Systems Biology and Data Science Symposium Presents Cutting-Edge Advances

Prominent speakers from Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and other departments and centers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine came together with invited experts from the National Institutes of Health and other leading national scientific organizations for an interactive two-day symposium on systems biology and data science preceded by a Data Science Hackathon.

“The symposium was a great mix of scientific topics, from artificial intelligence-driven drug discovery to clinical research, translational research and new technology for data science,” said symposium organizer Stephan Schürer, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, and program director for drug discovery at the UM Center for Computational Science.

More than 200 people attended the BD2K-LINCS DCIC Systems Biology ans Data Science Symposium, held at the Lois Pope LIFE Center on the Miller School campus on February 1 and 2. They heard experts address a wide range of advances, including using data to predict targets for drug development, promote basic science and translational findings, and develop future clinical applications in cancer, psychiatry, neuroscience, addiction, and more.

Symposium Highlights

Cutting-edge advances in data are offering new insights into cancer metastasis, which J. William Harbour, M.D., associate director for basic research at Sylvester and vice chairman for translational research at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, explained in his presentation on “Bioinformatics Modeling of Tumor Evolution Using Next Generation Sequencing in Uveal Melanoma.”

Data is also helping medicine become more precise and personalized, and Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Leonard M. Miller Professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences provided one example in his presentation, “Prediction of Disease Vulnerability and Treatment Response in Mood Disorders and PTSD.”

Successful strategies in artificial intelligence-driven drug discovery was the focus on the symposium’s keynote address given by Tudor Oprea, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

An additional symposium high point was the presentation by Margaret Sutherland, Ph.D., program director of neurodegeneration at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke. Sutherland explained how data-driven advances on the LINCS and NeuroLINCS metadata standards tie into the institute’s research portfolio.

Another NIH expert, Leslie Derr, Ph.D., program lead of the NIH Common Fund, helped start off the symposium with an overview of the Common Fund — in which UM is a collaborator — and several other projects, explaining how all the data-driven research underway fits together.

Other UM speakers sharing their expertise included Nagi Aya, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who spoke on epigenetic and kinase pathway interactions in gliomas, and Deborah Mash, Ph.D., professor of neurology, who explained how big data is generating big ideas about novel drug targets for addiction treatment.

“It was all very well received,” Schürer said.

The symposium wasn’t just about experts sharing their latest findings — it was also very interactive. For example, a discussion forum led by Afoma Umeano, M.D., Ph.D., a graduate student in Schürer’s lab, addressed such topics as the future of automated laboratories, strategies to move data science forward, and the anticipated role of artificial intelligence.

Data Science is Evolving Rapidly

The data science field and the related initiatives underway at the Miller School have each come a long way since the first BD2K-LINCS DCIC Systems Biology and Data Science Symposium held two years ago.

“Our center has implemented many tools to analyze data and make the data publicly available and reusable. For example, we have the data portal, data set submission capabilities, and very fast querying and analytic tools,” Schürer said. “This was all at a very early stage two years ago.”

The University of Miami has four NIH Common Fund projects now underway. The NIH has entrusted these transformative projects to the Schürer team and others at UM. Importantly, these projects underline how UM expertise in these big data driven research projects is growing.

The symposium was funded by grant U54HL127624 awarded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute through funds provided by the trans-NIH LINCS Program and the trans-NIH BD2K initiative, and by resources from the University of Miami, specifically Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology. The Center for Computational Science was also involved in organizing the symposium.

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