Neuroscience researcher Hema Manogna Gudlavalleti is passionate about working on neurodegenerative research. After college, she found a job in Los Angeles for a start-up pharmaceutical company where she was working on Alzheimer’s disease research.
“The company invited Alzheimer’s patients and I really saw how it affected them,” she said. “I also got to see the process of drug development and translation to the clinic.”
After three years, she realized that most of the people working in the start-up had doctoral degrees so she was inspired to start looking for Ph.D. programs.
“I could see that they were able to spot things that I wasn’t able to spot and I wanted to get that knowledge,” she said.
Gudlavalleti applied to the Neuroscience discipline of UT Health San Antonio’s Integrated Biomedical Science’s Ph.D. program because she was looking for programs with faculty who work on neurodegenerative diseases and have clinical collaborations.
“I developed an affinity to working on Alzheimer’s because I realized there are so many gaps in the research,” she said.
She is currently in the lab of Dr. Jim Lechleiter studying an endoplasmic reticulum stress sensing protein called PERK, which has been correlated in many neurogenerative diseases like “tauopathies.” She joined Dr. Lechleiter lab, as his research is very exciting and also because he is a great mentor who is open to collaborative science.
“PERK senses misfolded proteins in the neurons, which are a common characteristic in neurodegenerative diseases and helps the cell to undergo repair or to go through programmed cell death if it can’t fix it. But when PERK is over activated it may lead to excess loss of neurons contributing to neurodegeneration. However, not much research has been done on how PERK itself degrades or inactivates, and understanding that may help prevent unwanted neuronal loss,” she said.
While in San Antonio, apart from basic science research she has continued to look for opportunities to learn more about patients. She has been shadowing clinicians to gain a perspective on clinical research. She recently attended the Virtual Dementia Tour led by the School of Nursing and the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.
“The tour is in a room which mimics what an Alzheimer’s patient would go through, they give you shoes that prick your feet because Alzheimer’s affects your feet. They give you gloves and glasses which affect your motor skills and tell you to do six simple tasks,” she explained. “It was so hard and I think it really helped me think from a patient’s perspective.”
Outside of research, Gudlavalleti is passionate about reaching out to international students and she currently serves as president of the Graduate School International Club.
“I think it’s important for students to have that support and to feel that their identities and cultures are represented. We organize events to help bring international students together and to create a sense of belonging,” she explained.
In the future, she would like to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship focused on translational science research.
“There’s a huge gap in bench to bedside in India, it’s a triangle between the bench scientists, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and I just feel like people in the clinic don’t know what’s coming out in the research and I wanted to bridge that gap.”
The School of Nursing and the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases work together to support the health and well-being of people with dementia and their family members. To learn more about the Caring for the Caregiver program and the Virtual Dementia Tour, visit UTcaregivers.org, call (210) 450-8487 or email email@example.com. To read a recent article about the program, read https://magazines.uthscsa.edu/mission/dementia/
This article was written by Charlotte Anthony, marketing specialist at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. This article is part of the “Meet The Researcher” series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.