New faculty Maizie Zhou: Unlocking genetic disorders through Big Data | Vanderbilt News
Whereas learning prefrontal cortex improvement in adolescents, neuroscientist Maizie Zhou got here to a realization that will dramatically alter her profession path. Seeing how widespread autism was, however how few solutions the scientific neighborhood had for these affected by it, she determined a unique method—one that’s extra data-driven and computational—was wanted to know the dysfunction. So she did what many would think about unthinkable and went again to high school to earn a second Ph.D., this time in laptop science.
“Starting a second Ph.D. was a terrifying determination,” says Zhou, a local of China who holds doctorates in neuroscience from Wake Forest Faculty of Medication and laptop science from Stanford College. “There have been nights I couldn’t sleep, questioning if I had made a horrible mistake. Fortuitously, the journey I took had a optimistic consequence.”
Zhou, a brand new assistant professor of biomedical engineering, blends bioinformatics, computational genomics, neuroscience and machine-learning methods to know how the mind permits us to behave intelligently and the way particular genomic mutations can alter that course of. Her lab develops algorithms for the evaluation of genomic knowledge and text-mines printed analysis, linking genetic variations and phenotypes (i.e., observable bodily traits attributable to genes). By combing via enormous portions of information to map out the vary of regular capabilities of the mind, she goals to light up the basis causes of neurological issues similar to autism in order that, finally, therapies will be developed.
“Despite its pervasiveness and that genetic elements are estimated to account for near 90 p.c of a kid’s chance to develop autism, we’ve got been capable of pinpoint the genetic causes of solely 1 / 4 of autism circumstances.”
“Despite its pervasiveness and that genetic elements are estimated to account for near 90 p.c of a kid’s chance to develop autism, we’ve got been capable of pinpoint the genetic causes of solely 1 / 4 of autism circumstances,” says Zhou. “It’s unbelievable, if you bear in mind the familial and societal impression of this dysfunction.”
Zhou, who’s a member of Vanderbilt’s trans-institutional Data Science Institute, additionally seems to be extra broadly at human genomics and metagenomics—the research of genetic materials recovered instantly from environmental samples with the intention to research microorganisms—to know mind improvement, dynamic habits and the perform of neural circuits. Past autism, her method has purposes for understanding causes and coverings of neurodevelopmental issues like schizophrenia, bipolar dysfunction and main melancholy. Moreover, her work in synthetic neural networks could impression the next-gen clever programs that promise to alter the best way we dwell and work together with know-how.
Arriving in Nashville in July, Zhou couldn’t be happier with how the transition has been for her and her college students throughout this uncommon yr. “I really feel comfy educating,” she says, “and am very impressed with how Vanderbilt has managed bodily distancing throughout campus.” In her lab, there are three undergraduates already busy with analysis, and over the course of the semester, Zhou plans to pursue new analysis grants and recruit Ph.D. college students with the help of senior school in her division.