Researcher of the Month
Major: Biology (Neuroscience specialization), Class of 2022
Research Mentor: Dr. Markus Seeliger, Department of Pharmacological Sciences
Hannah Philipose is a senior in the Honors College who majors in Biology with a minor in Health, Medicine, and Society. She is one of three recipients in summer 2022 of a Sass-Foundation-URECA award that will provide support for her cancer-related research activities this summer working under the mentorship of Dr. Markus Seeliger, Pharmacological Sciences.
Hannah joined the M. Seeliger lab in her freshman year, where she investigates the structural and biochemical properties of a novel allosteric binding site of Src kinase via ligand-binding simulations, biochemical assays, stopped-flow kinetics, and x-ray crystallography. She will be completing a senior thesis on the topic before graduating in December 2022. She was a co-author in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) paper for work characterizing the mechanism of imatinib resistance by a novel Abl kinase mutant.
Hannah had already accrued substantive experience as a high student working at the Saint-Geniez Lab, at the Schepens Eye Research Institute of Harvard Medical School before coming to Stony Brook. She maintained her collaboration with the Saint-Geniez group all the way through this year, working remotely on a project analyzing cellular morphometric parameters to aid a study on in vivo epigenetic reprogramming for reversal of age-induced retinal degeneration. She has contributed to papers and conference presentations with the Saint-Geniez group, including a publication in Oxidative Medicine & Cellular Longevity as second author.
Hannah also conducted research during the summer before freshman year in the Stony Brook Radiology department under the mentorship of Dr. Tim Duong, where she worked with a team to design a recurrence prediction model for multifocal glioblastoma using open source and Stony Brook Hospital fMRI scans. Thinking back about when she first applied to the Honors College at SBU, Hannah reflects: “I knew I wanted to be involved in research when I applied to Stony Brook, and one of the reasons that I really wanted to come here is because of how much access students have to research.”
Hannah is also involved on campus as a member of the Council of Student Advisors to the President, a cabinet member of Stony Brook Young Investigators Review, and a teaching assistant for Molecular and Cellular Biology. She also has experience interning at the Stony Brook Medicine Emergency Department and as a Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Corps EMT. Hannah is a graduate of Jericho Senior High School, and her hobbies include running, painting, and baking. Hannah’s long-term goal is to become a physician-scientist. Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen: Tell me about your current research. What do you work on and how did you get involved in research at Stony Brook?
Hannah: When I came to Stony Brook, I was interested in learning about drug development and pharmacology. I reached out to Dr. Markus Seeliger who studies the mechanisms of protein kinases and interactions with kinase inhibitors, and I have been working in his lab since I was a freshman. I started out working with my graduate student, Victoria Mingione, on a project that introduced surface mutations to Src kinase that altered the net charge of the protein to determine the impact on drug binding kinetics. Src kinase, a non-receptor tyrosine kinase, was the first identified proto-oncogene that is found to be overexpressed and highly activated in a variety of human cancers.
We then transitioned into a project characterizing the structural and biochemical properties of a novel allosteric site of Src kinase which was first identified by molecular dynamics simulations run by collaborators of Dr. Seeliger. To do this I've used stop flow kinetics and other biochemical assays to better understand how drugs interact with their protein of interest before reaching their primary binding site. I've also used x-ray crystallography to determine the structure of a mutant form of Src that occludes the allosteric site, which was a technique that I really enjoyed learning how to do. This summer, with the support of the Sass Foundation-URECA grant, I'm studying mutations in Src that have led to drug resistance clinically and looking into how these mutations impact drug binding kinetics.
That’s great that you’ve been involved in research at SBU since freshman year. Was this your first research experience?
In the summer before I started college, I also briefly worked with Dr. Tim Duong from the Stony Brook Radiology department. I really enjoyed that research, because I got to learn new computational analysis techniques and interact with Stony Brook radiologists who would give us valuable input on reading difficult scans.
I also had research exposure in high school; I worked at the Schepens Eye Research Institute in Boston for two summers. My project investigated the ability of a novel drug called ZLN005 to upregulate PGC1-alpha and its isoforms for treatment of retinal degenerative diseases. My PI there, Dr. Magali Saint-Geniez, and the other members of the lab were very supportive and collaborative which painted a positive image of research in my head. I also continued my research in that lab in the summer of 2020, working remotely during covid. I analyzed fluorescence microscopy images of retinal flat mounts for them, and I’ve been involved with projects up to this year.
It’s very apparent that you enjoy being involved in research!
Yes! What I like about it most is identifying a problem and learning as much as you
can about it. I really enjoy experimental design and learning new techniques to answer
a problem. Being able to address a problem from more than one angle and develop your
findings more and more, and the whole discovery aspect of it is very appealing to
I think mentorship also has been a really big part of growing as a researcher. My first experience in research really stimulated my future endeavors and having a good mentor from the start is really important. My current mentor at Stony Brook, Dr. Seeliger, is extremely supportive. He is always open to my questions and provides a lot of guidance on my project. I’ve also found that the grad students and MD/PhD students in the lab are really helpful and friendly, so it’s been a great environment to learn in.
How have your skills have evolved as you’ve taken on multiple projects over the years?
I think that compared to freshman year, I'm able to troubleshoot experiments more independently. I’ve also learned to independently design experiments and formulate next steps through the experiences I’ve accumulated. I've also really enjoyed training new undergrads that join the lab. I like being able to work with them and teach them what I wish I knew when I started!
What is the most challenging part about being involved in research?
Balancing schoolwork and research can be challenging. The two definitely complement each other, but it can take practice to learn those time management skills.
That’s partly why it's so beneficial to participate in summer research. This summer for example, I am able to focus full time on my research. I can spend more time doing experiments and reading papers that I may not have had time for during the academic year.
Do you see a lot of connections between your research, and what you're learning in your classes?
Definitely, and more so this past year because I took Biochemistry and Microbiology. I found that a lot of the concepts that I had learned in class really applied to the lab and complemented the research I was doing. The experimental techniques that they were teaching in class were sometimes things that I was doing in lab.
Have you had any experiences in presenting and/or publishing papers?
Yes, I really enjoy scientific writing and designing visually appealing figures for presentations and papers, …and learning how to communicate science effectively was something that I’ve had training in and enjoyed doing since high school.
It was part of the reason too that I’ve been involved with the Stony Brook Young Investigators Review, which is the undergrad-led STEM journal on campus. As a cabinet member I’ve helped to organize science-related events and we’ve also held workshops to help students find research positions where we help them draft emails and edit their resumes. Another big initiative I’ve been part of with the journal is launching the Young Investigators Writing Competition, which aims to engage Long Island high school students in current scientific controversies and develop their scientific writing skills. We just opened applications for our third year!
Do you have any general advice for students regarding research?
It would be to find a topic that you're passionate about and that you're really interested in learning about. You’ll be spending a lot of your free time reading about it, so you want to find a topic that you really love. Communicating with your mentor and being proactive about reaching out for help is also key. Also really important is the ability to learn from your mistakes in past experiments and to keep a good record of each of the experiments that you do.
You are in the Honors College, and so you knew coming in to SBU that you would be involved in doing an honors thesis. Was that at all intimidating, as you approached senior year?
I knew I wanted to be involved in research when I applied to Stony Brook, and one of the reasons that I really wanted to come here is because of how much access students have to research. I was excited to be able to work on a thesis with my professor. I have one semester left. I’ll be graduating in December… And I can say that I’ve been really enjoying working on my thesis project. And I am grateful to the Sass Foundation that I could devote this summer to my thesis and my research!