Meghna Verma, NIMML PhD student, Awarded a Doctorate in TBMH
The Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) is pleased to announce that Meghna Verma successfully passed her final defense and was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy in Translational Biology, Medicine and Health program. Her advisory committee, comprised of Drs. Josep Bassaganya-Riera (Chair), Raquel Hontecillas, Vida Abedi, and Stefan Hoops, was impressed with Dr. Verma’s performance in NIMML and is confident that she will be highly successful in her future research endeavors in biotech. Meghna joined the NIMML in 2015 as a PhD to study the gut immunity in infectious diseases by using advanced computational and mathematical modeling approaches with applications in Modeling Immunity for Biodefense.
Meghna was involved in building computational and mathematical models and developing novel sensitivity analysis methods to analyze the host immune responses to various infectious diseases including Helicobacter pylori, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)- human papillomavirus (HPV) co-infection and C. difficile infection. Her work established building a novel metamodel-based sensitivity analysis framework using NIMML’s advanced high-performance computing (HPC)-driven computational platform. Her efforts led to significant reduction in the computational budget and resources involved in analyzing a complex hybrid ordinary differential equation (ODE) and agent-based model (ABM). Additionally, her work identified key immune cell players that were central in determining the host immune response to colonization of H. pylori.
“Meghna’s research at NIMML used advanced computational modeling, new data analytics methods and complex sensitivity analyses methods aimed at identifying novel host immune factors for treatments of infectious diseases.” said Josep Bassaganya-Riera, Director of NIMML. “We believe that Meghna has effectively leveraged NIMML advanced computational technologies to solve important biomedical problems. I expect that Meghna will have a very successful career in applying AI methods for accelerating the development of safer and more effective immuno-oncology therapeutics at AstraZeneca,” added Dr. Bassaganya-Riera.
The results from the computational simulations published in GigaScience identified the crosstalk between epithelial cell proliferation and other key players such as the tolerogenic dendritic cells and macrophages to affect the burden of H pylori in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. She was involved in multiple collaborative projects where she helped build a novel HIV-HPV coinfection model to study the increased incidence of HPV infections in previously infected HIV patients. The results from the coinfection model simulations determined how HIV directed therapeutics such as cART can help halt the HPV-related oropharyngeal disease in co-infected individuals.
The results stemming from the computational immunology models that she developed has contributed to over 10 manuscripts and book chapters. During her time as NIMML PhD student, she was awarded travel award grants from the International Society of Computational Biology (ISCB), The Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as well Virginia Tech Graduate Student Assembly (VT GSA) to present the results of her doctoral work in national as well as international conferences. She was also actively involved in further sharpening her computational skill sets by participating in coding events including the NCBI organized NIH Data Science Hackathon at NIH, Bethesda and the SheHacks VT hackathon at Virginia Tech.
Among other success stories, the NIMML has graduated many outstanding researchers: Dr. Amir Guri, a 2008 NIMML graduate who is an attorney at McCloskey, Waring and Waismann LLP, Dr. Adria Carbo, a 2014 NIMML graduate who is Director of business development at Adaptive Biotechnologies Corp, Dr. Monica Viladomiu Pujol, a 2015 NIMML graduate and researcher at the Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr. Casandra Washington, a 2015 NIMML graduate and a researcher at DTRA/DOD and MIT-Lincoln Lab, Dr. Pinyi Lu, a 2015 graduate, Research Scientist at Biotechnology HPC Software Applications Institute, and Dr. Andrew Leber, a 2017 graduate, the Scientific Director of Landos Biopharma, Inc.
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The NIMML tackles unsolved fundamental challenges in complex human diseases with unmet clinical needs. The NIMML combines advanced computational technologies such as computer modeling and artificial intelligence with pre-clinical and clinical experimentation to catalyze the translation of scientific discoveries into creative solutions to the most challenging problems in healthcare. NIMML is located in Blacksburg, VA.