• $1.3m NIH grant to develop statistical tools for disease research
    • Posted by Alan Flurry - October 25, 2016
    • Ping Ma, professor in the department of statistics, has been awarded $1.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health to develop statistical tools to further clarify the causes of many diseases-including cancer, heart disease and aging-related illnesses. Over four years, Ma and his team of researchers will look at something known as small RNAs, hoping to unravel their regulatory role on abnormal variations in genetic transcription:

      "Multiple interconnected research programs for tackling the challenge of big data have been actively pursued by my lab," he said. "An example of exciting progress, achieved through a collaborative project, is our finding that by sampling very small representative sub-data sets using smart algorithms, one can effectively extract almost all of the relevant information contained in the original vast data sets."

      Using these statistical methods allows biomedical researchers who may not have direct access to supercomputers to analyze biomedical data accurately and scale outcomes to larger data sets. The results of developing useful statistical methods for analysis, he said, means that biomedical researchers can use their desktop computers, iPads and smartphones to analyze data.

      "The advent of new biotechnologies has great potential to view the gene expression at unprecedented detail and clarity, which opens many new doors for studying the mechanisms of alternative splicing of various abnormal splicing related diseases," he said. "Given the huge volumes of data, we believe that this is an opportune time for taking an analytical approach to study small RNAs' regulatory role on alternative splicing."

      Recent studies have indicated that over 95 percent of human genes undergo alternative splicing. Aberrant splicing of pre-mRNAs can cause various human diseases.

      Fascinating work, also in sync with ambitious big data initiatives at the university. Congratulations to Ma's group and continued good luck in these investigations that will help other researchers around the world.

      Research data image, via