Interview with Hannah Pendergraff
Hannah Pendergraff, Ph.D
Roche Innovation Center Copenhagen A/S
(Postdoc Nov 2015- Nov 2017)
How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?
I became interested in oligo therapeutics when I started working in David Corey’s lab. I joined his group in 2009 as a technician and worked on the Huntington and Ataxin projects. It was a whole new world for me! Since my undergraduate institution did not emphasize research, and my first job after my B.S. degree was in formulations at Charles River, I had a lot of catching up to do. Before joining David’s group, I had never heard of antisense or RISC, didn’t know anything about chemically modifying nucleic acids, nor did I realize when I was offered the job that my life and career were heading in a new direction.
Who were your early mentors?
It seems all of my early mentors have been associated with David Corey’s lab. David is one of the most intelligent, organized, efficient, caring, and inspiring mentors anyone could have. He accepts nothing less than your full potential, but will coach you every step of the way. He and his wife, Bethany, sparked my love of research. Another critical mentor for me was Keith Gagnon. He ‘adopted’ me when I joined the Corey lab and taught me how to run all my experiments, taught me the importance of RNA, and basically just taught me how to be a scientist. And of course, my Ph.D. supervisor, Jonathan Watts. Jon is one of smartest, kindest, and most humble people I will ever meet. He took a chance with me and hired me as his first student, even though I’d spent the first 3 years working with him complaining that chemistry ‘didn’t exist’. Jon’s patience, knowledge, and heart make him an amazing scientist, supervisor, and friend. My current mentor, Marie Lindholm helped me understand what it takes for an oligonucleotide to become a drug.
How did you become involved in OTS? & Why do you continue to support the OTS?
My mentors have been attending OTS for years, but I finally got to attend my first OTS meeting in 2015.
The field of oligo therapeutics has progressed so much, even in the 8 years I’ve been involved. However, there is still so much left to learn. The atmosphere within this society sparks ideas and collaborations.
What is special about the type of research/work you’ve done?
I think my research up to this point has been a bit diverse. I initially focused on screening oligos as therapeutic agents. However, during my Ph.D. work I got a chance to optimize synthesis conditions and explore new areas like CRISPR/Cas in addition to oligo therapeutics. And my postdoc has been quite fun. It has mainly just involved method development and creating protocols and techniques to identify what makes an LNA oligonucleotide ‘good’. I’ve gotten to ‘play’ in lab and just push the boundaries, and I think my work will be interesting and useful to the Oligo Therapeutics community.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My free time seems to be consumed with reading at the pub and travelling. I always have my Kindle with me, and now that I’m not a Ph.D. student anymore, I have free time to read! And it seems that since I’ve moved to Europe 5 years ago I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. I’ve visited 18 European countries so far. Once I get to 20 countries, I will start visiting a new continent. As of lately, I had to get new passport 5 years early because I ran out of space for stamps.