By Deborah Silliman Wolfe/College of Engineering
The National Institute of Health recently awarded a $1.08M grant to Yufei Huang, professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer engineering, and Jianqiu (Michelle) Zhang, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer engineering, to develop new bioinformatics tools to study mRNA methylation and breast cancer.
“Basically, we are looking at the inner workings of mRNA and methylation and by using deep genome sequencing technology and computer models, we are trying to uncover a new mechanism of cancer,” said Huang. “Such mechanisms can help us predict which cells in a human’s body may become cancerous and stop cancer in its tracks before it even forms.”
The research team also includes The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s Dr. Manjeet K. Rao, an RNA biologist, and Dr. Yidong Chen, an expertise in deep sequencing and bioinformatics.
“By bringing together computer engineers who are experts in computational modeling with experts in biology and RNA sequencing, we have added a new dimension to the emerging study of mRNA methylation,” said Huang.
mRNA methylation refers to the chemical modifications to the mRNA molecules that code genetic information. Abnormal modification could alter the genetic codes that command the orderly functions of human cells and thus lead to diseases such as cancer.
Huang says that the result of this research will hopefully cast new light on the role of mRNA methylation in regulating the dynamics between normal and disease states and thus may provide leads to more effective strategies for future therapeutic intervention.
“The research planned to be performed by Drs. Huang and Zhang with the team at the UT Health Science Center through this NIH grant has potential to fundamentally change how we see human diseases,” said Daniel Pack, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer. “By bringing experts from both medical and engineering fields together to study cancer using powerful computational engineering tools, the team has a great chance to contribute in finding solutions to one of the society’s most difficult problems. Drs. Huang and Zhang are the right individuals with right knowledge and skills to be on this team.”
To address the need for high computational power need to run the study’s simulations, the team will also work together with UTSA Cloud and BigData Laboratory to seek could computing solutions for these bioinformatics tools. The UTSA Cloud uses a multiple cell concept where cell consists of compute, storage and network nodes that are built using the Open Compute hardware, and allow for flexibility in adapting the systems to changing engineering and scientific application requirements.
“We are so excited to be working on such an exciting project that could possibly change the way we look at cancer,” said Huang. “I am honored that we were awarded this prestigious NIH grant, and know that we are going to be doing some ground breaking research in the course of the next few years.”