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Under the Microscope: A Spotlight on Faculty Research

By Colleen Chase

Published on August 19, 2020

USciences faculty researchers are passionate about their areas of interest. In these interviews, faculty members discuss how they got involved in their research and what keeps them interested.

Anil D'MelloANIL D’MELLO, PhD, received his degree from University of Pittsburgh and B.Pharm from the University of Bombay. Currently, he teaches Pharmacokinetics and his current research focuses on the treatment of phenylketonuria, a rare genetic condition that results in decreased metabolism of the amino acid phenylalanine. 

Q: What made you want to get into your specific field of study?

A: [In the lab], we are attempting to develop a treatment for Phenylketonuria; an inborn error of metabolism characterized by an inability to metabolize phenylalanine. If left untreated the disease results in severe intellectual disability and neuropsychiatric disturbances. For a long time the only therapy available to these patients was ingestion of a low phenylalanine diet. The diet has poor taste and unpleasant texture and is expensive. Therefore, non-compliance and the associated adverse consequences is a big problem.

Phenylketonuria is an orphan disease afflicting about 16,000 people in the US. There is not as much interest within the major pharmaceutical companies in finding a cure for the disease. The severe consequences of the disease and the presence of limited treatment options for these patients got me interested in the field.

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the field throughout your time?

A: After a lull of about almost 50 years during which dietary therapy was the only treatment option for phenylketonuric patients, in the past 10 years two new exciting treatment options have been approved by the FDA for use in these patients.

There are also exciting new therapies in early human trials including genetically re-engineering gut bacteria to synthesize enzymes that will break down phenylalanine in the intestine and re-engineering red blood cells to break down phenylalanine in blood.

Q: What keeps you passionate about this field?

A: The hope that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to discover a therapy that might actually benefit patients and improve their quality of life - that would be immensely rewarding. 

Anne GalgonANNE GALGON, PhD,is a certified neurologic clinical specialist with advanced training in vestibular rehabilitation. She gained clinical expertise in this specialty at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Moss Rehabilitation Hospital and several outpatient vestibular specialty practices. 

Q: What made you want to get into your specific field of study?

A: The primary focus of my research is physical therapy clinical decision-making when managing individuals with vestibular and balance disorders. My work includes both qualitative research aimed at understanding clinical decision processes and quantitative research examining the adoption of diagnostic technology and whether technology assists clinical decision making and improved patient outcomes. 

Q: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the field throughout your time?

A: Since beginning my career over 30 years ago, there has been an exponential increase in research and evidence for physical therapy practice.  Although this is very exciting, it can be difficult to keep up with it.  As a result, clinical practice and research have become more focused on specialized areas of practice. 

Q: What's your favorite part of being in the USciences community?

A: I enjoy observing the growth and success of students as they progress through the physical therapy program.  I am excited to see new students who have committed to the physical therapy profession when I teach them in the neurosciences in the P1 fall semester.  I am also excited and proud to watch their professionalism and success when they complete their capstone projects in P3 spring semester. I love to hear from them when they successfully pass their licensing exam and attain their first job.  

Q: What keeps you passionate about this field?

A: I stay passionate when I see my work is having an impact on the practice of vestibular rehabilitation. My research and interactions with students and clinicians all contribute to my satisfaction. 

Michelle KantherMICHELLE KANTHER, PhD, is an assistant professor of biological sciences and primary faculty for the SEA-GENES (Science Education Alliance - Gene-function Exploration by a Network of Emerging Scientists), a mid-level research program for students.

Q: What made you want to get into your specific field of study?

A: My background is in genetics and molecular biology. I have always been fascinated by the fact that a single base pair change in the DNA can have fairly dramatic effects on an organismal level, while other times significant changes in the DNA have no effect at all. Four seemingly simple nucleotides act to code for all of the things an organism needs to develop and survive. Molecular biology has provided me with the opportunity and tools to investigate the importance of specific genes on whole animal development. Now, I get to share this passion with my students through my lecture and lab courses.

Q: What is your favorite part about it and what has it taught you?

A: My favorite part of molecular biology is how relevant and useful it is to so many diverse areas of study. I have been able to take my research training and use it to teach a wide variety of different classes. Because of its utility, molecular biology is also a rapidly growing field that I think is relevant to so many of our students. The tools developed by molecular biologists have allowed us to study and gain insight into so many different biological processes. As a teacher I get to provide students with an understanding of these tools so that they can go on to apply their understanding to the different courses they take, to their own research, and to the medicine they may eventually practice.

Q: What's your favorite part of being in the USciences community?

A: I have a deep appreciation for the relationships I have gained with our students and my fellow faculty members. I have always been interested in teaching and my position as a teaching faculty member allows me to pursue that interest in a supportive environment with others who are equally passionate about science. As a science school, I find that our students are incredibly passionate about the classes they are taking, and they are always asking good questions and pushing me to be a better teacher, scientist, and mentor. I have also been very fortunate to work with amazing colleagues who are also passionate about science and teaching. The other faculty members have helped me expand my teaching methodologies to enhance student learning.

Q: What keeps you passionate about this field?

A: Working in a very supportive and collaborative environment with others who are passionate about similar things has kept me inspired to learn more and do more. As an example, this year I had the opportunity to teach in the amazing HHMI SEA-PHAGES program with Dr. Sunnen. Despite having had no background in Phage biology, I really wanted to gain experience in teaching hands-on research-based labs. Since coming to USciences, I have gained a deep appreciation for the value these courses bring to our students’ USciences experience. With the help of Dr. Sunnen and a very talented Ph.D. student, Norman Fultang, I was able to not only gain insight into the program but also help students become better scientists and ignite their passion for research. My experience with the SEA-PHAGES program inspired me, along with Dr. Sunnen, to apply for the HHMI’s SEA-GENES program, which we were recently selected to participate in! The SEA-GENES program is an upper-level research-based laboratory program for undergraduate students. Students will learn and utilize molecular techniques to investigate the function of some of those phage genes whose function is currently unknown. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to apply for and teach in this program. Teaching SEA-GENES will allow me to combine my passion for teaching and molecular biology to gain insight into a new research area

Categories: News, Faculty, Research, Misher College of Arts and Sciences, Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, Samson College of Health Sciences, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Department of Physical Therapy, Department of Biological Sciences