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Turning Health on Edge®: PhD student’s winning research encompasses “network medicine” to analyze disease

Prerna Malaney, a PhD student in the USF Health Department of Pathology and Cell Biology, is enthusiastic about the newly emerging field of “network medicine” that was the crux of her award-winning poster presentation at the 5th Annual Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar Research Symposium.

Malaney was among four USF Health students, and 12 campus-wide, who received $500 travel awards for their outstanding poster presentations at the March 22 symposium sponsored by the Graduate School, USF Office of Research and Innovation, and Graduate and Professional Student Council. She also joined USF’s winning students on April 19 at the new graduate statewide symposium, which showcased the top research of graduate students across Florida.

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Prerna Malany, a PhD student student in Pathology and Cell Biology, with her advisor Vrushank Dave, PhD, an assistant professor in the department.

Malaney’s presentation was titled “Intrinsic disorder in proteins and their interaction hubs as a novel tool for network medicine.”  The study focused on using systems-level structural informatics to probe the inherent structural disorder of the tumor-suppressor gene PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homolog).  Abnormalities in PTEN function are associated not only with cancers, but with neurological disorders including autism.

“Researchers have tended to look at singular events, focusing on a certain molecule or pathway abnormality, without much success in finding effective therapeutic targets for a given disease,” said Malaney, who works in a cancer research laboratory at USF Health. “Network medicine uses a more integrated holistic approach to analyze disease.”

That includes mapping how genes and proteins link together and interact and how these interactions are disrupted by disease.  A better understanding of these complex intracellular networks may lead to the discovery of new treatments or cures, Malaney said.

Malaney’s PhD advisor is Virushank Dave, PhD, assistant professor pathology and cell biology, and she works with laboratory colleagues Ravi Ramesh Pathak, PhD, and Jaymin Kathiriya. Her collaborators on the research project were Vladimir Uversky, PhD, and Bin Xue, PhD, faculty members in the Department of Molecular Medicine.

Other USF Health graduate student winners at this year’s symposium were Andrea Bingham, Department of Global Health, “Development of a mosquito trap that uses sugar feeding to detect Eastern equine encephalitis virus;” Nadine Nelson,  Department of Molecular Medicine, “The role of Ikaros in regulatory T cell (Treg) development and function in murine pancreatic cancer;” and Mahmooda Pasha, Department of Community and Family Health, “Factors impacting modern contraceptive use: An analysis of 2011 Uganda demographic and health survey.”

– By Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications