University of Oklahoma scientist secures nearly $1 million award to advance research in computational genomics

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Marmar Musa, PhD, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Oklahoma, has earned a nearly $1 million award from the National Institutes of Health to advance his work in computational genomics.

The study, titled “Computational Approaches to Mechanistic Elucidation of the Granular Pathway of Human Colon Carcinogenesis,” aims to uncover the mechanisms driving the granular pathway of human colon carcinogenesis using computational methods that help explain how colon cancer develops.

This research is essential because of the complexities involved in the initiation of colon cancer. Colon cancer often arises through a variety of processes, including mutations and genetic changes that lead to abnormal lesions known as precursor lesions. Some of these lesions, such as hyperplastic polyps, are well understood and pose minimal risk. However, others, such as granulation lesions, are less well understood and require deeper investigation.”

Marmar Musa, PhD, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Oklahoma

Serrated lesions are characterized by their unique microscopic appearance, exhibiting a distinct saw-tooth pattern, says Musa. His research develops computational methods to model the progression of such lesions to tumors, a process known as carcinogenesis. By examining RNA molecules in these regions and identifying specific signatures, he hopes to shed light on how these lesions develop, ultimately leading to cancer.

The research will use spatial transcriptomics, a technology that studies complex cellular environments, and will provide molecular profiles of individual cells in tissue context. The technology allows scientists to better understand how cells interact within tissues, their spatial arrangement and their role in cancer development, Musa said. “With data generated by local transcriptomics, we can identify complex patterns and signatures associated with evolving lesions.”

Despite advances in colorectal cancer prevention, it remains the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Musa noted that the alternative granular pathway of colon carcinogenesis, characterized by granular lesions, has remained underexplored due to its complexity and lack of comprehensive data.

“The research project not only advances an understanding of colon cancer but also has the potential to impact research into other cancer types,” Musa said.

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