2016 Emerging Entrepreneurial Achievement Award: Dan Hassett, PhD
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
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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