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Kristen Gilliland, Ph.D.

Director of Outreach and Advocacy Programs

California Polytechnic State University, 1992
B.S. Biochemistry
University of Colorado, 1998
Ph.D. Organic Chemistry

Phone: (615) 343-1454
Fax: (615) 778-1414
Location: Cool Springs Innovation Park

Mailing Address:
Vanderbilt University/WCNDD
Cool Springs Innovation Park
393 Nichol Mill Lane, Suite 100
Franklin, TN 37067

Biosketch and Research Interests

Kristen earned her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She later served as an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. During her professorship at Cal Poly, she taught Organic Chemistry, Neurochemistry, and the Chemistry of Drugs and Poisons.  In 2018, Kristen came to the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery to help research new treatments for schizophrenia.  Also in 2018, Kristen delivered a TEDx presentation titled Rewiring Revolution: Neuroplasticity’s Impact on Wellbeing. Currently, she serves as the Director of Outreach and Advocacy and a Drug Discovery Scientist for the Warren Center.

In 2019, Kristen tragically lost her 22-year old son to an accidental overdose. Her son’s addiction to opioids and stimulants followed soon after he was diagnosed with cannabis-induced psychosis at the age of 17. After her unimaginable loss, Kristen changed the trajectory of her life to utilize her scientific teaching, and research background to educate adolescent-aged children and their parents about mental health struggles and addiction. She has a sincere passion for reaching the young to prevent this heartbreaking tragedy from happening to other families. Kristen’s presentation focuses on the developing teenage brain, and the structural and functional changes that can occur in the brain when under repeated stress and anxiety. She addresses substance use, as a means of escaping adversity, and how it can lead to heartbreaking outcomes like addiction or self-harm.  In addition, current street drugs of use and abuse, high potency cannabis, the neurobiology of addiction, and the dangers and prevalence of fentanyl are also discussed.  She currently presents at the First Time Drug Offenders Program through Metro Public Schools, and she also presents to USN – other collaborations include Williamson County Anti-Drug Coalition, Drug Free Dickson Coalition, and Drug Free WilCo.