Seattle Vaccine Trials Unit Team

Who We Are

We are the staff and researchers at the Vaccine Trials Unit (VTU), a program at Fred Hutch. Our research is conducted by expert scientists at Fred Hutch, University of Washington and other academic institutions. Our team works with study volunteers to ensure the best science is conducted to help prevent HIV.

Our medical team is led by Dr. Julie McElrath, Senior Vice President and Director of the Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Division at Fred Hutch.

Gina Braun

Gina Braun (she/her)

Director of Regulatory Affairs, IVD

Gina joined the VTU in 2003.  Her role is to prepare and manage all of the site’s submissions and communications with regulatory bodies, such as the Fred Hutch’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). She is responsible for ensuring the unit’s compliance with institutional, state and federal regulations. Gina writes and edits all of the study materials for participants including consent forms, letters and instruction sheets. She also assists with protocol development and implementation for the unit’s cohort projects.

"My motto is plan ahead," Gina said. "My greatest greatest extravagance is my daily dose of Starbucks!"

Julie Czartoski, ARNP

Julie Czartoski, ARNP (she/her)

Research Clinician

Julie started at VTU in 2004.  She manages our HIV Cohort Studies which follows the HIV long-term non-progressor and HIV elite controller study, mucosal study, and the lab control study. In February 2020, she started the COVID-Cohort study [link to covidstudies page], testing and following people who are at risk for COVID and people who are newly infected. 

"I can’t imagine a more perfect occupation than what I do now," Julie said. "I value in my friends their ability to laugh (usually with me, occasionally at me) and mutual trust.”

Walta Dawit

Walta Dawit (she/her)

Outreach Specialist

Walta joined the outreach team as a part-time Outreach Specialist in 2022 while finishing school at the University of Washington. After gratuating in December, 2022, she increased her hours. In her full-time role, you can see Walta doing outreach locally — you may meet her at a recruitment table at a local market or at a special event with a community partner. Additionally, behind the scenes Walta uses her creative skills on creating materials for outreach as well as coordinating our social media channels on Instagram, Facebook and Linked In. 

Jennifer Han

Jennifer Han (she/her)

Clinical Research Nurse

Jen joined the VTU in December 2020, after transferring over from the HVTN. She moved to Seattle from Baltimore in 2019, but is a Californian at heart.  She is a former ED nurse who joined the clinical research world because she loves science and public health! She is passionate about HIV/AIDS issues and has previously worked as a HIV case manager, test counselor, outreach worker, and researcher.  Jen is an infectious disease nerd, avid runner and book reader, and harm reduction advocate. She has many loves including volleyball, Ru Paul’s Drag Race, traveling and eating her way around the world, and 90s R&B jams.

Her favorite work quote: “I loved clinical practice, but in public health, you can impact more than one person at a time. The whole society is our patient.”  Tom Frieden (former CDC director)

Melinda Houdak

Melinda Houdak (she/her)

Regulatory Affairs Associate

Melinda joined the VTU in April 2013. She assists in the preparation and drafting of regulatory documents to be submitted to the local Institutional Review Board (IRB). Melinda also assists with implementation of study documents in clinic, once approved.

"The greatest loves of my life are my husband, Abe, and our children, Javin and Hailey," Melinda said. " My motto is go into the world and do well, but more importantly, go into the world and do good.”

Nick Kendall, M.S.

Nick Kendall, M.S. (he/him)

Data Coordinator Lead

Nick joined the VTU in September 2020 coming to Seattle via Iowa. His primary responsibilities are coordinating clinical research data collection processes and data quality management in support of the VTU. He is responsible for assuring adherence to protocol-required data collection ongoing data quality control, as well as overall data quality assurance and control. 

“If you can’t find me at work I am either at a local brewery sampling their latest IPA, out on a trial getting lost in nature, or at home watching my beloved Denver Broncos or Iowa Hawkeyes with my wife, Natalie, cat, Queso, and dog Summit,” Nick said. 

Ji Eun Lee, Pharm.D., BCPS

Ji Eun Lee, Pharm.D., BCPS (she/her)


Ji is a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy and a Clinical Pharmacist at the Madison Clinic, Harborview Medical Center. She graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy.  She has worked at Madison Clinic since 2005 and joined the VTU in  2017.

Kim Louis

Kim Louis (she/her)

Operations and Outreach Manager

Kim joined the clinic in 2003.  She is responsible for creatively introducing the VTU research to the local community and ensuring people join the studies with the full knowledge of what it means to participate.

"To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks a real advance in science." — Albert Einstein

Janine Maenza, MD

Janine Maenza, MD (she/her)

VTU Clinic Director

Janine started as a clinician, screening for vaccine studies in 2004.  She is also  a clinical associate professor at the University of Washington. She has worked in HIV clinical research since 1993.  Janine enjoys seeing volunteers in VTU vaccine studies, and participants in observational studies at Primary Infection Clinic and AIDS Clinical Trials Unit.

"My idea of perfect happiness is an early morning cup of coffee and a good book," Janine said. "My favorite book is A.S. Byatt's Possession."

Julie McElrath, MD, PhD

Julie McElrath, MD, PhD (she/her)

Principal Investigator

Dr. McElrath is senior vice president and director of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at Fred Hutch, and a Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington. As a principal investigator and director of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network’s Laboratory Center, she works to develop an effective vaccine and plays a key role in the HVTN, the largest international program for testing such vaccines. Dr. McElrath also oversees a number of COVID-19 projects at Fred Hutch and is focused on studying protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2, as well as vaccine development through the Vaccine Trials Unit.

Meredith Potochnic, PharmD

Meredith Potochnic, PharmD (she/her)


Meredith has been with our clinic since 1997, after moving to Seattle from Baltimore where she worked on AIDS clinical trials at Johns Hopkins University. She works half time with the VTU and the other half as an HIV/AIDS-specialty pharmacist at Madison Clinic and other research clinics.

Adrienne Shapiro, M.D., Ph.D

Adrienne Shapiro, M.D., Ph.D. (she/her)

Associate Medical Director

Adrienne joined the VTU in 2020. She is an investigator and research clinician at the VTU dedicated to the search for an HIV vaccine, as well as vaccines for other diseases of global significance including tuberculosis and COVID-19. At the VTU, she continues to share her passion for working with local communities by leading our community engagement efforts. Adrienne is also an Assistant Professor in Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington and an Assistant Professor in VIDD at the Fred Hutch. Her research focuses on reducing disparities in access to diagnosis, prevention, and good clinical outcomes for HIV, tuberculosis, and COVID-19.

Candace Teague, ARNP

Candace Teague, ARNP (she/her)

Research Clinician

Candice joined the VTU in 2018 and originally started on the HIV vaccine team. In 2021, Candice moved to the COVID Cohort team to help conduct screening and study visits for the COVID Cohort studies. She currently works with the COVID Cohort team at our satellite site on Fred Hutch’s main campus.

Patrick Tschumper, RN

Patrick Tschumper, RN (he/him)

Research Nurse

After years of work experience extending from the Hawaiian Islands to the Chesapeake Bay Patrick pursued additional education and obtained credentials to become a registered nurse.  He returned to Seattle and joined the Vaccine Trials Unit to resume his life’s work focusing on wellness, sexual health, HIV education, prevention and research.

“The opportunity to work as an RN with the VTU has allowed me to pursue my passions for serving others and supporting them in their journeys, while contributing to scientific efforts that investigate new strategies to promote health and protect life.  Our study volunteers and the dedicated people working in this field teach me something new every day.  I am very proud to be a part of this team!”

Lynn Wang

Lynn Wang (she/her)

Regulatory Coordinator

Lynn joined the VTU in 2018. She supports the program by ensuring regulatory compliance for the research studies being conducted at Seattle VTU and Immunology Vaccine Development at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research

I often reflect on the quote by Edward Abbey, “What is the purpose of the giant sequoia tree? The purpose of the giant sequoia tree is to provide shade for the tiny titmouse.” During my life I have found  myself in the roles of both the giant sequoia, as well as the tiny titmouse. I am so grateful to be part of a team that works  towards providing shelter and shade.

Michelle Wong, ARNP

Michelle Wong, ARNP (she/her)

Research Clinician

Michelle joined the VTU in 2022 and currently works on the HIV-vaccine team. In her clinical research role, she screens and provide education to potential volunteers about the clinic, HIV research, and available HIV vaccine studies. Additionally, for in-study visits, she administers study product, collect samples, and follow up on potential side effects. As well as, she has thorough conversations with volunteers on pregnancy prevention for the duration of the studies, behaviors to maintain low risk for HIV acquisition, and general sexual health. 

Ro Yoon

Ro Yoon (she/her)

Community Educator

Ro rejoined the VTU in July 2018 after a couple years away in San Francisco. She is an activist that engages with diverse communities throughout Seattle to ensure that HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention research are relevant and inclusive to all.

In addition to educational sessions with volunteers and being a liaison for VTU Community Advisory Board, Yoon coordinates community events and training that address wellness issues that intersect with HIV/AIDS.

"The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion." [Albert Camus] Ro believes her most marked characteristic is nerves of steel.

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