Our Team

Leadership and Faculty

  • Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, PhD

    Chief, Division of Ethics

    Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, Ph.D., is Chief of the Division of Ethics and tenured Professor of Medical Humanities and Ethics at Columbia University. Trained as a medical anthropologist, Dr. Lee has extensive experience leading multi-disciplinary bioethics research on race, ancestry and equity in genomics, precision medicine and artificial intelligence; governance of biorepositories and commercialization of biotechnology; and diversity in academic medicine and entrepreneurship. Her projects include The Ethics of Inclusion: Diversity in Precision Medicine Research (R01 HG010330), Beyond Consent: Patient Preferences for Governance of Use of Clinical Samples and Data (R01 LM012180) and Social Networking and Personal Genomics: Implications for Health Research (R01 HG005086).  Dr. Lee publishes broadly in the genomics, medical, bioethics, and social science literatures, and co-edited Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age (2008), which resulted from a two year multi-disciplinary, cross-campus dialogue supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Stanford Humanities Institute.

    At the Columbia University Irving Institute of Clinical and Translational Research, Dr. Lee is the Director of the Teams Initiative and the Associate Director of the Regulatory Knowledge and Support and Ethics Resource (RKSER). Dr. Lee is Co-PI of the NIH/NHGRI funded Center for ELSI Resources and Analysis (CERA), a collaboration between Columbia and Stanford with partners at the Hastings Center and Harvard University, and the co-Director of the NIH/NHGRI funded biennial International ELSI Congress.

    Dr. Lee is President-elect of the Association of Bioethics Program Directors and a Hastings Center Fellow. She has been an Economic and Social Research Council Bright Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, Wenner-Gren Foundation Faculty Fellow, a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow in Medical Humanities and a Resident Fellow at the School for Advanced Research. Dr. Lee has served as Chairperson of the Institutional Review Board at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, the Coriell Consultation and Oversight Committee of the International Haplotype Map, and the NIH/NHGRI Genomics and Society Working Group.  

    Dr. Lee currently serves on the editorial boards of Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics and the American Journal of Bioethics, the Scientific and Bioethics Advisory Boards of the Kaiser Permanente National Research Biobank and the Scientific Advisory Board of the Human Pangenome Consortium. In 2021, Dr. Lee was appointed to the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections (SACHRP). Dr. Lee received her doctorate from the UC Berkeley/UCSF joint program in Medical Anthropology and her undergraduate degree in Human Biology from Stanford University.

  • Maya Sabatello, LLB, PhD

    Associate Professor of Medical Sciences (in Medicine and in Medical Humanities and Ethics)

    Maya Sabatello, LLB, PhD is an Associate Professor of Medical Sciences (in Medicine) at the Center for Precision Medicine and Genomics, Department of Medicine; Associate Professor (in Medical Humanities and Ethics), at the Division of Ethics, Department of Ethics and the Humanities; and Co-Director of the Precision Medicine: Ethics, Politics, and Culture Project at Columbia University. She is a former litigator with trans-disciplinary background and has extensive experience in national and international policy-making relating to human and disability rights. Sabatello studies how biomedical technologies and genomic information impact social structures, marginalized communities, and individual rights and health outcomes. Her scholarship focuses on law, society, medicine, and disability; regulations of reproductive technologies; and the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetics and precision medicine. Her projects include Disability, Diversity and Trust in Precision Medicine Research (R01 HG010868), Evidence-based Policy Recommendations to Address Bioethical Challenges in the Return of Genetic Results in Nephrology (U01 DK100876-07 Supp); the psychosocial impact of genomic data on adolescents and family relations (studies funded by the Children Cardiomyopathy Foundation and Columbia University’s Precision Medicine and Society); and Disability Inclusion in Precision Medicine Research (P50 HG007257-05S1). She recently completed a K01 Award that explored the uses of psychiatric genetics evidence in civil litigation and non-clinical settings, such as child custody disputes and schools (K01 HG008653).

    Dr. Sabatello has been a Gray Matters Fellow, a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, and a Visiting Research Fellow at Columbia University’s School of Law. She serves as a member at various genomic- and ethics-related committees at Columbia University and elsewhere, including the Tri-Institutional Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee (Tri-SCI ESCRO), the NHGRI’s Community Engagement in Genomics Working Group (CEGWG) and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of the All of Us Research Program. She currently Co-Chairs the Ethics Committee of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics. 

    Headshot of Maya Sabatello
  • Alexis Walker, PhD

    Assistant Professor

    Alexis Walker, PhD is an interdisciplinary scholar trained in Science and Technology Studies (STS), political anthropology, organizational studies, and bioethics. Her research investigates the social dynamics of financial and private sector organizations in health and medicine. She is currently Principal Investigator on a four-year project (2019-2023) examining perspectives from members of the commercial genomics industry on the social and ethical dynamics of their field. This work is funded by an Early Career Investigator award (K99/R00) from the National Human Genome Research Institute. 

    Dr. Walker’s previous research has examined the organizational dynamics of international financial institutions making loans for global health projects, the ethics of “precision rationing,” and the politics of patenting biotechnology. Her work employs qualitative methods, including ethnography, in-depth interviews, and document analysis. Her most recent work includes additional survey methods and town hall-style focus groups. 

    Prior to coming to Columbia, Dr. Walker was a postdoctoral fellow at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Walker received her doctorate from Cornell University’s Department of Science and Technology Studies, a master’s degree in political sociology and STS from University of Strasbourg (France), and an undergraduate degree in Biology from Brown University. 

    Alexis Walker headshot

Research Associates

  • Caitlin McMahon, PhD, MPH

    Project Director

    Caitlin E. McMahon, PhD, MPH received her doctorate in Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University. She started her research career working in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU based in historic Bellevue Hospital. Her dissertation research has focused on the historical evolution of the health consumer identity and the ways in which consumer rhetoric, and social, economic, and racial inequalities have informed debates over health insurance in the U.S. throughout the 20th century. More broadly, her research interests extend to the history of activism in health social movements, rights language and justice in health care access, and public health policy.

    Caitlin McMahon, Project Manager, headshot
  • Mike Bentz, MPH

    Research Coordinator

    Mike Bentz, MPH worked for several years on an NIH-funded clinical trial investigating race-specific clinical therapies. This is one of the reasons for which he became interested in the justifications for such therapies and how these justifications intersect with emergent genetics technologies.

    Headshot of Mike Bentz, MPH

Administration

  • Rachel Yarmolinsky, MS

    Program Director

    Rachel Yarmolinsky, a longtime Director of Media Relations and Marketing at Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and a Regulatory Specialist at the Columbia University Human Research Protection Office, completed an MS in Bioethics at Columbia University in 2014. Her interests include the challenges of providing healthcare in an unjust society, research on ethical questions in medicine, and how to encourage ethical behavior. Ms. Yarmolinsky is experienced in event and meeting planning, science writing, graphic design, and media relations. She is on the steering committee of the Columbia University Center for Research on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Psychiatric, Neurologic and Behavioral Genetics, a member of the Pediatrics and Adult Medical Ethics Committees at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/CUIMC, a member of the Social Services Committee of New York City’s Community Board 2, and a member of the board of Science Writers in New York.

    Rachel Yarmolinsky Photo
  • Dounya Alami-Nassif, MA

    Administrative Coordinator

    Dounya Alami-Nassif joined the Department team as an Administrative Coordinator after experience in nonprofit communications and development, academic event planning and promotion, as well as local government administration. She holds an MA in Near Eastern Studies from NYU and a dual BA in Government and International Relations/Global Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She hopes to pursue more closely the intersections between area/diaspora studies and medical humanities.

    Dounya Alami-Nassif photo
  • Angelica Johnson, MS

    Program Administrator

    Angelica Johnson is experienced in communications, nonprofit administration and is an accomplished digital storyteller. A graduate of Spelman College, she completed oral history research in the Bahamas and Atlanta. She completed her MS in Nonprofit Management from Columbia University SPS, where she is an advocate and mentor for the HBCU Fellowship. Angelica is interested in fostering mutual respect between academia and diverse communities. 

    Photo portrait of Angelica Johnson
  • Elizabeth Pudel, BA

    Program Administrator

    Liz Pudel holds a BA in Sociology from Barnard College. She joined the Department as a Research Associate to Dr. David J. Rothman in the Division of Social Medicine & Professionalism. Prior to joining the Department, she worked in digital marketing consulting for arts organizations, and she now brings her experience in marketing to supporting the Division of Ethics’ communications efforts. She is currently a student at the CUNY School of Law, where she hopes to pursue labor and employment law through the lens of social medicine.

    Portrait of Elizabeth Pudel

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