Profile: Dr Ancha Baranova

Issue: Vol.8, No.2 - April 2009

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Article Type: Profile

Dr Ancha Baranova, a specialist in the area of functional genomics of complex human diseases, is presently working as an Associate Professor in the Molecular and Microbiology Department, College of Science, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, USA.

She was born on June 10, 1971 in Penza, Russia. Dr. Baranova graduated from Moscow State University (Moscow, Russia) in 1995 with an MS in Biochemistry/Virology with a thesis on the physical mapping of human chromosome 13. She continued her MS project with her PhD and received a PhD in Virology from Moscow State University in 1998. Since her sophomore year in MSU and till 2002 she worked in the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics (VIGG), Moscow, Russia under the supervision of recognized geneticist Prof. Nick Yankovsky. She started at VIGG in 1991 as a Research Assistant, and then moved through a number of projects, interim positions, and degrees awarded, finally advancing to the position of Senior Scientist and Functional Genomics Group Leader. In 2004, Dr. Baranova received a Doctor of Sciences degree in 2004 from VIGG (Russian Academy of Sciences). D. Sci. is a post-doctoral degree that has no Western equivalent. Dr. Baranova relocated to the United States in 2002 after she joined the Molecular and Microbiology Department (George Mason University, Fairfax, VA) as a tenure-track Assistant Professor. In 2007 Dr. Baranova received tenure and was promoted to Associate Professor. In addition, since 2005 Dr. Baranova serves as Assistant Director of the Center for Study of the Genomics of Liver Disease in the College of Sciences, George Mason University.

Dr. Baranova's major academic contributions are in the field of functional genomics, with emphasis on cancer and metabolic syndrome-related disorders. Since 1992 she has participated in international collaborations aimed at the positional cloning of the tumor suppressor gene rearranged in B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Luckily, while other scientists concentrated on the genes located within minimally deleted area, Dr. Baranova and her Team worked on adjacent genes that seemed secondary candidates at best. When experimental studies revealed that the primary candidates had no open reading frames, Dr. Baranova's candidates moved into focus. The fine mapping of the CLL tumor suppressor is described in the accompanying review paper.

A significant part of Dr. Baranova's efforts is dedicated to in silico analysis of the publicly available genomics and proteomics database. Dr. Baranova sees these databases as treasure troves full of diamonds waiting to be unearthed and cut. While pursuing this line of research, Dr. Baranova and her Team has developed a novel method that allows high-throughput prediction of novel tumor markers by sorting publicly available EST sequences according to their tissue origin. Dr. Baranova's article published in FEBS Letters in 2001 received more than 40 citations. Since then, a number of the tumor marker sequences predicted by Dr. Baranova have been experimentally validated. Based on a computational prediction made by Dr. Panchin (Institute of Problems of Information Transmission, Russian Academy of Science), Dr. Baranova discovered and studied pannexins, a novel class of gap junction proteins present in both chordate and invertebrate genomes. As PANX2 expression levels can predict post-diagnosis survival for patients with glial tumors, pannexins may also be involved in the process of tumorigenesis.

Dr. Baranova's experience in the development of methods facilitating discovery of tumor markers is equally applicable to other human chronic diseases. The past few years have added a novel focus to Dr. Baranova's research as she has gotten involved in collaboration with the Center for Liver Diseases at Inova Fairfax Hospital, Northern Virginia. In this collaboration, Dr. Baranova has published a number of papers uncovering molecular pathways altered in the pathogenesis of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis in morbidly obese patients and developed an ELISA-based diagnostic approach for the non-invasive detection of these diseases.

Dr. Baranova, in her current role as a principle investigator at the Molecular and Microbiology Department at GMU directs a team of graduate researchers from various backgrounds including molecular and cell biology, statistics, and bioinformatics and employs a multidisciplinary approach in order to broaden research perspectives. She also teaches a number of graduate courses at MMB, including Biotechnology, Human Genetics and Cancer Biology, and Honor Seminar for undergraduates majoring in Biology.

Dr. Baranova has published about 40 peer-reviewed scientific papers in international journals including Genomics, Hepatology, Clinical Cancer Research, FEBS Letter, Bioinformatics, Expert Reviews in Molecular Diagnostics, Leukemia and Lymphoma, Oncogene, and others. She is an active member of the Human Genome Organization, the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS). In 2007, Dr. Baranova received the Memorial A.V. Itkes Young Oncologist Award (2007) for a series of studies on B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia. She is also actively engaged in the process of science education for the general public and participates in ASHG's Geneticist-Educator Network of Alliances (GENA) Project as a Geneticist Partner. In 1999 she received an Award of the Russian Fund for Basic Research for the best article explaining scientific concepts to general public.

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