School of Biomedical Informatics professor earns $4 million research training grant
The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded $69 million in new academic research and prevention grants for cancer researchers across the state. UTHealth Houston School of Biomedical Informatics Professor and Center for Precision Health Director Zhongming Zhao, PhD, MS, was a recipient of one of the grants.
Zhao, who is also the Chair for Precision Health at the school, was awarded $3,998,553 for his research training project titled “Biomedical Informatics, Genomics, and Translational Cancer Research Training Program (BIG-TCR).” The award allows the School of Biomedical Informatics to launch its first fellowship training program.
The collaborative BIG-TCR training program aims to provide a highly interactive, innovative, and interdisciplinary environment to train future leaders and cancer researchers. The program will do so by leveraging UTHealth Houston’s strong research programs across all six schools. The training will include competency-based training requirements and focus in the areas of cancer biology, stem cell biology, pharmacology and drug discovery, genomics and other omics programs, data science, artificial intelligence, clinical informatics, and translational medicine.
“The program will have three different training levels for PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, and undergraduate summer internship participants,” stated Zhao. “The BIG-TCR team is very excited to give dozens of trainees valuable, hands-on skills in informatics, data science, drug discovery, and other technologies.”
The BIG-TCR program will create or provide new didactic course work, formalized laboratory and informatics core rotations, dual mentorship, and a series of career development activities. Trainees will also have exposure to both informatics and wet lab research environments. Early on in their program tenure, trainees will work with mentors to create an individualized development plan, including course competency, core lab rotations, research project design, travel, grant writing, and long-term career goals.
Jiajie Zhang, PhD, Dean of the school and The Glassell Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Informatics Excellence, said, “Dr. Zhao has a long track record in cancer research and education. He will lead his team as they empower the trainees and give them the knowledge to use state-of-the-art informatics, artificial intelligence, and data science technologies.”
Next steps for the BIG-TCR program are to develop and implement the curriculum and program activities. This will include the creation of a new course focused on the fundamentals of AI in cancer discovery. Other unique features of the program will include peer mentor opportunities, summer Datathons, career development workshops, and standardized evaluation tools to measure quality and effectiveness of the programs for the trainees.
“Moving forward, I look forward to launching our program and attaining our recruitment goals as we reach out to potential trainees from underrepresented minority groups. Beyond that, we will enhance learning facilities, both physical and distance learning, to meet the unique needs of each participant.”