Linda Ho Makes the Most of the Interdisciplinary Nature of Public Policy

In the course of her undergraduate studies as molecular cell and developmental biology major at UCLA, Linda Ho made an interesting discovery. She loved doing science, sure, but what she really loved was talking to people about science.

Ho worked on the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal, advancing to co-editor in chief, and along the way developed a key interest in the applications of science to policy. When she started looking around at graduate programs, the interdisciplinary nature of Georgia Tech's School of Public Policy appealed to her immediately.

"It's the only (program) that has a really broad emphasis on science, and I think it's really unique, because it's a policy school that's in a large engineering school," Ho said. "You don't really get that anywhere else."

Ho has taken full advantage of the opportunity to work with scientific fields at Georgia Tech, exploring the policy dimensions of innovative medical procedures under the mentorship of Associate Professor Aaron Levine. And after she graduates this spring, she's set to head to Bethesda, Maryland to work at the National Institutes of Health as part of the prestigious Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) program.

"It’s been a real pleasure to work with Linda and see her research ability grow during her two years at Georgia Tech," Levine said. "Linda’s trajectory and success exemplifies the benefits of a Georgia Tech public policy education."

Ho's main project with Levine, working under the umbrella of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies (CMaT), has been researching the policy implications of CAR-T cell therapy, which uses genetically modified T cells from a cancer patient to help fight the disease. Ho notes that while the treatment can be quite effective, but it's also extremely expensive, running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the drug and even more for related relocation and rehabilitation expenses.

To explore the specific sources of expenses for people receiving CAR-T cell therapy, Ho analyzed GoFundMe campaigns and the appeals people were using for funds. The results of that study were published last August in The Lancet Oncology.

"We're hoping to shed light on this issue for a large number of people, from clinicians to policy makers to insurance companies," Ho said. "...For example, insurance companies could come up with ways to reimburse patients for all these new expenses, like commuting time, gas money, and relocation expenses. They could offer higher reimbursement for the drug itself, and Medicare and Medicaid could also increase their reimbursement."

Ho has explored a number of other interests at Tech, including regulatory policy in a class taught by Richard Barke and, in another CMaT project, analysis of workforce development in the emerging cell and gene therapy industry.

In the PMF program, Ho is set to work in the NIH's Office of Rare Disease Research as a health specialist. The program is designed specifically for graduate and professional students entering the federal workforce, so Ho will have access to professional development and training and rotate through another worksite as well. 

"The beauty of my program is I get to decide what I want to work on," she said.

The diversity of study at Georgia Tech as a whole brought Ho to campus, and she has found that interdisciplinary collaboration in the School of Public Policy as well.

"I really like how everyone in my cohort, as well as my professors, come from all different disciplines – not just science and engineering, but also liberal arts," Ho said. "Everyone is really supportive, and I get to learn from everyone. So it's a great learning environment as well."

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