Ms. Yu Jiang, a biostatistics PhD student in the Public Health Sciences at Penn State College of Medicine, has been selected as a semifinalist for the American Society of Human Genetics’ (ASHG) 2017 Charles J. Epstein Trainee Awards for Excellence in Human Genetics Research. She is one of 61 semifinalists named for the prestigious honor that recognizes excellence in research.
The focus of her research is on using high throughput genetic data to understand the genetic basis for smoking and alcohol addictions. These addictions have long been known to be heritable, yet very few genes were consistently implicated by previous studies. Ms. Jiang is a lead analyst for the genome-wide association study (GWAS) and sequencing consortia of alcohol and nicotine addictions (GSCAN), which aggregated massive scale genetic datasets of nearly one million research participants. The GSCAN study is in collaboration with researchers from the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and the Broad Institute.
As part of this work, Ms. Jiang developed a novel computational method that can efficiently and effectively analyze large scale and complex datasets. The study has identified more than 200 novel associated loci and opened up many opportunities for further functional studies on the genetics of addiction.
“It is a pleasure to work with such a dedicated professional team for the GSCAN study. The study integrates datasets from large biobanks, genetic studies designed using social media, as well as direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies. It demonstrates the power of using large genetic datasets for understanding self-reported addiction phenotypes,” she adds.
The ASHG Awards are highly competitive, and there were nearly 500 predoctoral and postdoctoral submissions this year. The awards not only highlight ground-breaking research, but also underscore the widespread, positive impact this research could have on the world.
“The GSCAN study represents a major advancement in the genetics of addiction. We hope that these identified statistical associations can reveal the underlying mechanisms for addiction, and lead to more effective treatment going forward,” says Dr. Dajiang Liu, Ms. Jiang’s advisor and assistant professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Penn State.
As part of the awards process, a committee of judges will further evaluate semifinalists’ research and, as a result, 18 finalists will be named. Later, these finalists will present their work during ASHG’s annual meeting. From that group, six overall winners will be announced. This September, Ms. Jiang — along with all of the fellow honorees — will receive formal recognition and awards during the annual meeting in Orlando.
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