April 26, 2023
Xuecong Fu Honored with Berry Graduate Research Award
By Kirsten Heuring
Xuecong Fu computes new ways to understand and treat cancer.
"I really like developing new algorithms that fit different applications," said Fu, a Ph.D. student in biological sciences. "Since current biological technology is evolving fast, computational tools also need to evolve."
Fu's work is gaining recognition. She received the Mellon College of Science's Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award, which honors excellence in research by Ph.D. students.
"We believe Xuecong is a great model for how an MCS student can advance scientific discovery through computational innovation," said Russell S. Schwartz, professor of biological sciences and computational biology and head of the Department of Computational Biology, who is also her advisor.
Fu has developed computational methods and algorithms to understand how tumors progress. Her machine learning algorithms are informed by a myriad of data from DNA samples to determine how cell populations grow and change during tumor progression. Her tools also process mutation histories from individual patients and compare them to genetic trees of tumors.
Fu's current work uses liquid biopsy samples, a new technology that extracts tumor DNA fragments from blood. This method is far less intrusive than most current biopsy methods, and her clinical research partners hope to use these biopsies to longitudinally track patient progress. Fu is building a computational tool to identify biological markers to measure patients' subclonal cell populations and better identify the tumor evolutionary history of a specific patient.
"I'm hoping that we are able to find significant results in patients' subclonal population changes after surgery or chemotherapy by using those biomarkers," Fu said. "I think these findings can help guide treatment for specific patients."
Outside of her own research, Fu mentors one graduate student and two undergraduate students in the Schwartz lab.
"I enjoy helping others solving the problems they face," Fu said. "Being able to understand others' research, being able to see the next steps and what can be improved and being able to communicate that are important."
Fu will defend her doctoral thesis later this year. She plans to pursue work in biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies and continue her computational cancer biology research. "I'm really excited about developing methods that are question-driven and rely on different types of data sources and that can actually play a role in identifying something important in a clinical setting," Fu said.
The Berry Award was established in 2005 in honor of Guy C. Berry, emeritus university professor of chemistry and former dean of the Mellon College of Science. The award is presented to one MCS Ph.D. student annually.