Gavin Hanson, a student in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), was known for his intelligence and quick wit, whether with a joke or a hypothesis. In fact, those who worked with him consider him among the most intelligent people they’ve ever known.

But for all his smarts, he was still giving of his time and patient with others, willing to explain his complicated thought process and be a mentor.

This week, members of his lab and the campus community are mourning the loss of Hanson after he passed away from cancer Oct. 4. He was 26.

Jeffrey Coller, professor of medicine and director of the Center for RNA Science and Therapeutics, remembered Hanson as both kind and generous.

Hanson, who was working toward his MD and PhD, arrived at Case Western Reserve in 2015 after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas.

“Gavin was a delightful young man, beloved of his family from Kansas,” Coller said in an email shared with colleagues. “As is typical of our MSTP students, Gavin was dedicated to conducting cutting-edge biomedical research that ultimately would help people.”

A member of Coller’s lab for about three years, Hanson investigated unique and hidden information in genetic code to benefit human health. Coller considers Hanson’s work instrumental in developing novel therapeutics for diseases such as Dravet syndrome and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

Hanson was the first author on two papers, one in the journal RNA and the other a cover story in Nature Reviews. He also co-authored a paper that appeared in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

In the lab, Hanson paired his interest in bioinformatics with biology, often mining through large data sets to develop theories.

“He was a hypothesis machine,” said Otis Pinkard, a fellow MSTP student and member of the Coller lab.

Hanson held strong opinions, Pinkard remembered, but had a knack for arguing either side of a debate—and making his opponents laugh while proving his point.

With a strong sense of self-drive, Hanson was always thinking ahead, ready to take on his next big project.

“As an integral member of the Coller lab family, we will miss his determination, his grit, and his positive attitude, and all of us will miss his friendship,” Coller wrote.

And even as Hanson fought cancer, he always came into the lab with new ideas, most recently suggesting analyses the lab should conduct.

“For all of us, his scientific and personal impact will endure for years to come,” Coller wrote. “Gavin was of a gravitas seldom seen, and he left us too early.”

As School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis wrote in an email to the school Friday, “Gavin told his father that his time at CWRU and in the MSTP program was the best time of his life.”

An on-campus gathering in Hanson’s memory will be held Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 6 p.m. in the Robbins Building Room E424.

In lieu of flowers, gifts can be made in his memory to The RNA Seminar Series Fund, which supports students. To make a gift, contact Colleen Sporar at or 216.368.6165.