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Research Paired with Mentorship- Continuing the Purdue Tradition


Assistant Professor of molecular biology in the College of Science, Jason Hanna has dual passions- rigorous academic research and intentional mentorship. He is able to pursue both in his position with Purdue University.

His research focuses on rare vascular tumors and sarcomas which manifests as tumors in the cells that line the blood and lymphatic vessels. This is a challenging area of research as the cancer can occur anywhere in the body and many patients don’t realize anything is wrong until it has progressed to a late stage tumor.

Hanna’s lab studies how the tumors spread and progress, working to understand what makes them grow, proliferate, and move through the body. This can lead to potential therapies and drugs that could treat the disease. His newest research focuses on microRNA’s and how they can affect the cells, possibly reducing cell proliferation and their ability to migrate.

But where did it all begin? Hanna began his journey right here at Purdue as an undergraduate student in the College of Science studying molecular biology. He was accepted to a PhD program at Yale University, and then St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for his post-doctorate training.

Because of Purdue’s emphasis on undergrad research he was able to see what a career in research might look like and this helped him find his passion. While an undergrad, research mentors like Dr. David Salt and Robert Harris guided him and helped open doors for an internship with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“When I was an undergrad, Stephen Konieczny taught Biol 41500 and I took it in my junior year”, says Hanna. “This class was my first deep dive into molecular biology and really piqued my interest. I actually kept my notes from class despite several moves across the country! I now teach the course and similar to Steve, I try to integrate real world examples and applications of molecular biology into the course.”

His internship fostered an interest in cancer research and made him a competitive graduate student applicant at Yale. In his time there, Dr. David Rimm was instrumental in his success and his placement at St. Jude where Dr. Mark Hatley was another influential mentor.

Because of the influence of these important figures in his life, Hanna continues the tradition of mentorship himself. In the classroom and while guiding the students working in his lab, he hopes to help an up and coming researcher find their way in the world and maybe even improve it.

“Part of paying it back is to have quite a few undergrad researchers in my lab. And they are not just filling pipette boxes and doing dishes. They are taking care of cell lines, setting up experiments, actually moving things forward.” Hanna continues, “I think training the next generation of scientists is a big part of my role here.”

Hanna is a faculty mentor in the Emerging Leaders Science Scholars program (ELSS) and currently guides five students from the program. He also takes part in the Summer Research Opportunities Program (SROP), the goal of which is to increase the number of underrepresented students who pursue graduate study and research careers. And in the fall, he will have a student from Colombia spend approximately six months in his lab as part of the Colombia Purdue Partnership (CPP).

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