Most people don’t know they have an aortic aneurysm until they need emergency treatment. Mark Hanna ’25 spent the summer conducting research with the goal of changing that. 

Hanna, a biology major from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, spent eight weeks at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Health Care System in Charleston, through its Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. The fellowship gave Hanna the opportunity to immerse himself in a professional lab setting, contributing to impactful research and refining skills crucial for his future in the medical field.

Hanna’s experience was rooted in hands-on learning and mentorship. Each student was paired with an experienced mentor and assigned to an individual project that ultimately fit into the overall study of the lab. Hanna’s project involved working with an in vitro model to simulate the mechanical stress of an aneurysm. 

“Because aortic aneurysms are typically asymptomatic until they become fatal, the ultimate goal of the lab I was working in was to identify specific pathways that occur in the cells of the wall of the aorta during an aneurysm, which potentially could help in earlier detection and treatment,” says Hanna.  

Participants underwent comprehensive training in lab protocols and safety measures, gaining practical experience in techniques relevant to their fields. As part of the program, Hanna and fellow researchers presented their findings to faculty and staff at both the VA center and the Medical University of South Carolina.  

“When I began the program, I had almost no real knowledge about the topic that I was researching,” Hanna says. “But as I learned more through reading research papers and conducting research, I became well-versed on my project by the end of the program.” 

Hanna, who plans to attend medical school after graduating, says working on the project made him a more well-rounded student.  

“I have learned so much about the research process and the way that research is conducted in a professional lab setting,” he says. “I definitely impressed myself with how much I was able to learn in just eight weeks.”