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UH Receives $2.4M to 'Hook up' Researchers in Biology and Computer Science

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By Uduak Grace Thomas

The University of Houston announced this week that it has received $2.4 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to fund cancer research that cuts across the biology and computer science fields.

According to a UH statement, the money will be used to fund 12 postdoctoral students at the university “whose research combines cancer biology with computational disciplines like computer science, theoretical physics, or chemistry.”

"There's a realization that all the problems of cancer won't be solved by biology," said B. Montgomery Pettitt, a UH professor and director of UH's CPRIT training program. "We need to bring the expertise in a wide variety of fields to bear on these problems, because the most revolutionary stuff comes from thinking at the interface of disciplines."

To that end, the program will “allow a computer science postdoctoral researcher to work in a cancer biochemistry lab. Conversely, a biochemist can work in a programming and applied mathematics lab to understand and enhance computational tools against cancer.”

Pettitt told BioInform that although the award has been announced, the funds won’t be available until September. In the meantime, Pettitt said he will issue a call for applications in the next week and plans to interview potential candidates in September.

Pettitt said that one of the goals of the program is to get researchers in computational biology or chemistry “hooked up” with researchers in cancer biology.

To that end, researchers selected for the program must select two faculty mentors from different schools, one each from the computational and cancer biology fields chosen from UH, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, University of Texas Health Science Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, or the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The program will receive $800,000 a year for three years with the possibility of receiving renewed funding for several more years after that, Pettitt said. He also said that the funds will be allocated to successful candidates based on a scale used by the National Institutes of Health and on the seniority of the researchers.

“We expect every single participant to publish [papers] at the post-doctoral level,” he said. “If they aren’t about to publish after their first year, that would be grounds for an extremely harsh review if they were going to attempt to renew for a second year.”

In addition, the program will also provide several summer research opportunities for 10 to 20 undergraduate students from UH and Rice University.

The award is UH’s second CPRIT grant and the school’s first in the science and engineering fields. The grant builds on UH's existing collaborations with the Texas Medical Center within the Keck Center for Interdisciplinary Bioscience, which will help administer the program.

The funds are part of a larger $3 billion budget set aside by the Texas legislature to fund cancer research in the state.

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