Michigan Precision Health funds 12 early-career researchers across U-M schools

July 25, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees

Precision Health at the University of Michigan is pleased to announce the recipients of its inaugural Scholars Awards: grants of up to $80,000 each to support precision-health research.

Projects receiving grants represent a range of U-M schools, including the Medical School, College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA), the School of Public Health, the College of Engineering, and the Biomedical Engineering program.

Twelve projects were selected from a pool of 60 strong applicants; the awardees’ work reflects the far-reaching potential of precision health and demonstrates the rich precision-health resources at U-M. Following are a few examples of the research the Scholars Awards will support.

Please visit the Precision Health website for a full list of awardees and their topics.

Processing big data more efficiently

“Precision health is one domain that critically depends on our ability to efficiently process large volumes of data,” said Reetuparna Das, Ph.D., assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science, and mentor to awardee Arun Subramaniyan. About his research project, “Hardware-accelerated systems for next-generation sequencing analysis,” Das said, “Arun is building novel custom processor designs for several computationally intensive tasks in precision health, such as genome sequencing. Using this approach, we can reduce compute time from days to minutes. … Collaboration with application domain experts in precision health would be critical toward accomplishing this goal.”

Developing novel sensors for MS

Aaron Morris, postdoctoral fellow in biomedical engineering, received an award for “In vivo engineered precision prognostics for multiple sclerosis.” “Aaron’s project is focused on a novel technology that is rooted in established clinical observations,” said his mentor, Lonnie Shea, Ph.D., William and Valerie Hall Chair and Professor, Biomedical Engineering. “The technology aims to develop a sensor that can detect when the initial stages of immune dysregulation occur…. [it] can also analyze immune cells to determine the ways in which the immune system is dysregulated. This combination of when the immune system is dysregulated and the ways in which it is dysregulated can ultimately lead to the initiation of precise therapies that target the dysregulation before the patient has symptoms….. To our knowledge, this is happening only at U-M and lays the foundation for first-in-man clinical trials that capitalize on the tremendous strength in medicine, neuroscience, immunology, and engineering,” said Shea.

Mapping the brain to optimize tumor resections

“Effective medical treatment requires careful consideration of the unique circumstances affecting each individual patient,” said awardee John Plass, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology researching “Rapid patient-specific brain mapping for neurosurgical planning.” “This award will help us to integrate the signal processing expertise of cognitive neuroscientists in LSA’s Department of Psychology with the clinical expertise of Michigan Medicine surgeons and pathologists to optimize brain tumor resections on a patient-by-patient basis. By identifying the electrophysiological signatures of key brain functions, we hope to facilitate pre-resection brain mapping in cases where current approaches are prohibitive or impossible,” Plass said.

Putting mathematical theory into biomedical practice

“Despite my never-ending passion for mathematics, by the end of my Ph.D., my research was very far from my idea of science with tangible impact on people’s lives,” said Neriman Tokcan, Ph.D., postdoctoral assistant professor of mathematics. “In planning my next career step, I wanted to reconcile my passion for mathematics and science that can have an immediate impact on people.”

Tokcan will use her award to research “A novel tensor similarity score for the classification of cardiac index,” which addresses the challenges of analyzing multidimensional data in biomedical data processing. “My career objective,” she said, “is to become a scientist who bridges disciplines to develop a science of tensor analysis, applicable in the context of precision health to manage cardiac conditions, traumatic brain injuries, and traumatic pelvic and abdominal injuries.”

The important and innovative research undertaken by these awardees advances Michigan Precision Health’s goal of promoting multidisciplinary collaborations across the university and providing the resources researchers need to expand their work.