Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Translating Science into Solutions for Better Health

SC CTSI Program Director Receives Fellowship for Breakthrough Research


Sarah Hamm-Alvarez has been recognized for her scholarly and research contributions to the pharmaceutical sciences.

USC School of Pharmacy leader Sarah Hamm-Alvarez has been recognized with a fellowship by the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists for her breakthrough translational research on membranes.

Sarah Hamm-Alvarez, Gavin S. Herbert Professor in Pharmaceutical Sciences, executive vice dean and vice dean for research and graduate affairs at the USC School of Pharmacy, was named a 2014 AAPS fellow at the association’s annual meeting and exposition in November.

According to AAPS, “fellows are granted the honor each year for making sustained remarkable scholarly and research contributions to the pharmaceutical sciences.”

She is one of only 17 scientists from across the country to receive this recognition and only the fourth person from the USC School of Pharmacy to receive the honor. The first was the late USC School of Pharmacy Dean Emeritus John Biles.

Caught in traffic

The research by Hamm-Alvarez focuses on membrane trafficking, the processes that allow cells to secrete and internalize extracellular proteins and small particles that can be adapted for drug delivery. Among her accomplishments is bringing to the clinical trial stage a biomarker she discovered for Sjögren’s syndrome, a severe autoimmune disorder that can lead to internal organ damage but which is hard to distinguish from ordinary dry eyes.

“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 said. “We’ve discovered an enzyme that is enriched in the tears when examined in our lab disease models.”

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

“This is an exciting next step for us,” Hamm-Alvarez said. “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 a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Duke University in 1990. After completing a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in cell biology at Duke, she joined the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences faculty at USC as an assistant professor in 1993.