November 26, 2019

Faces of Innovation: Hannah Wu, researcher at Brown University

Marissa Chmiola
Communications Officer

Faces of Innovation—a new GHTC project that features scientists on the front lines of research and development on new global health tools and technologies—profiles Hannah Wu, who we met at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) Annual Conference, who is working to develop vaccines against the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis at Brown University.

My Name: Hannah Wu

Where I work: Brown University Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island

I’m funded by: NIH

My research: We do research on neglected tropical diseases, for malaria and schistosomiasis…I’ve been working on schistosomiasis for a long time. I am lucky enough I can not only work in the lab, but also go to the field to see people. Even though schistosomiasis is more neglected than malaria, there are people in the world suffering from this disease. It’s caused by a trematoda—this is a worm. If we have a vaccine for it, that might be much better to cure the disease or to prevent the disease. So that’s what we are working at. We look at immune mechanisms from the population, and we are trying to find vaccine candidates. For the shistosomisis species, that I am specifically working on…it is also a one health strategy that we should use….We hope that we will have more funding to do other experiments and research on this vaccine, to be available in the livestock.

For parasitic diseases, animals are a very important reservoir host. Some people are in touch with animals every day, in their daily life. So we are not only making vaccines for the humans, we can actually make vaccines for, in my case in schistosomiasis, for water buffalo which account for 70 to 90 percent of transmission. So that’s the concept of one health.

Motivation: When I was in graduate school, I was not very clear what I wanted to do, but I think I was lucky enough, I got to see the people who had the disease…Because of their everyday life, they have to be in contact with the pathogen, so they cannot really avoid to have the disease, and they don’t have other means….Research has a curiosity I always like. And I was curious about finding new things…but if at the same time I can…contribute to this world by finding a vaccine to help people, that would be great. So that motivates me.

Why federal support is critical: We are human beings. We’re not isolated…We care about other people, so that’s one basic reason we can do this research for the world, to improve human health. And I really believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to get health care and to live a more healthy life.

When I’m not in the lab: I am involved with my church a lot. Through the church I work with young people. I tell them science is about curiosity. We have the privilege to do science, so we should do real science for real people. We’re not doing science just for the sake of science, we’re doing science for the betterment of human life.