CDS Faculty Fellow Ana Fiszbein Receives $1.3M CAREER Grant From NSF

Research is key to making discoveries in data science. It is also critical to spark the interest of the next generation of scientists, ensuring more discoveries are made in the future.

Boston University Assistant Professor of Biology and Computing & Data Sciences Ana Fiszbein’s work does both. To recognize the value and importance of her contributions, the National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded their prestigious CAREER Award.

The CAREER Awards support the early career development of junior faculty members who are likely to become academic leaders. The awards recognize faculty members who have the potential to serve as role models in research and education, and to lead advances in their department or organization, and support the nation's science, mathematics, and engineering capabilities, and promote their use to serve society.

The $1.3 million grant award, which begins June 1, was made for her project, “Uncovering the role of splicing factors in transcriptional regulation.”

According to Fiszbein, the project seeks to understand how splicing factors contribute to the expression of human genes. By unraveling the molecular processes underlying the effects of splicing factors on transcription regulation, she says, the research will uncover new layers of gene regulation.

“Ultimately, the findings of this project will contribute to the development of advanced computational tools capable of predicting gene regulation and designing molecules to control gene expression with therapeutic purposes,” she adds.

Beyond the lab, this initiative extends its reach to high-school and middle-school students and educators, prioritizing outreach to the Hispanic population. By nurturing scientific curiosity and literacy, the researchers will offer hands-on workshops, lab internships, and tutorials on computational biology and statistics.

The project not only promises to unveil novel layers of gene expression regulation but also actively contributes to cultivating the next generation of scientists, fostering inclusivity in STEM education.

“The success of this project will ultimately pave the way for computationally predicting gene regulatory networks and designing therapeutic molecules for precise control of gene expression,” said Azer Bestavros, Warren Distinguished Professor of Computer Science and associate provost for Computing & Data Sciences (CDS).

Why This Research Is Important

The project investigates the mechanism underlying the feedback of splicing on transcriptional regulation, focusing on the role of the splicing factor U1 small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particle (U1snRNP). The project includes outreach to high school and middle school students and educators, prioritizing outreach to the Hispanic population.

“In the lab, I am passionate about personalized medicine, and the discovery of new therapeutic strategies to module how our genes can be turned on and off,” says Fiszbein about the inspiration behind her research. “Beyond our research, I am committed to promote policies that advance diversity and inclusiveness. Drawing from my own journey, I am particularly focused on actively recruiting and supporting young Hispanic women to pursue careers in STEM fields.”

Fiszbein’s project aims to nurture scientific curiosity and literacy by providing hands-on workshops, lab internships, and tutorials on computational biology and statistics.

“In addition to its scientific and societal impact, an important component of Ana’s project, which aligns well with CDS’s goal of widening the pipeline and closing the skills gap, is outreach to teach the cross-cutting skills of computational and data analysis to emerging researchers and educators and to foster interest and knowledge in STEM, with a specific focus on engaging Hispanic young women,” noted Bestavros.

Conducting Data Science Research That Makes an Impact

Fiszbein has been a member of the BU College of Arts & Sciences Biology faculty since 2021. She is BU’s 2021 Innovation Career Development Professor and a Junior Faculty Fellow of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing. She was selected as a Faculty Fellow in CDS in 2022.

Her lab focus on understanding the mechanistic connections between transcription and splicing in human transcriptomics and their dysregulation in cancer. The NIH, Hevolution Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Massachusetts Life Science Center, and the Smith Family Foundation have sponsored her.

- Toni Fitzgerald, CDS Contributor