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2016 Emerging Entrepreneurial Achievement Award: Dan Hassett, PhD

2016 Emerging Entrepreneurial Achievement Award: Dan Hassett, PhD

Published: 4/19/2016

Daniel Hassett, PhD, was a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researching gonorrhea when he met a world expert on cystic fibrosis and saw first-hand how families were impacted by the genetic disease, responsible for persistent lung infections that limit their ability to breathe due to airway infections. "I started meeting people who had cystic fibrosis and found out they would cough up their sputum; it was really smelly, greenish looking stuff, and there was no good treatment for it.  I said then, ‘It’s going to be my life’s goal to find a major treatment where we kill these antibiotic resistant bacteria.’”

It’s a pledge that Hassett hopes to make good on, and he’s making progress. Hassett led a team of researchers that have found an "Achilles heel” of a dangerous organism, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which lives in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. It’s vulnerable to destruction by slightly acidified sodium nitrite, a common food preservative. A mutation—known as mucA—may hold the key to helping physicians clear the characteristic "goop” from the lungs of advanced cystic fibrosis patients.

Hassett’s findings were reported in the February 2006 edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.  He’s also developed a potential treatment for Pseudomonas aeruginosa, known as AB569. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted Orphan Drug Status for AB569—a combination of two active ingredients, sodium nitrite and ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid—nebulized so it can be delivered to patients via inhaler. Currently, 30,000 people in the United States and 70,000 worldwide are affected by cystic fibrosis.

Hassett has devoted his lab to helping them, but he’s offered another attribute in their aid on occasion: his voice.  Accompanied by a 15-member orchestra, Hassett, dressed in his classic baseball hat and cowboy boots—they are his standard in out of lab—has sang his favorite Frank Sinatra tunes at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation fundraisers. These event have raised from $75,000 to $200,000 in donations in past years.

Hassett says he’s "dead on Frank,” and we’re so glad he does it his way so well.

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Jordan Bonomo on Fox19 News.

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