Image of cells

Seventeen Scholars at UTM awarded internal funding

Wednesday, January 5, 2022 - 10:59am
Carla DeMarco
Office of the Vice-Principal, Research (OVPR) supports UofT Mississauga researchers in their scholarly pursuits

Image of Alex Nuyen BaCellular mutations are responsible for all sorts of health complications, including genetic disorders and disease. Mutations in the cell are of particular interest for Alex Nguyen Ba, who was recently awarded Research and Scholarly Activity Funds (RSAF) by UTM’s OVPR to study them in his project: “Prediction of Human Variant Effects through Iterative Deep-mutational Scanning and Machine Learning.”

Nguyen Ba, an assistant professor who joined the Department of Biology in 2021, is one of 17 RSAF recipients to get support for his research in the OVPR’s latest competition.

“The major goal of our project is to develop approaches to systematically measure elevated mutation rates in important cancer genes,” says Nguyen Ba, whose lab combines experimental biology and computer science to explore some of the big questions in quantitative genetics and evolution.

“We are aiming to assess the impact of mutations in oncogenes – genes that when mutated can lead tumorous cells - even before they can be observed with advanced medical diagnostics.”

Using novel barcode technologies and liquid handling robotics, Nguyen Ba says this approach will allow his team to track thousands of variants at the same time, as well as perform complex assessments to measure the rate at which genetic variants give rise to mutations over significantly larger regions of the genome, covering more ground in a highly efficient way. Ultimately, Nguyen Ba aims for precision medicine to enhance pre-emptive screening of cancer risk and to improve therapeutic outcomes.

“Genetic instability is one of the most important causes of cancer, and even a small increase in the rate of genetic instability can translate to significantly higher risk of disease,” says Nguyen Ba.

“Our project, enabled by world-class sequencing and automation, lays the groundwork for a ‘mechanistically-aware’ approach to precision medicine and cancer biology.”

Nguyen Ba was awarded $10,000 for his project and it will support a grad student as well as the purchase of materials required to carry out the work.

The RSAF proposals were adjudicated by UTM’s Research Council and notifications were sent out to recipients in December.

“It is always so impressive to see the range of projects and exceptional scholarly work conducted by U of T Mississauga researchers” says Acting Vice-Principal, Research Steven Short.

“The originality and innovation evident in their work is inspiring, and we are thrilled to be able to support the endeavours of UTM researchers and their teams, laying the foundations for future studies and grants.” 

The following is the full list of UTM researchers and scholars and their funded studies from the latest RSAF competition:

Alex Nguyen Ba, Biology: Prediction of Human Variant Effects through Iterative Deep-mutational Scanning and Machine Learning

Mark Currie, Biology: Structural Basis of Progeria Disease Mechanism

Ted Erclik, Biology: Long-range Temporal Patterning of Neural Stem Cells in the Fruit Fly Brain

Michael Phillips, Biology: Genome Sequence of Diviner’s Sage, Salvia Divinorum

Josh Milstein, Chemical & Physical Sciences: Revealing the Macromolecular Organization and Dynamics of GPCRs

Alana Ogata, Chemical & Physical Sciences: Single-molecule Detection of Protein Biomarkers in Menstrual Blood for Disease Diagnostics

Sarah Rauscher, Chemical & Physical Sciences: Elucidating the Interaction of the Human Protein TRIM5α with the HIV Capsid Using Molecular Simulations

Jumi Shin, Chemical & Physical Sciences: New franken-proteins as Synthetic Biology Tools that Control Genetic Circuits

Laura Brown, Geography, Geomatics, and Environment: Changing Ice Cover and the Effects on High Arctic Lakes

Vincent Kuuire, Geography, Geomatics, and Environment: Identifying the Drivers of COVID-19 Misinformation, Institutional Mistrust and Vaccine Hesitancy in Ghana and Liberia

Julie MacArthur, Historical Studies: Kimathi at War: A Scholarly and Film Project on the Social Life of Forest Fighters during the Mau Mau Rebellion, 1952-56

Nicole Cohen, Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology: Diversity and Equity in Media Union Collective Bargaining

Jessamyn Schertz, Language Studies: AccentCorpus: A Shared Resource for the Study of Linguistic Diversity and the Perception of Accented Speech

Laura Derksen, Management: Early Childhood Development and Education in Malawi

Randy Besco, Political Science: Racial Attitudes in Canadian Politics and Public Policy

Loren Martin, Psychology: Identifying inhibitors of receptor tyrosine kinase ErbB4 for the treatment of chronic pain

Jennifer Stellar, Psychology: Understanding Compassion Fatigue

Anna Korteweg, Sociology: The Co-Construction of LGBTQ Subjectivity and National Borders: Queer Muslim Asylum Seekers in the Netherlands

The RSAF is an annual funding opportunity run through the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research and applicants can request up to $10K. This competition has been supporting researchers at the U of T Mississauga since 2014.

To see the full list of RSAF awards, including previous RSAF-supported projects, visit RSAF Results.