Breaking Boundaries in Hematology-Oncology Research

In the ever-evolving landscape of medical research, one team stands at the forefront of innovation and discovery. Hanah Simmons ‘23 and Dr. Eric Lechman ‘91, a renowned figure in the field of hematology-oncology, are spearheading groundbreaking research at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC).

Their collaborative efforts, focused on pediatric acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and Down syndrome, are shedding light on the intricate connections between these two seemingly disparate conditions. Lechman’s pioneering work seeks to unravel the underlying molecular mechanisms that link AML and Down syndrome, offering new insights into disease pathogenesis and potential therapeutic strategies.

Simmons, a biology major and economics minor whose senior thesis at Allegheny was investigating leukemia in fruit flies, plays a pivotal role in the day-to-day operations of their laboratory. Her responsibilities span a wide range of tasks, from culturing leukemic cells and supporting cells to running flow cytometry and molecular biology assays. Additionally, she provides invaluable assistance in manuscript and grant editing and writing, ensuring the seamless dissemination of their research findings to the scientific community.

“I think having the opportunity to work at a place like UPMC that is a leader in research nationwide is something I am grateful for” says Simmons. “I get to attend seminars from other researchers within UPMC, but also visiting physicians and scientists from other institutions. I get to be a part of finding therapies for leukemia, which is rewarding in itself, and be put on scientific papers that will allow me to leverage myself in applications for graduate school.”

Together, Simmons and Lechman form a dynamic team, united by their passion for scientific inquiry and their unwavering commitment to advancing the field of hematology-oncology. Their collaborative efforts have yielded promising results, paving the way for novel therapeutic interventions and offering hope to patients and families affected by these devastating diseases.

“When the office admin sent me Eric’s email, she pointed out that Eric went to Allegheny, which was a big green flag for me, since I absolutely enjoyed my four years at Allegheny. We immediately hit it off, and he verbally offered me the position which later turned into a formal offer and the rest is history,” Simmons says. “He taught me how to do tissue and cell culture from the cell line he created during his prior work in Toronto called OCI-AML8227, how to do molecular biology assays, grant and manuscript editing as well as mentorship in the world of academia. I have enjoyed working with him and plan to continue for the next 2–3 years.”

As they continue to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge, Simmons and Lechman remain dedicated to their mission of unraveling the mysteries of AML and Down syndrome. Their work not only exemplifies the transformative power of collaboration but also serves as a beacon of hope for the future of pediatric oncology. For Simmons, the path from Allegheny to the University of Pittsburgh doesn’t end at the Division of Hematology-Oncology research lab, as the ambitious alumna has big goals for the future.

“In 10 years, I will be working as a physician in a city hospital as hopefully an OB/Gyn with a fellowship in either cancer or reproductive endocrinology-immunology (REI), aka fertility specialist,” Simmons says. “I want to give back to my mentors such as KP, Dr. Hersh and Dr. Lechman, so donating to them to continue to do their work would be rewarding for me.”

In a world where medical breakthroughs are increasingly needed, Simmons and Lechman’s pioneering research serves as a testament to the possibilities that lie at the intersection of dedication, innovation, and compassion. As they embark on the next phase of their journey, the Allegheny community is eager to witness the impact of their discoveries on the lives of countless individuals.