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 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
Chief Scientific Officer
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-Maryland 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.
San Antonio Vice President / Director of Operations
Anthony Cooke serves as Vice president / Director of Operations for VRL-San Antonio. Mr. Cooke had a distinguished career in the United States Air Force, retiring in 1992. During his time in the Air Force, Mr. Cooke refined his laboratory / diagnostic skills as a Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Virology Department. The Virology Department was a center for monitoring global viral outbreaks and the Influenza Monitoring Program among other important programs. Mr. Cooke then went into the private sector working for Viral Reference Laboratory which eventually became VRL. The knowledge and experience Mr. Cooke has brought to VRL has been significant in interpreting client data and helping them understand the impact of their results. Throughout the years, Mr. Cooke has been involved in numerous studies and projects helping the Biotech industry bring new drugs to market. Mr. Cooke has helped establish VRL as a leader in simian diagnostics.
San Antonio Lab Manager
Sylvia Gonzalez-Arroyo is Lab Manager for VRL-San Antonio. Ms. Gonzalez-Arroyo started with VRL in 2005 and has since served in several different roles within the organization. The breadth of knowledge Ms. Gonzalez-Arroyo has obtained through the years has prepared her to excel in her current position of overseeing day-to-day operations of the laboratory. Her ability to work with clients while sharing her knowledge to provide answers makes Ms. Gonzales-Arroyo a special member of our VRL team.
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 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
Senior Research Technician
Melanie Poncheri has 9 years of Research and Development experience while focusing on molecular biology, immunoassay development and multiplexing serological assays. Ms. Poncheri’s previous work involved international collaborations to test a filter to remove Prions from Red Blood Cell concentrates as well as development of a multiplexed ELISA based assay that was used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo –Demographic Health and Survey. She obtained her BS from Albright College and her MS in Biotechnology from John’s Hopkins University, specializing in Molecular Targets and Drug Discovery.
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.
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.