A picture of Hannah Luk in a white coat next to text that says Hannah Luk medical student in the John Sealy Schol of Medicine at YTMB

UTMB student named All of Us Research Scholar

Hannah Luk, a medical school student at the University of Texas Medical Branch John Sealy School of Medicine, has been selected to be a student researcher for the 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program.  

The All of Us Research Scholar Program pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals and gives students access to data and training in programming and using machine learning in research.  

“They match you with a mentor, and then you essentially carry out a research project, including a poster presentation or an oral presentation at the end,” Luk said. “What drew me to the program was its uniqueness in that it's really focused on precision medicine.” 

The program encourages use of National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program’s Researcher Workbench, a dataset that includes study participants from communities that have been underrepresented in past health research.  

A main objective of the program is to include at least one million United States residents who reflect the diversity of the United States in a dataset that is broadly available for biomedical research.  

The precision medicine approach considers individual differences in patients' genes, environments, and lifestyles.  

Luk recently worked on a research project that looks at genetic resilience of type 2 diabetic nephropathy in self-reported Black/African Americans. She will now be able to continue this research. Type 2 diabetic nephropathy, also known as diabetic kidney disease, is a condition characterized by kidney damage resulting from chronic high blood sugar levels. While increased levels of glycated hemoglobin are indicative of poor blood sugar control and may contribute to the progression of end-stage renal disease.

“A lot of times diabetic nephropathy is talked about in the sense of comorbidities leading to chronic kidney disease, which is true,” Luk said. “But we're looking at a genomic component that is associated with type 2 diabetes actually being protective of diabetic neuropathy.” 

If a genetic difference causes type 2 diabetes to protect a patient from kidney disease rather than contribute to kidney disease, that finding would be important to a precision approach to treating specific patients.  

“If we're able to understand that protective level or protectiveness at the level of the gene, then a lot of treatment management and drug therapies can be altered to help mimic that,” Luk said.  

Luk, a first-year med student with a chemical engineering degree, worked as a reservoir engineer for seven years. She wanted to leverage the research experience she gained during that time by applying it to medicine.  

“The training I had and the resources I had just being at a corporation were pretty helpful and taught me how to answer questions,” Luk said. “I think just keeping up to date with research is something that won't ever go away for me. Whether I end up going into academics versus clinical medicine, I don't know yet.”