BU CDS Faculty Receives $50,000 Cancer Research Grant

The American Cancer Society (ACS) supports cancer research in the United States by identifying and funding innovative early-career investigators and research institutions. This investment serves as a catalyst for further research that benefits cancer patients and their families. Among the identified early-career innovators is Pawel Przytycki, an Assistant Professor in Computing and Data Sciences at Boston University. He has been awarded a $50,000 cancer research grant, supported by both ACS and BU-BMC Cancer Center.

Many people suffer from forms of cancer that are poorly understood. These cancers are often driven by subtle changes in gene regulation rather than the genes themselves and manifest in a small subset of cells. Incredible breakthroughs in high-throughput genetic sequencing technology are now making it possible to unravel the genetics of these cancers by studying them in many modalities at once, across diverse collections of individuals, and increasingly at a single-cell and spatial level.  

With support from ACS, Przytycki’s research will generate easy-to-use open-source software making these methods accessible to a wide audience. This will allow for widespread use for interpreting non-coding somatic mutations and help facilitate the connection between computational and experimental work.

“I was fortunate this year to preview the Boston University applications for the 2023 Institutional Research Grant made possible by the American Cancer Society. I was so impressed with the applicants and the scope of work presented for funding,” said Jenna Capuzzo, associate director of Cancer Center Partnerships.  “I am especially excited to see the work that Pawal Przytycki and all the Boston University grantees complete because of the ACS Institution Research Grant and the impact that the research completed by each grantee will have on improving the lives of cancer patients in the future.” 

Identifying functional non-coding somatic mutations is challenging due to the large numbers of such mutations and the difficulties in interpreting their functional impact. Models that aid in the interpretation of these mutations are necessary to identify the small subset that play a functional role. Network-based models are a particularly valuable framework in this regard as they are highly interpretable and tend to provide biologically meaningful results.

“As a new professor, getting that very first grant is usually the hardest because you have such a short track record,” said Przytycki, assistant professor in Boston University’s Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) and a core faculty member in the Bioinformatics Program. 

“This grant will allow me to jump-start my research to develop methods for analyzing large-scale cancer genomic data with the aim of understating how non-coding mutations drive the progression of cancer.”

According to the Boston University Cancer Center, the Institutional Research Grant is designed to encourage early-stage investigators by providing pilot funds for cancer research. These funds enable investigators to complete promising new projects and/or pursue novel ideas that will provide preliminary data for future grant applications from other agencies and programs. 

“I'm incredibly grateful to the BU-BMC Cancer Center and the American Cancer Society for taking the risk on funding new faculty,” Pyztycki said.

The one-year ACS pilot program aims to leverage these research achievements to secure future grants.

"The ACS grant is a remarkable recognition of Pawel's exceptional work in cancer research, providing him with an extraordinary opportunity to expand his research further," says Azer Bestavros, BU Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences Associate Provost.

Author: Corree Johnson, CDS Communications