USC professor named AAPS Fellow

Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, Gavin S. Herbert professor of pharmaceutical sciences, was named a 2014 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists fellow at the association’s annual meeting and exposition in November.

AAPS’s primary criterion for election to fellow status is “professional excellence in the fields relevant to the mission of AAPS,” which is “based on the individual’s documented sustained level of superior and distinguished professional achievement and contributions in a relevant field.” Recipients must be AAPS members.

Hamm-Alvarez, who is also executive vice dean and vice dean for research and graduate affairs at the School of Pharmacy and director of research development for Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute, is one of 17 scientists nationwide and the fourth person from the School of Pharmacy to be recognized. She was designated with this honor for her breakthrough translational research on membranes.

Hamm-Alvarez’s work made early detection of Sjögren’s syndrome possible through the discovery of pathological changes in membrane trafficking mechanisms in lacrimal gland acinar cells. Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder that leads to damage of the glands that produce tears and saliva, resulting in dry mouth and eyes. It may affect other body parts such as the kidneys and lungs.

“The test we’ve developed provides a low-cost diagnostic tool that has the potential to increase early identification of Sjögren’s syndrome patients,” Hamm-Alvarez told USC News. “We’ve discovered an enzyme that is enriched in the tears when examined in our lab disease models.”

The current translational trial is moving her invention into a marketable product that can be used by ophthalmologists and optometrists to diagnose the potentially dangerous disease as simply and effectively as possible.

“This is an exciting next step for us,” Hamm-Alvarez told USC News. “It promises early diagnosis of Sjögren’s disease and early diagnosis promises better health outcomes.”

Hamm-Alvarez received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Carleton College in 1986 and was awarded a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Duke University in 1990. At Duke, she completed a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in cell biology, and in 1993, she joined the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty at USC as an assistant professor. Her other research emphases include protein-targeted drug delivery and characterizing nanoparticle interactions with cells. She has authored numerous papers and reviews in her field and lends her expertise as a reviewer of a variety of journals and grant review boards.