Angela Hahn, PhD (University of California at San Francisco) is going after myelin – a major target of the immune attack in MS – and it’s personal. While in graduate school, Dr. Hahn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. “At the time, my knowledge of neurobiology was limited to what I had learned in a few courses,” she says. “What was a topic of interest became a topic of utmost importance.” Dr. Hahn is now completing her training through a postdoctoral research fellowship from the National MS Society. Her project focuses on finding a way to rebuild myelin at sites of damage by stimulating oligodendrocytes (myelin-making cells).
Dr. Hahn’s emotions about having MS fuel her studies. “As a patient, MS frustrates me,” she says. “After decades of research there is no cure, just a handful of treatment options; no drug to repair the damage already inflicted; and no way of knowing what the progression of my illness will be. “As a scientist, MS intrigues me because I can logically separate myself from the “no’s” that frustrate me to see the fascinating biological problems behind them.”
Jonah Chan, PhD – Dr. Hahn’s mentor – says that her emotion will serve her well in these experiments. “Angela possesses great dreams for the future,” he says. “She has a vision for the ‘big picture’ concerning MS research and – more importantly –her life. While most researchers and scientists focus on the details of the experiments, Angela has the unique ability to bring a touch of humanity into scientific research.” Dr. Chan is a former fellow himself, whose independent research career was launched with funding from a Harry Weaver Neuroscience Award.
Dr. Hahn will spend the majority of her fellowship in the laboratory conducting and designing experiments, learning new techniques of studying brain cells and new microscope technologies. In the short-term, she is learning the ropes of neurobiology, but her long-term goal is to better the lives of people with MS – like herself. “By understanding the mechanisms involved in how oligodendrocytes make myelin, I want to help discover a treatment to repair the damage, and also the physical and emotional stress caused by MS.”