MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Franch has research showcased at Neuroscience 2019

October 30, 2019
Rob Cahill, UTHealth Public Affairs; Tracey Barnett, GSBS

GSBS student Melissa Franch

Brain research by PhD student Melissa Franch was singled out for special attention at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting in Chicago Oct. 19-23.

Her lay summary about preclinical research into how the brain manages social interactions was sent to the nearly 300 journalists covering the meeting. Only about 100 of the more than 14,000 abstracts submitted to the meeting are awarded this recognition.

SfN’s annual meeting regularly attracts more than 30,000 attendees, representing 80 countries, and 536 exhibiting companies.

“Unfortunately, the ability to socially connect with others is impaired in many mental health disorders such as autism, depression, and schizophrenia,” Franch said.

“My research [in the GSBS Neuroscience Program] seeks to improve our understanding of the neural computations of social behavior, which will lead to better therapies and quality of life for affected individuals,” she said. “Very little is known about how different areas of the brain process social interactions.”

She is conducting the research for her dissertation in the laboratory of Valentin Dragoi, PhD, a professor of neurobiology and anatomy and holder of the Rochelle and Max Levit Distinguished Professorship in the Neurosciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. Dragoi has been a GSBS faculty since 2004 and is affiliated with the GSBS Program in Neuroscience.

“Melissa is a diligent student who combines technical sophistication and computational analyses to meet her research goals,” Dragoi said.

Franch became interested in studying how the brain works at a young age. “I have a brother with autism, so I am very familiar with the disorder and I have seen its effects firsthand,” she said.

It is Franch’s hope that her research may one day help people with autism and other social skill issues.

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