10:09 AM

NIH Awards Nearly $400K to UHD Project Involving Student Researchers

Dr. Ben Soibam Leads Computational Methods Project


By Mike Emery

Graduate and undergraduate research yields many benefits to students. By working either in groups or alongside faculty members, students gain organizational skills and are able to explore career options they never thought possible.

Most importantly, these students receive indispensable learning experiences that perfectly complement their lessons in labs and classrooms.

The University of Houston-Downtown’s Dr. Ben Soibam recognizes the importance of student research. The Assistant Professor of Computer Science frequently works closely with students on a number of research initiatives and journal articles. The experience these students obtain has proven invaluable to their academic experiences at UHD and ultimately will prepare them for future professional endeavors.

Thanks to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, Soibam will involve more students in research opportunities. Recently, he earned a nearly $400,000 NIH Research Enhancement Award (R15) for his proposal “Predictive Models of Boundaries of Topologically Associated Domains (TADs) in Humans.”

The project will engage four student researchers (primarily First-Time-in-College students) in a project aimed at developing novel predictive models to predict boundaries of topologically associated domains (TADs) in a variety of human cell lines.

According to Soibam, DNA is organized into small units/domains or TADs that are found in a range of species (including humans, mice, fruit flies and plants) and vary in size and structure. Within these TADs, DNA sequences interact with each other. These interactions occur within TADs boundaries (located at each side of the unit).

“Studies have shown that a disruption of these boundaries can lead to certain diseases,” Soibam explained. “Experiments on these boundaries of TADs are very costly, so our project will utilize a computational method in predicting the boundaries in human cell lines.”

Data yielded from these computational models will help inform biologists in addressing the causes of certain diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Through the support of the NIH grant, Soibam will be assisted by four undergraduate and one graduate student. They will work within UHD’s supercomputing cluster, which is accessible online or through on-campus labs.

This grant will provide students with opportunities to attend conferences and present this research to both peers and professional researchers. It also offers a stipend that allows them to focus all of their their energies on this project.

“We also will publish an article based on our findings,” Soibam said. “This is especially helpful for undergraduate students, who often don't have the opportunity to have their work published in peer-reviewed journals.”

Additionally, Soibam hopes to use this research as a launching point for future collaborations with other research institutions.

“There are many benefits that can emerge from this project,” he added. “First, we hope to be able to support ongoing research on TADs and their boundaries. But, our students also gain significant experience and build skills, such as learning how to write a research article and presenting their findings, which are essential skills they can apply to their future studies and careers.”

Soibam already has a solid history of involving students in high-impact learning experiences. Working with UHD students, he has published four journal articles on TADs and similar topics.

The NIH Research Enhancement Award is particularly rewarding for Soibam as he continues investigating TADs and involving even more students in the process.

“UHD has some outstanding students,” he said. “I am looking forward to not only working with a new group on this project, but helping them develop skills that they can have long after they graduate.”


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) – the second-largest university in Houston – has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974.

As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 61,000 alumni and offers 45 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service; Sciences & Technology; and University College).

For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report ranks UHD among universities across the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (No. 27 and No. 15 for Veterans) and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.

UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. U.S. News ranked the University among Top Performers on Social Mobility and awarded UHD a No. 1 ranking as the most diverse institution of higher education in the southern region of the U.S. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.