UA Little Rock Researcher Studying How to Combat Diseases by Identifying Therapeutic Vulnerabilities

Kanishka Manna, a Ph.D. student in the joint bioinformatics program at UA Little Rock and UAMS, presented his research at the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology Conference held July 10-14 in Madison, Wisconsin.

A joint UA Little Rock/UAMS doctoral student has been recognized for his research to create a custom protein database to combat complex diseases like melanoma by identifying therapeutic vulnerabilities.

Kanishka Manna, a Ph.D. student in the joint bioinformatics program at UA Little Rock and UAMS, presented his research at the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology Conference held July 10-14 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Manna, who will graduate in 2023, first became interested in bioinformatics after taking a course on the subject while earning his Master of Science in microbiology at University of Calcutta, India.

“The course in bioinformatics interested me to further get into this field,” Manna said. “It’s a niche field between statistics, computer science, and biology. You can explore all three fields at once with this program. The current trend in the field of biology is to be a jack of all trades. This interested me much more, as there is a very scarce number of biologists who venture into this field with the knowledge of statistics, computational algorithms and coding, so as to analyze, interpret and visualize the biological data.”

As part of his dissertation research, Manna is building a pipeline that will help researchers detect therapeutic vulnerabilities in complex diseases by combining information from multi-omics data. This pipeline will help researchers find specific mutational proteins (mostly isoforms) that are not found in normal reference databases  and help them determine how to treat patients with those mutations who may also be resistant to known drug therapies which inhibits the oncogenic effects of those mutated proteins or the pathway associated with it. He is working with his mentor, Dr. Stephanie Byrum, an associate professor at UAMS and associate member with the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

For this research project, Manna studied therapeutic approaches to treat melanoma that include small molecule drugs that target activating protein mutations, which is beneficial to about 50 percent of patients with the activating BRAFV600 mutation. Those who are resistant to the treatment may develop tumors following the treatment. Identifying which mutations patients have that make them resistant to specific treatments can help doctors come up with a customized therapy plan for each patient.

In addition to presenting his research, Manna found the conference an inspiration for his research and future career.

“For a budding researcher like me, meeting and listening to some of the best scientific minds in the world at this conference was an excellent opportunity to get inspired, expand new networks, and broaden my scientific ability and knowledge,” he said. “The conference provided enough exposure to develop/exchange ideas and establish collaborations. I believe this experience contributed to my graduate research at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and University of Arkansas at Little Rock and uplifted my research career.”

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