About Sara Cooper
Sara Cooper, PhD
Location: 601 Genome Way, Huntsville, AL 35806
Sara Cooper is a chemical detective. She tracks the unique chemical fingerprints left behind by a cell’s activity, a process called metabolomics. Then she and her team in the Sara Cooper Lab at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology combine that metabolomic information with genomics using gene expression data, a profile of the genes turned on in the same cells. The lab pulls together all of those clues – the chemicals left behind after reactions in the cells and the genetic information that affects those reactions – and applies that bundle of knowledge to solving the mysteries of pancreatic and ovarian cancer.
“For me, it’s fascinating,” she says with quiet passion. “There’s so much we don’t know about human health. The genome is huge, so every day you come to work knowing you will learn something.”
In her work, Cooper focuses on more than just identifying the genes that are connected to a cell’s chemical processes. She also examines how those processes can be modified. The modifications could help improve a patient’s reaction to a particular ovarian cancer drug, for example.
That end goal, understanding the chemical pathways important for cancer and improving cancer treatments, inspires Cooper’s work, especially when she supports close friends and family members who face a cancer diagnosis.
“The problems we’re trying to tackle are very personal,” Cooper says. “When I see my friends and family facing cancer, it makes me feel ever so slightly better to say I’m working on solving it. I’m proud of what I do.”
Cooper joined HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in 2010. She completed undergraduate work in genetics at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, received her PhD in genetics from Stanford University in 2006 and completed her postdoctoral work at the University of Washington in Seattle in 2010.