Neha Mani

Laidlaw Scholar, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
  • People
  • United States of America

About Neha Mani

I am a student at Columbia University majoring in Biochemistry and Linguistics. My research focuses on elucidating the structures of the enzyme PORCN and its complex with cell-signaling ligand Wnt which are important for developing cancer therapeutics. 

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Biomedical Sciences Languages Medicine Science

Research Topic

Biochemistry Biological Sciences Biomedical Sciences Chemistry

Laidlaw Cohort Year

2022

University

Columbia University

I am from:

United States of America

I speak:

English Hindi Spanish

My hobbies/interests are:

Dance Foreign languages Hiking/walking Music Pets Photography Reading Running/jogging Travelling Volunteering Writing/blogging Yoga

I am open to participating in mentoring/buddy programmes

Yes

Topics

Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 24, 2022
Replying to Noah J Bergam

    Q1: One sort of embarrassing roadblock was that I had this idea for an experiment that wasn't exactly possible. I had written the idea down and developed preliminary tables for how to show the data, but then I realized I had not quite fleshed out the specifics, so come time to write the code, I realized there was a flaw in my understanding of how large language model pre-training actually works. I adjusted, and luckily I was able to salvage an analogous experiment that would essentially test the same idea. 

    I have also recently been bouncing between the appeal of writing and coding as I try to wrap up my experiments. I tend to be much more engaged in laying out my ideas in theory––most of the time, I find coding to be quite tedious, as it comes down to me looking up specific keywords and libraries to implement relatively simple ideas that come to mind. However, I need to code. A lot. And this was the first week where I really spent substantial time training models and running experiments. It is hard. It pushes me out of my comfort zone. At the same time, it really has influenced my theories and hypotheses. It's made my technical writing more precise.

    • What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

    Q2: Honestly, I think rereading some of the papers that I read earlier in the program has been a very useful exercise. There tends to be this desire to look at new material as you delve deeper into a subject, but I think that desire tends to run contradictory to the fact that you need to review and check your baseline understanding of things. It really helps connect the dots and make you realize that you're perhaps not as lost as you thought––that you're making progress in your understanding.

    Hey Noah! I really empathize with the struggle of having to go through tedious work which is actually vital for the success of the project—sometimes I feel that way when carrying out the same experiments over time that are required to get an optimal protein purification. I'm glad you're reaping the benefits of that hard work in the culmination of your project. Best of luck and I look forward to hearing more about it!

    Jun 24, 2022
    • What new ideas, challenges, or other issues have you encountered with regard to your project (this might include data collection, information that contradicts your assumptions or the assertions of others, materials that have enriched your understanding of the topic or led you to change your project, etc.)? How have these ideas or challenges shaped the bigger picture of your research? Has the scope or focus of your topic changed since you began this project? If so, how?

    I froze my protein on a grid last Friday, so I will be using the Glacios microscope to see if my particles are good—if they are, I'll use the Titan Krios electron microsccope but if not, I'll modify my protocol to optimize my prep. I've learned that the detergent digitonin/GDN has been used more recently to solubilize/purify membrane proteins for structural elucidation. I have been using DDM-CHS for my purification, so if this screening doesn't look optimal, I may try to use a different detergent! This small idea has the potential to optimize the purification drastically and lead to better data collection on the microscope if needed. My project has changed since my proposal because I had originally proposed to work on Wnt/WLS but sadly, a lot of that work would have required the HPLC which has been having issues in the lab as of late. Since my work on PORCN has been promising recently, my mentor advised me to focus on trying to get a structure for the enzyme (and hopefully of the complex with Wnt). 

    • What research resources have proven particularly useful to you as you continue your research?

    This week, I have volunteered for and attended the Center on Membrane Protein Production and Analysis (COMPPÅ) Symposium led in part by my lab's Principal Investigator. I've been attending conferences all throughout the day and I've learned about different purification and imaging techniques: in particular, I learned about a cross-linking assay to tell if a protein is dimeric or not which I'd want to try out for my protein. 

    Jun 16, 2022
    Replying to Peter McMaster
    • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

    The expectation of my research group is to produce a publication highlighting our discoveries, or perhaps our failures. We are looking for x-ray signatures in a number of places in the sky, corresponding to multiple different gravitational wave events, so regardless of whether we find anything significant it would be useful for the scientific community at large to have data available on these regions of the sky, if only to highlight the fact that nothing has been detected and therefore attention should be diverted elsewhere. The project is nowhere near completion, so I anticipate spending time on it for the rest of the summer.

    • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

    The research I am doing is significant in that the problem I am hoping to address has become an entire subfield of astronomy, with numerous group attempting to solve the same problem. The lack of known counterparts to gravitational waves is the biggest flaw of gravitational wave astronomy and seriously hinders our ability to understand many astrophysical events and processes, from inflation to the mechanics of binary black hole mergers events. Therefore, the issue of gravitational wave counterparts is one of the current obstacles to scientific progress in astrophysics, and solving it could open the door to a new understanding of the physics and cosmology. 

    This research is really important and I like the way you summarized how the lack of information in the field is a source of obstacles in progressing research in astrophysics. I'm looking forward to seeing how your research progresses and the paper that will follow! 

    Jun 16, 2022
    Replying to Neha Mani
    • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

    My research exists as part of a larger, ongoing study into characterizing one of the most fundamental pathways in cellular biology: the Wnt pathway. I’ve been working in this lab for quite some time (since September) so I hope to continue working on characterizing this pathway structurally and through molecular dynamics in the coming years. I expect my research to yield some insights into how to best purify the enzyme PORCN in order to freeze it on a grid for structural elucidation. Throughout the summer, I hope to make progress toward my goal of freezing my protein on a grid to collect microscopy data. 

    • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

    My goal of making progress towards elucidating the structure of PORCN is significant because, in order to design cancer therapeutics, it is crucial that we know the architecture of the proteins that these drugs are meant to target—otherwise, the drugs aren’t properly docked into the binding sites and thus are less efficacious. I’m really interested in this research question because in making progress in basic biochemistry, there are immense implications in medicine and pharmacology.  

    and also! I hope to write a paper on my research.

    Jun 16, 2022
    • While all Laidlaw Scholars will be presenting their research at the Columbia Undergraduate Research Symposium in the fall, what are the more immediate expectations that you have for your research? Are you writing a paper? Will your research be part of a larger scientific study? Do you hope to produce an annotated bibliography that you reflect on down the line? Is your research now the first phase of a project you’ll continue to work on throughout the year, and/or next summer? Now that we are nearing the one month mark of the program, please write about your expectations for your research.

    My research exists as part of a larger, ongoing study into characterizing one of the most fundamental pathways in cellular biology: the Wnt pathway. I’ve been working in this lab for quite some time (since September) so I hope to continue working on characterizing this pathway structurally and through molecular dynamics in the coming years. I expect my research to yield some insights into how to best purify the enzyme PORCN in order to freeze it on a grid for structural elucidation. Throughout the summer, I hope to make progress toward my goal of freezing my protein on a grid to collect microscopy data. 

    • Why does your research matter? Explain the significance of the question you are investigating, and why you are interested in it.

    My goal of making progress towards elucidating the structure of PORCN is significant because, in order to design cancer therapeutics, it is crucial that we know the architecture of the proteins that these drugs are meant to target—otherwise, the drugs aren’t properly docked into the binding sites and thus are less efficacious. I’m really interested in this research question because in making progress in basic biochemistry, there are immense implications in medicine and pharmacology.  

    Jun 09, 2022
    Replying to Charlotte Hoskins
    • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

    The history and literature I am exploring through my research has a lot of ethical implications. One such dilemma is carefully curating a list of literature to read and base my study on. As my time period is the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the majority of literature is written by white people for white audiences. Because of this, I have actively included works written by Indigenous Australian authors and Native American authors to aid my exploration of settler colonialism. Another ethical issue I am facing surrounds language. Many texts I am reading use racist and white supremacist language, so I have decide to censor any quotes I use that contain such language throughout my research project. 

    • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

    Both my faculty advisor and my graduate student mentor have allowed me to view alternative ways to tackle my investigation. Based on these, I have reconsidered how I can approach my topic, which is very broad and daunting. Because imperialism covers so many different areas, I have changed my project by considering focussing on a particular aspect of it, namely settler colonialism in Australia and the United States. 

    I completely agree with your viewpoint on the ethical implications of investigating colonialist literature and the erasure of Indigenous identities. It is also important that we are cognizant of harmful language used in these texts, so I appreciate your diligence in framing these texts appropriately in your project. 

    Jun 09, 2022
    • What are some of the ethical issues that you are grappling with in your research? What are some of the ways in which you are responding to these questions?

    I think one ethical issue in scientific research is probably the way we respond to data — for example, if there are anomalies in data obtained from a certain protocol that has previously worked, then it can be easy to simply "ignore" anomalous data instead of exploring why that data was not consistent with the rest. Obviously, there are margins of error for every protocol, but this issue becomes problematic once that margin of error has been surpassed and inconsistent data is not investigated thoroughly. I think I'm doing due diligence to explore the reasons my data looks more anomalous in certain experimental runs and therefore I avoid any misrepresentation of my data. 

    • As you continue your research, have you considered alternative viewpoints in your investigation? If so, how have these alternative viewpoints enriched or changed your project?

    I've considered approaching my research question from different angles and trying new methods to tackle the problem (e.g. screening different methods for each part of my protocol to see how I can best optimize my purification). These viewpoints have enabled me to avoid being caught in a cycle of repetitive experimentation, but rather have fostered more critical thinking.

    Jun 03, 2022
    Replying to Julia Goralsky

    1. Last week the trainings and discussions we had cut across the disciplines. How does the interdisciplinary nature of this program, the fact that students are focusing on such a diverse range of projects, help you think about your project and/or your academic interests more broadly?

    My project is very much focused on the minute details of cancer genetics, and my academic interests also lie at the molecular and cellular level of biochemistry. Thus, it is very easy for me to get caught up in examining these scientific mechanisms from an objective point of view. I think being exposed to the interdisciplinary range of projects has really helped me to put my own work into perspective and visualize how even the smallest details of biological sciences can relate to meaningful lives, events, and cultures. This correlation has made me even more excited about the work I’m doing, but also interested in further studying the manners in which medicine can intersect with language, literature, and policy. 

    2. As you begin your individual research projects this week, do you anticipate any challenges in getting started? If so, what are they?

    I think my major challenge will be remembering the new protocols required for my project, especially pertaining to tissue cultures. Another challenge for me will likely be finding an adequate amount of pre-existing literature that I can use to understand my project. Aside from these, I am mostly just excited about the beginning stages of my project.

    I relate, Julia! Sometimes, I also get very tied up in the details of my project but I'm working on using the perspective gained from trainings and hearing about others' projects to be more grounded in the broader field. I also share the struggle of remembering new protocols and have to keep checking back to my lab notes!