Searching for a cure

Holly Hansen wants to save lives. How, you ask? The student researcher at The Pathogen and Microbiome Institute (PMI) is working to create more safe and effective drugs for chronic illnesses.

Hansen was raised in Phoenix, where she spent her childhood doing dance and ballet. At various points, she aspired to become an interior designer, architect, fashion designer and model. Once Hansen started high school, she found a variety of opportunities that led her to pursue a future in science.

“I wanted something that would fit best for my future career as a pharmaceutical scientist,” Hansen said. She originally enrolled at NAU as chemistry major with a biochemistry emphasis, but then switched to biomedical sciences. She then decided to double major in both biomedical sciences and chemistry. After Hansen enjoyed her cellular and molecular biology courses in addition to her starting as a student researcher at PMI, she chose to switch the biomedical sciences portion of her degree plan to microbiology.

When Hansen enrolled at NAU, she knew she wanted to be involved in research as an undergraduate student.

“I began looking for potential jobs in labs on the NAU website, and I also spoke to my adviser countless times about whom I should contact to do research with. I found PMI and began my application the summer before sophomore year,” Hansen said.

Before submitting her application, she had her resume reviewed and edited by the Career Development office, which provides free tools and career coaching for students.

Soon after submitting her application, PMI contacted Hansen for an interview and offered her a researcher position in a lab.

“Currently, I work on a variety of projects under my lab group at PMI. My primary work consists of preparing cell lines for experiments that will take place in the Biosafety Level 3 lab (BSL3) with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Hansen said. “I don’t perform the experiments in the BSL3, but it is vital to have healthy cells for the experiments. Therefore, these cell lines require biweekly maintenance in order to continue growing properly.”

Hansen works on lines that include human lung cancer and colon cancer cells. Because they are cancer cells, they are immortalized, allowing them to be grown in a lab setting. She also is working on a protein purification project and writing a grant proposal to study bacteria that causes stomach ulcers.

“Research should matter to everyone,” Hansen said. “It allows us to gain deeper knowledge of the planet we live on and gives us answers to questions that do not yet have an explanation.”

Hansen offers advice for other students looking to get involved with research on campus: network and look for opportunities on NAU’s website.

“By networking, I mean talking to advisers, professors and even lab TAs. There are more opportunities out there than you might realize. Especially for students in the biological sciences department.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree, Hansen plans to obtain a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. She also doesn’t plan to give up on her dream of saving lives—she hopes to continue her work as a researcher in drug discovery and development.

Northern Arizona University Logo


Carsen Jones | NAU Communications

NAU Communications