UNT scholars chosen to participate in National Institutes of Health program

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

UNT College of Engineering and All of Us Research Scholar ProgramDENTON (UNT), Texas — Three University of North Texas computer science and engineering researchers were selected to participate in the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-24 All of Us Research Scholar Program.

Cagri Ozdemir, a postdoctoral fellow, was a mentor in the program. Yahshu Vashishath and Most Tahmina Rahman were selected as student researchers and were guided by a mentor. All three are members of associate professor Serdar Bozdag’s computer science research lab in the UNT College of Engineering. The Bozdag Lab works in bioinformatics, a discipline that involves using computation and analysis to study biological data.

“I am very proud of my group members working on research projects utilizing the biomedical datasets in the All of Us Research Scholar Program database,” Bozdag said. “Their involvement in this national scholar program is a manifestation of their dedication to doing high quality research in this domain.”

The goal of the All of Us Research Scholar Program is to gather health data from at least one million people living in the United States to accelerate health research discoveries. In that one million, it aims to include data from communities that have been underrepresented in health research in the past.

“Before this program started, a lot of medical data was European-based,” Vashishath said. “Now, we have access to minority data like Native Americans and African Americans.”

The program then allows researchers, such as the trio from UNT and the members of the Bozdag Lab in general, to use that data for their projects.

“This is real data and genetic information that we’re working with,” Ozdemir said. His mentorship is sponsored by the Hispanic Association of College and Universities. It represents existing and emerging Hispanic-Serving Institutions such as UNT. “As a mentor, I teach the students how to write the codes that extract the data, help them when they get stuck and work with them to find better results.”

Ozdemir met with his two students weekly for three months to guide them through their own research projects. He also helped them create a presentation and write technical papers on the projects. One of his students is Rahman and the second one is from the University of Minnesota.  

Vashishath worked on his project with the help of All of Us participant ambassador Larry Breindel. He and Rahman worked on similar projects: machine learning models that can identify a person’s risk for autoimmune diseases.

“Biological data is always changing. There are so many nuances and new problems to solve,” Vashishath said. “I want to help tackle those challenges and at the end of the day think ‘Yeah, we did something.’”

Their projects aligned with the goals of the Bozdag Lab which aims to develop tools to predict disease risks based off patients’ disease-associated genes and responses to different medicinal drugs. The lab also received a grant from the NIH to participate in the All of Us Research program in 2022.

“Coming to UNT for this fellowship and doing this work has been great,” Ozdemir said. “It was my first time dealing with biomedical and genetic data. It lets me expand my knowledge and learn to work with new datasets.”

All three also participated in the All of Us Research Program convention in the beginning of April where they were able to connect with other mentors and researchers and present their research projects.

“I learned about some new preprocessing steps from the convention presenter,” Tahmina said. “I attended some other research scholar presentations as well. All the people were doing awesome jobs, and I felt motivated by them.”

While the program is over, all three plan to continue their research in biomedical data in the Bozdag Lab.

“Biomedical is a great field because I want to make an impact. If I can make that model that predicts a person’s disease risk I’ll feel like I contributed to mankind,” Rahman said.

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Amanda Lyons

From UNT News – Engineering