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Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Penn State Biostatistics Student is Semifinalist for National Genetics Award

Ms. Yu Jiang, a biostatistics PhD student in the department of public health sciences in the Pennsylvania State University Public Health Program at Penn State College of Medicine, has been selected as a semifinalist for the American Society of Human Genetics’ (ASHG) 2018 Charles J. Epstein Trainee Awards for Excellence in Human Genetics Research.  This marks the second consecutive year that Ms. Jiang has been named as a semifinalist for this highly selective award.

The focus of Ms. Jiang’s research is to develop statistical methods and apply them to large-scale datasets to understand the genetic basis for smoking and alcohol addictions. Recently, breakthroughs have been made in addiction genetics where the genome-wide association study (GWAS) and Sequencing Consortia of Alcohol and Nicotine (GSCAN) identified 565 novel smoking- and drinking-associated genetic variants. As part of this work, Ms. Jiang developed a novel statistical method to interpret the functional consequences of these results and identify genes that influence each person’s chances of becoming addicted to tobacco or alcohol.

“Our method provides a correct strategy to combine data from multiple massive and potentially-heterogeneous datasets. We expect the results will help advance our knowledge on why some people more easily become addicted to alcohol or tobacco” adds Ms. Jiang.

 “GSCAN’s results illustrated the power of large-scale datasets for genetic discovery. Translating these discoveries into new biological and clinical knowledge requires the integration of highly-complex omics data. Yu’s method represents an important first step in these large-integrative studies. The results can be highly valuable for us to understand how the addiction behaviors are influenced by the DNA sequences, and how they are inherited from parents to offspring,” said Dr. Dajiang Liu, Ms. Jiang’s advisor and associate professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Penn State College of Medicine.

Each year, an awards committee — along with the ASHG Board of Directors — determines the number of awardees in each category. This year’s Charles J. Epstein Trainee Awards will honor predoctoral and postdoctoral submissions with awards totaling nearly $70,000. Annually, roughly 60 semifinalists are named, then that group is narrowed down to 18 finalists. This October, the finalists will present their research during ASHG’s annual meeting in San Diego, where six winners will be announced.