Hi! My name is Devesh Malik and I am a rising third-year student at Pitt! I am a Biological Sciences major with a minor in Chemistry and Sociology, and a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations of Medicine. In the future, I hope to be a physician-researcher who balances patients and novel medical research. A fun fact about myself is I can play the drums and acoustic guitar, and enjoy combining the two to play popular songs that I enjoy listening to.
The research project I am currently working on with my research mentor, Dr. Kate Kernan at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, is in the growing field of genomics. For unknown reasons, pediatric patients who have suffered from various viral or bacterial infections sometimes experience rapid swelling in the brain (called acute encephalitis), during or even after recovery from the infection. It has been hypothesized that these idiopathic conditions (conditions occurring of an unknown cause) are related to underlying genetic mutations that would otherwise be harmless, but in the presence of an infectious pathogen would yield excessive inflammation in the brain. Currently, the project has six pediatric patient genomes that I am analyzing and cross-referencing with lists of inflammation-related genes to determine if there is a correlation between the genetic makeup of the patient and the unfortunate outcomes.
The importance of this research project is two-fold. First, finding a direct genetic connection would allow for targeted therapy to maximize the possibility of the patient’s recovery. Second, cultivating a list of genetic mutations that commonly yield these outcomes could be used to screen genomes and inform patients of their susceptibility for encephalitis after an infection, allowing for proper preventative measures to be implemented.
The Brackenridge fellowship is a unique opportunity for me to learn and practice vital skills for becoming a successful physician-researcher in the future, most important of which is communicating with individuals who are educated in my field as well as those who are not. As a physician, I would be explaining difficult physiological issues to patients, and as a researcher, I would be collaborating with groups of talented individuals who will be knowledgeable in their own respective fields, but not in the specific field of my research. In both cases, understanding how to cater communication to the respective audience is a crucial skill to have; participating in the Brackenridge fellowship would help towards preparing me for a future as a physician-researcher. Furthermore, this fellowship will also train me to work with interdisciplinary cohorts to create holistic solutions to real-world problems. Interdisciplinary research is a rapidly growing and widely accepted method of research, and I plan to use these invaluable skills in my future research endeavors.