Staff

Staff2021-06-25T13:37:51+00:00

Ron Berger

Chief Executive Officer & Founder

Ron Berger serves as the CEO and Founder of VRL, Inc. He purchased the simian laboratory from Esoterix in 2004. The business has seen significant growth under Mr. Berger’s leadership with the addition of new products and services that have helped to improve the quality of research. In 2006, Mr. Berger established VRL China, offering a complete line of diagnostic services then in 2014 growth continued when he purchased the BioReliance Animal Health Services division as part of an expansion plan for offering diagnostics of rodents, rabbits and other research service models. Mr. Berger earned his B.A. in Mathematics (minor in Chemistry) in 1971 from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas. He has spent most of his career working in IT and specifically programming. His knowledge and expertise of programming has enabled the company to maximize efficiencies and turnaround times for clients.

Dennis Pitts

President

Dennis Pitts serves as President of VRL, Inc. He earned a B.S degree from Purdue University in Animal Agribusiness and an EMBA from University of Wisconsin. He had stints as Director of Business Development at SNBL USA and as Non-human Primate Manager at Harlan Laboratories. Pitts joined VRL in 2018 as the Director of Business Development and Marketing after working with VRL as an outside consultant focusing on sales and growth strategies. His scientific background combined with his marketing expertise has given VRL a strong vision for moving forward in the competitive area of animal diagnostic testing, and he looks forward to expanding VRL’s diagnostic testing offerings.

Chih-Ling Zao, PhD

Director of NHP Research & Development

Dr. Chih-Ling Zao is Chief Scientific Officer of VRL, Inc. She has pursued a career of discovering and developing tests for laboratory animals. Dr. Zao has been successful in isolating a novel subtype of SRV and completing sequencing of SRV 4 and SRV8. She has also identified an atypical genotype of Yersinia pseudotuberculosis which can cause fatal infection in cynomolgus macaques. Dr. Zao obtained her PhD in Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry from Georgia State University. Her dissertation was “B Virus Circumvents Innate Response in Human Cells”. Dr. Zao received her Master of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from the National Taiwain University, Taipei, Taiwan. Her thesis was Epidemiology Analysis of G2 Rotavirus Outbreak in Taiwan.

Arlene Leon, PhD

Director of Operations and Scientific Affairs

Dr. Arlene Leon is the Director of Operation and Scientific Affairs of VRL where she is responsible for lab operations, quality control, product manufacturing, and assay development. With almost 20 years of experience in diagnostics, Dr. Leon makes outstanding contributions to the depth of knowledge and experience that VRL offers to our clients. Dr. Leon obtained her MS from Florida International University in Miami, Florida. After finishing her MS degree, Dr. Leon worked in the field of immunology, animal colony management, and transgenic animals. She then obtained her PhD from University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Leon worked as the Principal Scientist/Scientific Director in the Animal Health Services Department at BioReliance, formerly Microbiological Associates. At BioReliance she developed diagnostic testing for rodent pathogens and introduced the use of new technologies like Microarray Multiplex serology testing and genotyping among others.

Danny R. Ragland, BS, DVM, DACVPM

Pathologist

Dr. Dan Ragland earned an undergraduate degree in Biology-Chemistry from South Arkansas University (1972) and received a doctorate in veterinary medicine (1980) at Tuskegee University. He gained valuable clinical research and biocontainment experience during assignments as a laboratory animal veterinarian at Letterman Army Institute of Research, San Francisco, CA, and a 4-year residency in anatomic pathology at the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID), Ft. Detrick, MD, where he participated in studies investigating viral pathogens and toxins, including Ebolavirus, Lassavirus, Argentine Hemorrhagic Fever Virus, ricin and microcystin. He was a study pathologist for radioprotectant research at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) and was the lead veterinarian on the DoD contract that produced heptavalent Botulinum Immunoglobulin (BIG) from hyperimmunized horses (1993-1997). Dr. Ragland was the attending veterinarian and director of the Laboratory Animal Diagnostic Service at BioReliance, Rockville, MD, (1997-2005), where he advised and facilitated development of laboratory animal health programs, and supported GLP toxicology and bioservices teams. From 2005 to 2008, Dr. Ragland directed the laboratory animal program for Lonza Corporation, Basel, Switzerland, where he was responsible for a production animal colony that supported GMP bioproducts and GLP bioservices. Recently (2008-2020), Dr. Ragland was responsible for the animal program at the National Institutes of Health Integrated Research Facility, Ft. Detrick, MD, developing animal models for imaging studies to investigate high consequence infectious diseases. He is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine.

Lizeth Garcia

NHP Lab Supervisor

Lizeth Garcia is Lab Manager at VRL San Antonio. Mrs. Garcia has almost 10 years of experience in Molecular Genetics, Microbiology, and Virology. She received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology with a concentration in Microbiology and Immunology, and a minor in Chemistry from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Years later, she graduated with a Master’s of Science in Clinical Molecular Genetics from Northern Michigan University. She has collaborated in several research studies as part of VRL family. Her experience and knowledge has led to her current position, overseeing VRL San Antonio’s day-to-day diagnostic testing operations.

Ryan Walters

Maryland Client Service Manager

Ryan Walters serves as Client Service Manager for VRL-Gaithersburg. Mr. Walters has over two decades of experience in related animal health science fields with over ten years of managerial experience. Currently, he is responsible for maintaining client accounts, client logistics, and overall client satisfaction. He maintains VRL Maryland’s Quality Program including internal and external quality audits, operations quality (equipment, protocols/SOPs, document control, information management, etc.), and procedural quality analytics (precision, range, linearity, sensitivity, accuracy, recovery, specificity, etc.). Mr. Walters maintains GLP lab standards and 21 CFR Part 11 & 58 compliance. He also serves as the Chair of IACUC, an organization that upholds the regulations associated with Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Skilled in the methods of Lean Six Sigma, Mr. Walters relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation. Mr. Walters earned his BS in Biology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, VA in 1998. Mr. Walters is a board-certified Histotechnician (HT) from the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP).

Erin McCalla

Sales Manager

Erin McCalla is Sales Manager for VRL, Inc., covering the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada territories. Ms. McCalla has held several roles in the industry giving her an in-depth understanding of clients’ needs. She has been in a sales role for the past 4 years calling on Pharmaceutical, Biotech and Academic accounts with goals that include helping them improve their research. Ms. McCalla has continued her learning and self-improvement by maintaining her RLATG license. Ms. McCalla has a Bachelor of Science and Masters in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee

Marija Djurkovic

Research Technician

Marija Djurkovic is the newest member of the Research and Development team at VRL-San Antonio. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Microbiology at Texas State University. She later went on to receive her Master of Science Degree in Immunology and Infection at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio where she studied the correlation between the Tgm3 gene expression and colon cancer. In 2019 she joined VRL-San Antonio to participate in discovery of new pathogens and develop new diagnostic assays for non-human primates.

Jason Lankasky

Maryland Lab Manager

Jason Lankasky is Lab Manager for VRL-Maryland. Prior to joining VRL, Mr. Lankasky worked with the USDA-ARS for 2 years researching genetic anti-bacterial characteristics of tuberous plants. He has also worked with the DoD-NMRC for 7 years researching low grade traumatic brain injury causes and treatments on various animal models. During this time, he gained experience with a wide range of animals, focusing on aquatics and small rodents. The knowledge gained from these positions has led to a smooth transition, now overseeing VRL-Maryland’s day-to-day diagnostic testing operations. Mr. Lankasky earned a B.S. from the University of Maryland in Neurobiology and Physiology, and a M.S. from UMGC in Bioinformatics.

Chris Rogers

Sales Manager

Chris Rogers is a Sales Manager for VRL based in Houston, TX. Mr. Rogers comes to VRL from Envigo, where he acquired significant industry knowledge and experience during his nearly 9-year tenure. Mr. Rogers has received numerous accolades, including his recent election to the Board of AALAS Texas Branch. He will be covering the southern and central regions of the U.S. and is eager to expand VRL’s diagnostic testing portfolio. Mr. Rogers has a Bachelor of Arts from Loyola University New Orleans.

Lisa Tomanek

San Antonio Lead Research & Development Scientist

Lisa Tomanek is the Lead R&D Scientist at VRL-San Antonio. Ms. Tomanek has over 15 years of experience in the field of virology, bacteriology and micro. She received her Bachelors of Science Degree in Biology with an emphasis in Cellular Biology at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. She then went on to begin her research career at Oklahoma State University where she studied the Influenza virus at the molecular level. She then moved to the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center to investigate the importance of chemokines in the immunological response of mice to Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 infection. In 2006 she joined the VRL-San Antonio R&D team and has since contributed to published papers and conference presentations. Ms. Tomanek has been a vital component to the growth of the organization.

John Firneno

Sales Manager

Industry veteran, John Firneno has been named VRL Sales Manager for the Western United States and Western Canada. Fresh off stints with Flagship Biosciences and Envigo, John brings a wealth of experience adding both sales management support and strategic account management to this key area of the country for VRL. From managing vivaria, colony production to in-vivo/in-vitro toxicology, John’s broad experience in delivering both products and services for pharmaceutical, biotech, medical devices and academia provides a unique understanding of client needs. With a B.S. degree in Management, John has also been an ISO Lead and has served as an IACUC Chair. With his success in building client relationships to meeting client needs, we welcome John Firneno to the VRL team.