Bernadett Papp, Ph.D.

Bernadett Papp, Ph.D.
Department of Oral Biology
College of Dentistry
University of Florida

Dr. Bernadett Papp and her lab focus on discovering critical genome-wide molecular mechanisms that control cellular functions. Cell identity changes naturally during development and during regeneration. However, deregulation of cellular identity can cause diseases such as developmental disorders and cancer. Cellular identity can also be altered due to environmental factors and pathogen encounters such as viral infections, which can also lead to diseases.

We characterize governing principles maintaining cellular identity in various contexts, including the oral cavity. We aim to find out how cells respond to viral infections genome-wide and what mechanisms control the outcome of viral infections.

What are your current research interests and/or what is a project you are currently working on? 

I am interested in reprogramming, to reveal how our cells can achieve new functions or respond to our ever-changing environments. You can also call my lab “the changemakers” in every sense. I am fascinated by the fact of being able to alter cell fate. It is possible, but only if we know their tricks. That’s why we are studying how cells respond by changing their functions and gene expression genome-wide — what are the connection between key factors in the process and how they drive these changes. The goal is to find ways to influence this decision. Now we know cellular fate is also very flexible. Not only stem cells, but all our cells have the capacity to undergo major alterations and can be driven to change if exposed to the right stimuli such as the right combination of reprogramming factors. These changes can affect our health. For example, when cells get infected, incoming powerful viral factors can alter our cells in order to promote their life cycle. Supported by our highly synergistic collaboration with other UFHCC virologists such as Dr. Zsolt Toth’s, Ph.D., lab, we are focusing on mechanistically dissecting genome-wide host reprogramming events during viral infections. In addition, we are also using these studies to discover previously uncharacterized human proteins, which are hijacked by the oncogenic virus, then we dissect their function in various contexts including cancer.

What do you want to achieve with your work?

Our main effort now is to build a detailed map about the key reprogramming events during viral infections of human cells, so we can find the key nodes to target for potential therapies. If we can prevent or revert detrimental alterations due to oncogenic viral infections, we might be able to prevent future disease development. 

Why did you decide on your field?

I remember reading a book about the world of DNA and recombinant DNA technology growing up. Later on, I was able to contribute to some of the early discoveries of the fascinating world of epigenetic modifications and highlighting their influence on developmental decisions. That was it. Gene regulation became my core scientific passion.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

I grew up in a rather uniform environment, with like-minded people in a small country, where we could not really travel much in the past. Nowadays, I really enjoy being able to explore new places, gain new experiences and regularly interact with people from different cultures over the years.