The Department of Microbiology and Immunology is pleased to announce that Aadra Bhatt, a graduate student in Blossom Damania's lab, and Bonnie Gunn, a graduate student in Mark Heise’s lab, are the 2012 G. Philip Manire Graduate Student Excellence in Research Award recipients.
Aadra’s doctoral work is focused on how Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) is associated with human cancer. She discovered that KSHV highly upregulates the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling pathway in KSHV-associated cancers, including primary effusion lymphoma, a subset of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Aadra also tested a number of inhibitors of this pathway for their efficacy against primary effusion lymphoma using in vitro and in vivo model systems. A dual kinase inhibitor that was effective in these models will soon be tested in a clinical trial. Aadra has also been studying dysregulation of glycolysis and fatty acid synthesis pathways in non-Hodgkin lymphomas, and this work is in press at PNAS.
Bonnie's dissertation research project focuses on the role of N-linked glycans, present on viral glycoproteins, in modulating alphavirus-induced inflammatory arthritis. Using a combination of molecular virology and an in vivo pathogenesis model, she demonstrated that the mannose binding lectin (MBL) pathway was solely responsible for Ross River virus-induced complement activation and disease. This is a surprising result, since the MBL pathway has previously been considered to be protective against viral infection. It is also important since it provides a basis for the development of therapeutic interventions since no therapies or vaccines currently exist for this and related alphaviruses.
The Manire awards for the most significant and impressive doctoral research projects are given in memory of Dr. Phil Manire, recognizing his dedication to the University of North Carolina and to the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, as well as his love of graduate education and research.