MEGHAN DRUMMOND

A little girl sits in the backseat of her family car as her parents kick off the long drive from Michigan to the Grand Canyon. Gazing out the window, she listens as they rattle off the historic sites and national parks they will see along the way. She absorbs every word, beginning an ongoing journey of learning that will never stop.

"I didn't know exactly what it meant to be a scientist, but I always knew I would be one in some way... perhaps as an engineer, a researcher or a doctor."

A SEED IS PLANTED

Growing up in Michigan with two educators as parents, Meghan quickly realized the importance of knowledge. "I spent a lot of time at my parents' schools, which instilled a natural curiosity in me at a very early age," she explains. Science swiftly became her primary focus, as she explored its real-life applications in science-oriented groups like the young astronauts club, lego robotics camps, and a young physicians camp at Loyola University. "I didn't know exactly what it meant to be a scientist, but I always knew I would be one in some way... perhaps as an engineer, a researcher or a doctor."

Her parents fostered a rich educational environment, never ceasing to point out opportunities to learn, and Meghan absorbed everything in her path. Putting consistent focus into both academics and athletics, she became an avid gymnast, swimmer and student. As she grew, her love of science solidified. She admits, "Science was never a challenge for me, but math became stressful once I got to advanced calculus. Science just made sense to me. I couldn't see the immediate application of calculus, so I tried to ignore it, but I could always see the application of science. It's always relevant."

TALENT BLOOMS

As a seventh grader, Meghan was given the opportunity to participate in a study on the efficacy of internet-based distance learning. The program, Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) was run by researchers at Stanford, and Meghan was among the first groups of students to participate in the program nationally. Meghan thrived in this small, self-directed setting and embraced the opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with her instructors. In particular, she remembers one teacher, Connie Fellman, who introduced her to the distance learning program.

"She really helped push me further and I saw the value in non-traditional learning... I also witnessed that instructors have a human side, that they can be both a mentor and a friend."

Meghan conquered math as well as her other subjects and was thus invited to take classes in the high school as a middle school student. By junior year, Meghan had completed the entire high school science and math curriculum and the school district enrolled her in college classes during her senior year. This ultimately freed up her schedule in college to begin her work in laboratories at Michigan State University.

CULTIVATING KNOWLEDGE

Meghan continued her education at Michigan State, where she attended the Lyman Briggs College of Natural Science and joined the water polo team. She earned a degree in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and eventually a Ph.D. in Genetics. While an undergrad, she began working with Dr. Karen Friderici in a lab focused on human genetics. "My job initially was washing dishes and conducting freezer inventory. I wasn't exactly conducting research, but I had the opportunity to be around people who were." Leveraging her work ethic, she seized the opportunity to learn.

"I asked a lot of questions, volunteered as much as I could, and by the end of the summer I had my own research project. It was self-guided, so it was up to me to decide how much time to allocate. I took on as much responsibility as Dr. Friderici would give me. I wanted as much experience as I could get."

As an undergraduate, Meghan ultimately developed a database and extended pedigree for a closely related community of over 1,000 people. Using these tools, she identified and studied a variant in connexin, a protein that was hypothesized to cause hearing loss when mutated.

Still exploring the world of research after completing her bachelors of science, Meghan was accepted to the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program. She began her studies abroad in Saarbrücken, Germany, where she was immersed in a German school ten hours per day. After a few of months, she moved across the country to Dresden where she enrolled classes at the Technical Institute of Dresden and interned at the Max Planck Institute – the German equivalent of the National Institutes of Health. She acknowledges the environment was intense. "When I arrived, I spoke maybe three words of German and was surrounded by many students who didn't speak English. Initially we would communicate with one another with these very rudimentary sentences, like five year olds, saying, ‘I feel tired today.' But quickly you get to the point where you can give a cab driver directions and it's extremely rewarding." Ever the student, she accepted the challenge as an effective way to learn.

"In that kind of environment, you learn quickly. It teaches you what you can do and that even if you don't know what will come next, it's going to be ok."

After returning from Germany, Meghan worked as a technician with a veterinarian scientist who partnered with breeders to study the genetic causes of disease in domestic animals. She soon realized that genetics may be her niche. "I knew I wanted to be in science but that I didn't want to be a doctor, mostly because I'm terrible with human blood. Looking at how diseases are passed on between generations and identifying the source of the genetic disease was a very natural fit for me. Our work resulted in successful mapping of a mutation in the cat genome that causes Spinal Muscular Atrophy."

While working as a technician, Meghan decided to pursue a PhD, enrolled in the Genetics program at Michigan State and returned to Dr. Friderici's human genetics lab. Among her many projects, Meghan developed and characterized a knock-in mouse model of progressive human deafness due to dominant negative missense mutations of γ-actin, and identified a novel regulatory splicing mechanisms for γ-actin in developing muscle. Taking a note from her parents, she also took an interest in teaching and mentored several undergraduate students in their own independent research projects.

"I find it very rewarding to work with others and to see them grasp a new concept or have that 'a ha!' moment."

After completing her PhD, Meghan chose to continue studying the genetics and molecular biology of hearing and joined the Section on Human Genetics led by Dr. Thomas Friedman at the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She picked up additional skills beyond mapping and studying genetic variants that cause deafness, and led a live-imaging project that debunked an existing theory on how the cells of our ears develop and are maintained. While at the NIH, Meghan was not only active in science, but also began cycling, competing in triathlons and co-founded the NIDCD Trainee Committee along with three of her fellow post-docs.

"Our goal was to give a voice to trainees in the Institute and to provide more opportunities for them to get involved and present their research."

BRANCHING OUT

Degrees and valuable experience in hand, Meghan left the academic world to begin her career. Presented with many opportunities, she ultimately had to decide between accepting a K99 grant to start her own lab and a job at Regeneron. "One of the things that drew me to Regeneron was that my work could have an immediate impact on human health. I didn't want to wait 30 or 40 years for my work to make a difference." She continues with enthusiasm,

"Regeneron's commitment to using genetics to solve health problems, their innovative approaches and true dedication to science really appealed to me."

After starting on the VelociGene®, team developing mouse models to replicate human disease, Meghan has recently circled back to her roots in hearing loss research. Working closely with the strategic alliance team and several other departments across the company, Meghan is managing Regeneron's collaboration with Decibel Therapeutics, providing scientific and technical expertise to advance projects related to hearing disorders and associated therapies.

"Over the years, I've realized that I'm driven by a strong inner curiosity. I learn because I want to learn. At Regeneron, I never feel that I have to show up, I come because I enjoy what I do every day."

Her day still involves exercise, as she is now a competitive triathlete and, together with her husband Mike, competes to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Outside of work, she often participates in the Regeneron cycling club, does a few laps at the pool or heads down the street to a local bar to join a trivia competition with friends. At home Meghan enjoys experimenting with complicated recipes and spending time with her growing family. She hopes her daughter will grow up to be a fearless, independent thinker.

FROM SCIENCE TO MEDICINE

Meghan hopes that young scientists will remember to "always keep your eyes and ears open, as you never know what you'll find." She continues, "It's one of the most exciting things as a scientist to discover something on your own. But it can be equally satisfying to work with those who have more experience than you. We are surrounded by incredibly intelligent people. If you are open-minded and willing to take advice, you can really learn quite a lot."

Meghan's desire to keep expanding her knowledge will continue to inspire her. "It's difficult to find something more rewarding than seeing your science impact someone's life. Hopefully I can do this many times over."