Dr. David Baker, Director of the UW's Institute for Protein Design, offers counsel to Ph.D. student Meg Lunn-Halbert on her research: 'Meg is smart, creative, and organized.” (photo by Ian Haydon, IPD)
Meg Lunn-Halbert has three publications listed on her CV. She should have a fourth.
Lunn-Halbert, 25, grew up on acreage in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas; she frequently observed foxes, owls, and other wildlife. Starting when she was 8-years-old, her father encouraged her to write “journal articles” of her observations.
While those writings likely would not be considered by editors of peer-reviewed publications, they were a catalyst for her fascination with science.
That fascination grew into a foundational interest for Lunn-Halbert when, unexpectedly, her mother – that same year –- was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. Five years later, when Lunn-Halbert was 13, her mother, who did not smoke, passed away.
“Since then, I knew I would devote my life to science,” she said. “I want to do research that helps people. Cancer is really important to me.”
It is all but certain that Lunn-Halbert will pursue cancer research as a career. She currently is working on a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, which she started in 2022. For the past several months she has worked in the labs of BBI’s Drs. David Baker and Neil King with the UW’s Institute for Protein Design.
Among her projects is studying genetic control of N-linked glycosylation through protein design. Changes in N-linked glycosylation are linked to rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, and various types of cancers. Baker is impressed with Lunn-Halbert’s skills and professional characteristics.
"Meg is smart, creative, and organized,” Baker said. “That combination of skills can go a long way in science."
Such skills likely served her well in her undergraduate work at Seattle Pacific University, from which she graduated Magna cum laude in 2020 with Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry and a minor in Mathematics.
Two years earlier in March of 2018, she started working as a laboratory aide in a lab of Dr. Roland Walter at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. In July of 2020, she was promoted to research technician. Her projects there included generating, producing and analyzing recombinant monoclonal antibodies and other protein therapeutics for acute myeloid leukemia.
In 2022, she and other Hutch colleagues published in the journal Leukemia. The paper examined ways alpha-particle-emitting radioimmunotherapy can improve patients’ outcomes in acute leukemia. The abstract notes that these particles “deliver large amounts of radiation over just a few cell diameters, enabling efficient and selective target cell kill.”
Observing that “kill,” Lunn-Halbert said, “was like watching a mini-bomb going off in a cell – it was fascinating and exciting.”
When she is not in a lab or a classroom, she demonstrates another important characteristic: compassion.
She volunteers for the Light Collective PNW, a Seattle-area non-profit organization providing support for families who have children with cancer. Its mission is to “create a hope-oriented community where families who have a child with cancer can build resilience and share …. safe and delightful experiences every month where families make memories together and connect to a larger community of families on a similar journey.” Lunn-Halbert can empathize.
“Cancer affects everyone in the family,” she said. “I’ve experienced this first-hand. Volunteering alongside a family with a child undergoing cancer treatment is a way for me to give a small sense of normalcy to those who are grieving.”