News at Medicine - September 2019 - A passion for virus vanquishing


A passion for virus vanquishing
September 26, 2019
Hannah Wallace has a thing for viruses. As in, eradicating them. A PhD learner in the Division of Biomedical Sciences, Ms. Wallace is particularly interested in eliminating hepatitis C virus (HCV) and, what she calls, her side project, Ebola.
 
“Since learning about viruses, I have always been interested in how such a small thing, that is not even considered alive, can kill a host or cause a lot of damage.”
 
Ms. Wallace`s virus goals just got a major boost with a fellowship from the Canadian Network on Hepatitis C to fund her PhD studies worth $25,000 a year for four years.
 
Her supervisor, Dr. Rod Russell, researches HCV-induced pyroptosis (a form of inflammatory cell death) so Ms. Wallace was very interested in researching if pyroptosis is a way that the virus causes disease.
 
“I have always wanted a career that somehow helps people. I figure that if I can help explain how a virus causes disease then I'm contributing to the virus research field which could contribute to the development of a drug which could help patients directly.”
 
When asked what makes her so passionate about her research on HCV, Ms. Wallace points out that the virus is still an ongoing problem both in the developed and developing world. There are an estimated 71 million individuals who test positive for the virus world-wide and although there is a cure, millions of people have no idea they are infected as they have no symptoms until well into disease progression. In addition, there is no vaccine so no way of preventing infection and chronically-infected patients that are treated with the curative drugs sometimes develop liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma and no one knows don't know why. 
 
Ms. Wallace`s research will be put to very good use because earlier this year, the Canadian Network on Hepatitis C released a Blueprint to inform hepatitis C elimination efforts in Canada. The document outlines what needs to be done to achieve HCV elimination in Canada to ensure provinces and territories meet the World Health Organization HCV elimination targets.
 
Ms. Wallace also has a side project: Ebola. “Most people would run away at the mention of this virus that can kill as many as 88 per cent of the people it infects, but I find it fascinating,” she said. “Ebola was the first virus that I was interested in and it`s the reason that I am now completing a PhD in virology.”
 
Outside of the lab, Ms. Wallace is past president of the Medical Graduate Student Society, is an avid dancer (ballet being her first love, but also jazz, contemporary, hip hop and Broadway) and she’s an amateur photographer. “I believe that work-life balance is extremely important in preventing burn out, keeping motivation high and having a happy life!”
 
CanHepC is a HCV research network linking over 100 researchers, health practitioners, affected community members, trainees, policy and decision makers from across Canada, as well as international partners. Their goal is to build research capacity, conduct innovative research and translate evidence into practice and policy, to improve HCV prevention and the quality of life of persons infected with HCV in Canada. The fellowship was established to allow knowledge-linking between trainees, scientists, community members and government, creating a collaborative network.