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Working Her Way to Serve Others

minute read

Written by JT James on May 19, 2024

Since an early age, Hannah Work has been on a mission to dive into the healthcare world and lend a hand to those who need it most. Not as a bedside doctor – she doesn’t have the stomach for what doctors see every day, she says. So, instead of scrubs and stethoscopes, she went down a different road, one that will still let her make a big difference in people's lives.

Fresh out of high school in New Jersey, Hannah dove headfirst into the world of chemical engineering at Rowan University. She was all about science and chemistry and became involved in a number of research projects, including some not related to her major. She interned at Dupont, working with CRISPR-Cas9 technology to enhance glucose use in bacteria.

"Basically," she says, "I was editing genes to eliminate those that were non-essential to increase product yields with less energy expenditure by the cell.”

With funding from NASA, she also joined Dr. Nathaniel Nucci, a biophysics professor, to explore methods for improving drug delivery systems. It was during this collaboration that she first recognized the significance of protein therapeutics and drug delivery systems in optimizing drug administration.

After a lightbulb moment, she decided there may be better paths to a healthcare-related career than chemical engineering. “I learned that an education in chemical engineering was suitable for designing upscale batch reactors of drug products but not necessarily the optimal path for a career in pharmaceutical sciences,” she explains.

"I enjoyed laboratory work, especially when the project was health-related," Hannah reflects. "I wanted a career with a more direct connection to human health, and my undergraduate experiences motivated me to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmaceutical sciences."

But finding the right Ph.D. program wasn't easy. There weren't too many options out there, but CU Anschutz caught her eye. Plus, one visit to Colorado, and she was sold.

Hannah work in the lab with her mentor, Jed Lampe

 

Hannah Work with Dr. Jed Lampe in the Lampe lab at CU Pharmacy. 

"I fell head over heels for the place," she laughs.

But her timing wasn’t ideal. Her arrival at CU coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, restricting many of the typical learning opportunities for first-year medical school students, including laboratory access. She eventually landed in the Lampe Lab at CU Pharmacy collaborating with Associate Professor Jed Lampe, PhD, who shared her enthusiasm for finding better drug therapy treatments for pregnant women, babies, and fetuses – populations who often get left behind in medical research.

Her work has concentrated on studying the enzyme CYP3A7 and its potential impact on drug toxicity in pregnant mothers and underdeveloped infants. She explains that infants and fetuses metabolize drugs differently than adults, and this difference is often overlooked in medication prescriptions. Through medical conferences, Hannah is sharing her CYP3A7 findings with the medical community and advocating for the adoption of a cost-effective and time-efficient cellular model she has developed based on her research. Currently, she’s collaborating with fellow researchers to develop a machine learning tool that predicts potential enzyme interactions with drugs. She’s aiming to make the program freely accessible to all.

Paying it Forward

Hannah says she couldn’t have gotten to where she is today without help and encouragement from others, and she is committed to mentoring future researchers and scientists. She actively participates in Young Hands in Science and Women in STEM, engaging with students at underfunded elementary schools to foster their interest in science through hands-on experiments. She’s especially concerned that many young women don’t have the confidence to pursue a career in science due to a lack of female STEM figures in their personal lives. She believes that many, including herself, tend to suffer from imposter syndrome.

“I’m telling them that they are fully capable of having this kind of career and sharing examples of successful women who felt the same way as them at one point,” she said.

Due to her advocacy work and her passion for science, Hannah was selected for the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) Washington Fellows science policy program. She will soon advocate on Capitol Hill for increased funding of clinical applications supporting the health of pregnant individuals and developmental health of infants. And once she wraps up her PhD, she's off to Boulder to work as a Senior Scientist specializing in drug metabolism pharmacokinetics at Cogent Biosciences. In this role, Hannah will assess how the company’s developed drugs are absorbed, distributed, and metabolized in the body. These drugs target rare, genetic-driven cancers in human patients, and she’s excited to continue serving the underserved communities in biomedical science.

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