may help these chemicals enter neurons.

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, Vanderbilt University, 2003.
  • MSc, Science and Technology Studies, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 1997.
  • BS, Chemistry (Cum Laude), Milligan College, 1996.


  • Human Anatomy & Physiology