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Committed to Malaria Research: Q&A With Featured Research Trainee, Petra Molnar, PhD

Published on July 17, 2023 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 11 months 2 weeks ago
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Petra Molnar, PhD

Petra Molnar, PhD, is the Featured Research Trainee for July.

Editor's Note: Our Featured Research Trainee for July is Petra Molnar, PhD. Dr. Molnar is a postdoctoral fellow at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in the Division of Infectious Diseases, under the mentorship of Audrey Odom-John, MD, PhD. In this Q&A, she discusses her research, her experience at CHOP, and her passions outside of work.

Can you tell us where you went to school, and what your current role is at CHOP?

I was born and raised in Hungary, and I earned my degrees in bioengineering at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Faculty of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology. I started working on malaria-related research projects during my master's training and continued through my doctoral studies. I started my postdoctoral fellowship at CHOP in 2020 in the Division of Infectious Diseases, under the mentorship of Audrey Odom-John, MD, PhD. I'm committed to malaria research.

Petra Molnar, PhD

Petra Molnar, PhD

What is a research project you're working on, and why is it important?

Malaria has been a persistent problem throughout human history. Despite significant eradication efforts, the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, has developed widespread resistance to existing therapies. Mostly affecting children under the age of 5, it remains a major global health issue with over 200 million cases and nearly a half million deaths each year.

The parasite primarily relies on glycolysis for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production. Several necessary parasite biomolecules, including isoprenoids, are derived from glycolytic intermediates. The essential isoprenoid biosynthesis pathway is absent from humans; therefore, it is a promising drug target. Its regulation is not completely understood, but our innovative forward genetic studies established a new class of metabolic regulators, the haloacid dehalogenase (HAD) proteins. The HAD metabolic regulators are also not present in humans; therefore, I'm working on understanding the mechanisms by which they direct essential functions in P. falciparum, which could be very helpful in antimalarial drug development.

What are some of the most salient training experiences you've had at CHOP thus far?

I appreciate the wide variety of courses CHOP offers. I participated in several communication, leadership, time management, interviewing, and resume design courses, and they were incredibly helpful. I would also like to highlight the CHOP Career Mentorship Program, organized by the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs, which helped me discover opportunities as a scientist and meet people from different career paths with similar qualifications.

Aside from research, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

During my doctoral studies, I really wanted a dog, but the timing was not right. Instead, I started volunteering at a dog training school. At first, I was a caretaker for numerous animals of various species living on school property. Then I transitioned to the training field, participated in courses with different dogs, and prepared them for exams. Eventually, I enrolled in an animal trainer course and graduated best in class. During my time there, I made the best friends in the world, and learned about myself and behavior in general. It was years of hard work, early and late hours in the freezing cold, pouring rain, or scorching heat, but I found myself a new passion and made it a new profession while also working hard on getting my PhD. I really hope to pick this up again in the future.

What do you do for fun when you're not working?

My partner and I love spending time with our wonderful cat (cats can be trained too). I enjoy traveling and exploring the United States, including Philadelphia and its surroundings. I love Philly's history, diversity, museums, and walkability. We often take day trips to small towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, which deepens my understanding of the region. I also enjoy reading (nothing beats a good Agatha Christie), cooking, running, and practicing meditation and mindfulness. As co-chair of the CHOP Postdoctoral Alliance, I'm also trying to help provide casual and professional programs and opportunities for the CHOP postdoctoral community.