In the fall of 2020, while most college students were learning how to persist in their coursework alongside COVID-19, Megan Hall and her healthcare team were setting up a battle plan for beating cancer.
Hall, a Bowling Green native, graduates next week with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and minors in Mathematics and Applied Statistics. She said her cancer diagnosis and treatment fueled her interest in the field of biostatistics, which she will explore further in graduate school.
“During my junior year of college, I was being treated for cancer. I had osteosarcoma, which is a type of bone cancer. I had to have a knee replacement and then rods put into my leg,” Hall said.
Determined to not let cancer stand in the way of her personal and professional goals, Hall found herself spending a significant amount of time in the hospital for treatment. Being limited to working at her computer rather than inside a lab, she ended up working on a couple of data analysis projects. She said the projects that kept her busy in the hospital built her interest in the field of biostatistics.
“I had to change my work environment for the work I was doing, and that change gave me the opportunity to learn more about biostatistics,” Hall said.
Hall spent the last three years working in the research lab of WKU Department of Chemistry Assistant Professor Dr. Blairanne Williams.
“When Megan joined my lab, she was quiet and reserved but in three years she has become a leader,” said Dr. Williams. “The running joke in our lab is that we want to be Megan when we grow up. With her maturity and focus, she still has great people skills and readily takes newer students under her wing to help them get established and trained. It has been a pleasure to watch her grow and blossom.”
Hall said Dr. Williams’ laboratory focuses on understanding the link between the structure of different platinum drugs and their toxicity.
“There are three FDA-approved platinum-based chemotherapy drugs that have different structures. We are studying how that structure affects the drug’s ability to enter or exit the cell. This could help us learn why the platinum-based drugs are each effective against different types of cancers,” Hall said. “We know how platinum drugs kill cells but not how they get into cells. If we can learn that, the research can be applied to creating new compounds.”
“When designing chemotherapies, scientists could create a drug that follows the desired path directly, rather than causing numerous side effects, if the drug’s full mechanism is known,” Hall said. “The majority of chemotherapy patients get a platinum-based drug. They’re widely used. Still, researchers don’t know that much about them,” Hall said.
Hall’s own chemotherapy treatment connected to her research in an interesting way.
“One of the chemotherapy drugs I got while undergoing treatment was a drug we study in our lab,” Hall said. “That really showed me the applications of research and how it impacted me personally. There were lots of ‘not fun’ side effects, but it was interesting that something I was studying in lab was actually very applicable in my own life.”
Hall also consulted with WKU Department of Mathematics Associate Professor Dr. Melanie Autin when analyzing research data for her senior thesis.
"Through our discussions, it is clear that Megan has a passion for learning and a curiosity that will serve her well as a researcher," Autin said.
Last summer, Hall participated in the Iowa Summer Institute for Biostatistics (ISIB), a research program through the University of Iowa, where she conducted research relating hearing rehabilitation to cognitive decline.
“That experience helped me see how biostatisticians collaborate with different researchers to analyze the data. I had a really good mentor there, Dr. Jake Oleson. He would bring in the researchers, they would talk to us and explain the project, and then we would do the data analysis. Interpreting those results was really a combined effort. I liked seeing the collaboration surrounding biostatistics,” Hall said.
Hall is the recipient of the Outstanding Chemistry Major Award for this academic year, an award that honors the achievements of one exceptional undergraduate student majoring in chemistry or biochemistry.
Hall plans to spend the summer working in Dr. Williams’ lab before beginning a graduate program in Biostatistics at Vanderbilt University in the fall. She is eager to continue pursuing a career working with other researchers to quantify their experimental results.
To learn more about a degree in Biochemistry at WKU, visit https://www.wku.edu/chemistry/curricula/major_in_biochemistry.php
#WKUGrad series: As part of our #WKUGrad series, articles on graduating students are shared in the weeks leading up to Commencement. See all of their stories at https://www.wku.edu/news/articles/index.php?view=default&categoryid=799&multinewsid=187