Alumnus Dan Hannon Returns to Campus, Discusses TGen Research

March 01, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

By Michael Ferraresi
GCU News Bureau 

The prospect of sitting in a laboratory all day seemed less than desirable to Dan Hannon. After surviving cancer, he hoped to be part of a cure. 

It took an internship at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix for him to recognize how potential cures are developed — often painstakingly, through hours of detailed data analysis — before doctors are able to offer the latest treatment to patients. 

Dan Hannon is teaching biology at GCU and planning on attending a master’s degree program in the fall before applying to medical school.

On Wednesday, the 26-year-old GCU alumnus shared research results from his summer internship at TGen with a group of about 30 students, hosted by the University’s chapter of Health Occupations Students of America. 

The TGen opportunity led Hannon into a volunteer research role at the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where he said he hoped to work someday as a doctor after completing his medical studies. 

At TGen, Hannon participated with a research team responsible for investigating how cancer spreads so aggressively from the lungs to the brain.

“It wants to burst out of the lungs and travel to the rest of the body,” Hannon told the group at the Williams lecture hall at the Ken Blanchard College of Business. 

He added that 1 percent of patients whose cancer spreads from their lungs to the brain survive. Patients face a 50 percent shot at survival if their cancer is contained to their lungs, Hannon said. 

Developing ways to prevent cancer from fleeing the lungs could “freeze time for patients” and enhance their quality of life, even in the face of dire prognoses. 

Hannon, a 2011 GCU graduate, survived brain cancer while struggling through subpar grades early in his college career. Now he’s teaching biology at GCU and planning on attending a master’s degree program in the fall before applying to medical school. 

Hannon encouraged students to apply for the eight-week TGen summer internship, which is funded by the Helios Education Foundation. He worked at TGen alongside other aspiring bioengineers and neuro-oncologists from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and other larger schools. 

“A lot of opportunity came from GCU and having that access. It’s how I found out about the Helios internship,” said Hannon, adding that his personal story of survival and passion for working in brain cancer research helped him earn the internship. 

Casey Smith, 19, a GCU biology and pre-med student, said he hoped to study at TGen through the same internship program. 

Smith added he was impressed by Hannon’s research presentation, such as details about the “cascade of reactions” involved in cancer’s path through the body. He agreed with Hannon that research enables doctors to innovate new ways to target specific types of cancer, allowing the next generation of health-care professionals the possibility of treating many forms of cancer with more precision. 

“Without that kind of (research) knowledge, you can’t really progress,” Smith said. 

Hannon said his goal is to work as a neuro-oncologist, primarily on brain cancer — giving him an opportunity to battle the disease he suffered from as a college student. 

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].

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