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Hannah Hylton: Understanding the Origins of Cancer

By The OSUCCC-James Team |March 17, 2022

Hannah Hylton, who hails from Chesterville in north-central Ohio, recently graduated from the Ohio State Marion campus with a bachelor’s degree in biology pre-med summa cum laude with research distinction in molecular genetics.
She has entered the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at Ohio State to pursue a PhD with a dual focus on cancer biology and genetics— the next big step toward her goal of becoming a researching professor at a major academic university so she can “focus on identifying the underlying mechanisms of genetic diseases and furthering our understanding of cancer.”
“Since I’m passionate about genetics and invested in cancer research, graduate school was the next natural step for me,” Hylton says. “I decided to go for my PhD in biomedical sciences because it provides an outlet for me to serve others while exploring questions that remain unanswered.”
She got a good jump on that as an undergrad when she earned a Pelotonia Fellowship to develop a genetic assay to interrogate DNA double-strand break repair pathways with her mentor Ruben Petreaca, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the Marion campus. Petreaca is in the Cancer Biology Program at the OSUCCC – James.
Hylton explains that, although cancer is highly diverse, “The initial steps in disease progression are similar for nearly all forms of cancer. When cells replicate, they often make mistakes that accumulate over time to change the genetic makeup of a cell and can cause cancer.”
During DNA replication, which is a component of cell division, the genome is vulnerable to damage, but Hylton notes that natural mechanisms, or pathways, exist in the cell to repair such damage. Some DNA repair pathways are practically error-proof, she adds, but others are error-prone and do not fully restore the original DNA sequence. This accumulating DNA damage can lead to cancer.
Working with Petreaca, Hylton developed an assay to examine error-prone pathways in hopes of understanding why cells sometimes choose those over pathways that are relatively error-proof.
“Dr. Petreaca was the best mentor I could have asked for,” says Hylton, who completed her Pelotonia Fellowship in May 2021. “He encouraged me to put forth my best work.”
Petreaca recently described Hylton as an ideal student who maintained a 4.0 GPA while also being heavily involved in research. In addition, she contributed to two published papers while in the Petreaca lab—one in which she was the first author and one in which she was a co-author.
Hylton first participated in Pelotonia in 2020. In 2021, she participated as a Challenger with a goal of running/hiking 121 miles—“100 miles to represent the classic bike ride of Pelotonia and an additional 21 miles for the age I am turning this year.” She'll be repeating this effort in 2022 but will increase her mileage to 122.
Hylton likes taking part in Pelotonia, which “allows me to experience the effects of cancer research beyond the doors of the lab. I enjoy connecting with survivors and families. It reminds me of the importance of our work.”

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