Growing Up In Science: Rachel Henson (WashU Neurology) – “Growing Into Science: Call Me Ishmael”

March 15, 2023
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
McDonnell Sciences 928 (Medical Campus)

“Growing Into Science: Call Me Ishmael”

Growing Up In Science is a global series dedicated to sharing the personal narratives of scientists, with a focus on the hidden challenges of becoming and being a scientist throughout all stages of one’s career. We’ll feature scientists at WashU via in-person talks at 4pm in McDonnell 928.

Full schedule, Growing Up In Science

If you have questions or are interested in getting involved, please contact Julia Pai.

Growing Into Science: Call Me Ishmael

Official Story

Rachel Henson is the Research Lab Manager of the Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center (ADRC) Fluid Biomarker Core at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2010, she received her B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Biotechnology from Webster University where she completed her thesis on the impact of volatile anesthetics on gene expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae under Dr. Stephanie Schroeder. She received her M.S. in Biochemistry and Biophysics from Oregon State University working in the lab of Dr. Ryan Mehl where she developed genetic code expansion methods to study oxidative post-translational protein modifications and helped manage the Unnatural Protein Facility. In 2017, Rachel joined the lab of Dr. Anne Fagan, the director of the Knight ADRC Fluid Biomarker Core, where she began her study of cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers of Alzheimer disease in individuals with Down syndrome. Rachel now manages the lab of Dr. Suzanne Schindler and the Knight ADRC Fluid Biomarker Core biorepository. Her research is focused on fluid biomarker standardization, socio-economic impacts on AD biomarkers and disparities in AD biomarker research.

Unofficial Story

Rachel Henson grew up on a small farm in rural Missouri and was homeschooled for much of her childhood with an intentional omission of science-based courses. She never planned to attend college but decided to pursue a career in music education after receiving a scholarship from Webster University in 2006. During the Great Recession of 2007, a job as a music teacher wasn’t looking like a smart career choice to go into debt over, and after having experienced her first science course, she decided to change her major to Biology. There, she developed an interest in biochemistry and immediately volunteered to work in the lab of Dr. Stephanie Schroeder who would later become her mentor. What would have been a one-semester capstone assignment turned into a 3 year research project on the effects of volatile anesthetics on gene expression in yeast. After working at various music stores and customer service jobs to get herself through school, Rachel was the first person in her family to graduate from college in 2010. She got her first job at ISTO Technologies where she harvested human cartilage from juvenile cadavers for orthopedic transplants. This turned out to be quite a grim job and she applied for a position at the Siteman Cancer Center Tissue Procurement Core at Washington University, which would be her first introduction to core facility and biorepository operations. After spending 3 years in a love-hate relationship with the freezer farm, she was accept to a PhD program in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Oregon State University. She intended to get back into genetics research, but the PI who recruited her no longer had enough funding to support an additional graduate student. After her rotations, she was offered a position in the lab of Dr. Ryan Mehl, an organic chemist who develops tools for genetic code expansion. After struggling for several years on a high risk project that seemed to be based on an unfortunate artifact, she started helping to manage collaborations in Dr. Mehl’s Unnatural Protein Facility (now the GCE4ALL Research Center). It was at OSU where she realized what she loved most about science – teaching, mentoring students, and facilitating research. She decided to “drop out” with her Master’s degree and returned to WashU to work for the Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center Fluid Biomarker Core where she helped to establish the CSF biorepository for the Alzheimer Biomarker Consortium – Down Syndrome (ABC-DS) study. She has co-authored more than 12 publications since joining the Fluid Biomarker Core and is excited to be involved in the validation of one of the first diagnostic blood tests for AD.