Student studies the formation of fibrosis

Third-year student Nikhil Mallipeddi spends between 10 and 15 hours each week reading, discussing, theorizing and experimenting in a laboratory off a third floor hallway in Millis Science Center at Case Western Reserve University.

Mallipeddi is currently working with Principal Investigator and associate professor of biology Radhika Atit on a study to understand the formation of fibrosis, which is the hardening of organ tissues.

“We’re looking at the role of long noncoding RNAs, commonly called lncRNAs, and how they affect the development of fibrosis,” said Mallipeddi.

LncRNAs compose a diverse class of relatively short non-protein coding transcripts that play a critical role in regulating how genes are expressed.

“LncRNAs themselves are a pretty new field so not much is known about them in comparison to other types of RNA molecules,” said Mallipeddi. “Right now, most of our work is pretty exploratory.”

Mallipeddi spends a large portion of his time reading articles and other research publications to acquaint himself with the field of study.

“A lot of my time is also spent discussing the project, discussing ideas to implement in the future…[and] discussing what’s out there and how we can adapt that to what we’re doing,” he said.

Mallipeddi finds that these discussions with the research team, including Atit and undergraduate researcher Nathaniel K. Mullin, are just as important as the biological experiments conducted.

“When we’re actually doing the experiments, often times, we’ll have everything planned out and we’ll know what we expect to see,” said Mallipeddi.

The primary objective of the study is to better understand the function of lncRNAs in context and in relation to the development of fibrosis.

“Ideally, hopefully, we’ll find a specific lncRNA transcript that can compare to…creating or regulating dermal fibrosis,” said Mallipeddi. “Of course, that’s a perfect-world scenario and things don’t always work out the way we expect them to.”

Mallipeddi describes his research as a slow process that requires regular troubleshooting to make corrections to the general methodology. He enjoys using analytical skills needed to solve problems as they arise in the laboratory.

“With research, often times, the topic you’re studying is a very small topic in the field in the grand scheme of biology, and in the grand scheme of research as whole,” said Mallipeddi.

He feels the most important component of the research experience is acquiring the ability and the specific frame of mind that researchers use.

“I think that analytical systematic problem-solving approach is one of the best skills that you can gain as an undergrad,” said Mallipeddi. “While knowledge is still great, the real gem comes from exercising the analytical muscle in your brain…and applying it to different scenarios.”

In addition to flexing his analytical muscles in the Atit Laboratory, Mallipeddi is also involved in clinical research at University Hospitals through the Emergency Medicine Research Division. He is also a brother of the social fraternity Delta Tau Delta.

“I really enjoy research,” said Mallipeddi. “I enjoy the mindset you have to apply to research.”