From the desk of President Leslie K. Guice

Faculty Feature: Dr. Prerna Dua: Better Health Through Informatics

Nov 12, 2013 | Faculty Feature

Prerna DuaOriginally from Bhopal India, Dr. Prerna Sethi Dua came to Ruston in 2002 with her husband, Sumeet, when he joined the Computer Science program in the College of Engineering and Science. Prerna noted about her move, “Ruston quickly became our home town and Louisiana Tech became our second family. While I was considering academic options at Tech, it was with the encouragement from Dr. Dick Greechie (former Mathematics and Statistics Professor) that I decided to pursue the Ph.D. in the Computational Analysis and Modeling (CAM) program. It was through that program that I had my first-hand experience with the passion and dedication that the students enjoy at Louisiana Tech. It was also how I appreciated the impact that professors can make in shaping students’ lives.”

Prerna earned a PhD in CAM in 2006. Her research was oriented towards the designing of high performance computing algorithmic frameworks for applications in healthcare informatics. Her interest in healthcare informatics increased when she attended a clinical informatics and fusion workshop organized on Tech’s campus by her husband as a part of his NSF grant. Prerna noted, “I became fascinated by the challenges that healthcare industry faces, with opportunities for scientific investigation that can not only contribute to the applied science of computing in healthcare, but can also make strong contributions to algorithm design problems in computing. It was then apparent to me that there was a dire need for more computational analysis and modeling researchers in healthcare.” After completing her doctoral studies, Prerna worked as a Postdoctoral fellow in the summer of 2006 in the Department of Ophthalmology at the LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans to better understand the transformative nature of healthcare informatics. Prerna returned to Ruston to join the department of Health Informatics and Information Management (HIIM) as an Assistant Professor in fall of 2006. She primarily teaches graduate-level courses in the Master’s of Health Informatics (MHI) Program,  a completely online program. Prerna believes that the most effective teaching happens in a bi-directional fashion, when we not only teach our students but learn from them as well. “While it is somewhat more challenging, it is certainly true and rather more important, in an online setting. The online teaching initially came with its challenges, and it led me to develop a special set of skills and attitude to create an active and effective learning experience for our students. It also enhanced my patience and persistence. I encourage my students to call me anytime when they have questions. Since most of our students are full-time professionals, most of those calls happen in late evenings or weekends (even our 3-year old now knows to leave me alone when I am on one of those calls.)” In 2009, Prerna became the Program Director for the MHI Program and was tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in the HIIM department in 2011. Prerna commented, “I have thoroughly enjoyed working in this department, and it comes with no hesitation that the program is successful because of the team support of my colleagues and our department head.” Prerna has been involved in grants at both federal and state level and has obtained a total of approximately $850,000 in extramural research funding. In 2007, she obtained a grant from the Board of Regents that enhanced a laboratory in healthcare informatics. In 2008, Prerna was an investigator for a Department of Health and Human Services project in which the goal was to reduce the disparity among the underserved community in Northwest Louisiana using Information Technology tools. Since 2010, Prerna has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, where she works closely with faculty from the Department of Neuroscience at the LSU Health Science Center in New Orleans. In this project, she works on developing new algorithms to discover new patterns of genes that are co-regulated and co-expressed genes in Alzheimer’s disease. This collaboration has yielded 11 joint journal papers involving investigators from both institutions. In 2011, Prerna was funded by the Board of Regents to design and develop algorithmic approaches for neurological disorders. prerna pic-3Since the majority of the students in the MHI program are online students and have limited focus in pursuing research avenues, what started as a need for research assistants to help Prerna with the grants, grew into a unique and rewarding opportunity for her. Consequently, she has had opportunity to work with graduate students from Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Molecular Sciences and Nanotechnology, and Mathematics and Statistics. Prerna has received the outstanding research award in the College of Applied and Natural Sciences three times.  She is an active member of several professional organizations. Prerna and Sumeet are a remarkable couple with intelligence, persistence, and commitment. They have two children, Devika (8), and Krish (3). As a Tech alumna and proud employee, there is no question about where Prerna’s loyalties lie.  She says, “I bleed blue. Go Dawgs!”