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UTA engineering researcher to develop tools to better analyze complex patient data

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A UTA researcher is developing computing tools that will employ multiple methods of accessing and analyzing very large, complex patient data.

This research could ultimately allow scientists and doctors to make better clinical predictions and work toward cures for diseases.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $535,763 Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, grant to Junzhou Huang, an assistant professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, to discover a process by which image-omics data can be combined into files that are small enough that current computing technology will allow scientists to better predict how long a patient will live and how best to treat that patient.

Image-omics data includes image data, such as pathology or radiology images, and omics data, such as genomics, proteomics or the study of proteins or metabolomics, captured from the same patient.

Currently, this data is at such a high resolution – an image might measure 1 million pixels by 1 million pixels, compared to a cell phone screen that measures 1,000 by 1,000 pixels – that each piece of data may be one terabyte, which is 1 trillion bytes or more. A byte is a computer data term that represents a combination of usually eight bits to represent a particular letter, number or special character.

Combining several of those large files for a holistic view creates massive amounts of data that are too large for current technology to handle.

"Access to different multiple-source data will allow doctors and scientists to develop better treatments for patients," Huang said. "There is no current research in data mining to integrate very complex image-omics data, but if we are successful, scientists will have a much broader base of information to draw upon when seeking cures for diseases such as cancer."

Huang's CAREER Award showcases UTA's increasing commitment to research with potential results that can impact a broad range of theoretical and practical applications, said Anand Puppala, associate dean for research for the College of Engineering.

"Our Computer Science and Engineering Department has made many breakthroughs in big data analytics and informatics in recent years," Puppala said. "Dr. Huang's CAREER Award will allow him to make innovative, potentially life-altering discoveries that will benefit science and medicine, as well as the community."

Huang's work is representative of how UTA is advancing research in the area of data-driven discovery under the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

He is one of four UTA CAREER Award winners – the most ever in one year at the University, and all in the College of Engineering – announced this year:

  • Alice Sun, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, received a five-year, $500,000 award for a project titled, "Optofluidic Lasers at the Liquid/Liquid Interface: A Versatile Biosensing Platform."
  • Yi Hong, an assistant professor of bioengineering, also received a five-year, $500,000 award for a project titled, "Dopant-Free Conductive Bioelastomer Development."
  • Ankur Jain, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, received a five-year, $500,000 award for a project titled, "Safe, High-Performance Li-Ion Batteries Through a Fundamental Investigation of Thermal

    Transport in Electrochemical Materials and Interfaces."

Five other UTA assistant professors have been awarded NSF CAREER Award grants recently:

  • Majie Fan of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department received $485,627 in 2015 to enhance understanding of how the Rocky Mountains and how their modern, elevated landscape came to be.
  • W. Ashley Griffith, also of Earth and Environmental Sciences, received $400,000 in 2014 to study rock structures' reaction to earthquakes, meteor impacts and explosions.
  • Hyejin Moon of the Mechanical and Aerospace Department received $400,000 in 2013 to support her work with microfluidic devices, which promise to improve 3D tissue and cell sample analyses.
  • Baohong Yuan in the Bioengineering Department received $407,163 in 2013 to more accurately create images for deep tissue, which could lead to earlier cancer detection.
  • Fuqiang Liu in the Materials Science and Engineering Department received $400,000 in 2013 to improve methods for capturing, storing and transmitting solar energy.

The College of Engineering has offered support for the last year in a push to increase the success of early-career faculty. Several of those assistant professors visited with program directors in Washington, D.C., to discuss how to successfully get their research funded.

In addition, the College hosted a workshop where young faculty reviewed successful CAREER proposals and worked with NSF program directors to write proposals in such a way that they'd have a good chance of success. Each of the CAREER winners this year took advantage of this program.

Including his CAREER Award, Huang has been the primary investigator or co-PI on research grants totaling more than $1.5 million since beginning his UTA career in 2011. That total includes a $250,000 NSF Information and Intelligent Systems grant in 2014 as primary investigator to study the computational materials genome, which uses algorithms to help materials scientists discover new specific materials properties.

Huang directs UTA's Scalable Modeling and Imaging and Learning Lab, which develops scalable models and algorithms for data-intensive applications in high-performance computing. His research and education activities have been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Samsung and Nokia, among others.

He earned his doctorate from Rutgers University. He has authored or co-authored 26 journal articles, two book chapters and 90 peer-reviewed conference papers. His work has won the Best Paper Awards at MICCAI 2010 and MICCAI 2015, respectively. MICCAI is the top conference in the field of medical image computing. His work also earned Best Paper Award runner-up honors at MICCAI 2011 and MICCAI 2014, respectively.

Huang's research adds to UTA's work with big data analytics and informatics, which is a focus of several members of the Computer Science and Engineering faculty.

In addition to Junzhou Huang, Heng Huang, a professor of computer science, is one of the world's leading authorities on big data analysis. He has received $2.6 million in grants from the National Science Foundation since 2014, including $2 million to find a way to use multi-dimensional and longitudinal imaging genomic data to identify biomarkers that may be used for early prediction of Alzheimer's disease, with the hope that the effects of the disease may be reversed or prevented.

Fillia Makedon, Jenkins Garrett Distinguished Professor of computer science, has done extensive research in health informatics. She leads the Heracleia Human Centered Computing Lab and the Motion Capture Lab and has worked extensively with the National Science Foundation to create an intelligent, learning rehabilitation system that collects data from multiple sources to analyze how rehabilitation techniques are affecting patients and adjust treatments so they are most effective.

The Faculty Early Career Development Program is the NSF's most prestigious award for junior faculty. Winners are outstanding researchers, but also are expected to be outstanding teachers through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research at their home institutions. The goal of the program is to identify faculty who have potential to become leaders in their fields and give them a significant grant to begin to realize that potential.

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About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a Carnegie "highest research activity" institution of more than 50,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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