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Using Computer Science for Healthy Bones

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Luber and Hibbs review biological data

Trinity University team developing algorithms for gene patterns in mice to suggest drugs to treat osteoporosis

by Susie P. Gonzalez

Although 40 million Americans are estimated to suffer from the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, two computer scientists at Trinity University are researching ways to organize data that could lead to more effective drugs for treatment.

Trinity junior Jacob Luber, along with computer science professor Matthew Hibbs, is developing algorithms using biological data from lab experiments involving bone genetics in mice.  The pair is focusing on a “machine learning algorithm” to predict novel gene pathways related to the development of cells that synthesize bone.  

Luber won a “best talk” designation in computer science in October at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium held at Rice University for his presentation titled “A Machine Learning Method for Prediction of Osteoporosis-Related Genes.” The research talk was co-authored by researchers at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, and the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

“The results of our algorithm are quite promising,” Luber said, adding that the University of Rochester team has agreed to test the group’s predictions relating to osteoporosis in a wet laboratory in the spring. “A better understanding of which genes are related to osteoporosis that our work answers will hopefully lead to the development of better drugs in the future.” 

Luber also will make a poster presentation on his work in December at the International Conference on Intelligent Biology and Medicine and ultimately plans to attend graduate school in computer science with a focus on computational biology. 

“The fact that I was able to do research like this at Trinity really speaks to the strength of the faculty and the curriculum in our department,” Luber said. Having a great deal of access to Trinity professors differs from larger schools where undergraduates and graduate students compete in order to do interesting work, he said.

Luber added that research opportunities for students in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, along with “substantial face time” with Trinity faculty members are the two factors that have been the “most formative and meaningful elements” of his time at Trinity.  

Susie P. Gonzalez, director of public and media relations, can be reached at susie.gonzalez [at] trinity.edu.