IICD Newsletter January 2023

January 04, 2023
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January 4th, 2023
Banner in black and white, with drawing of a face and the words "A Letter from the Director"

Dear Colleagues,

    I am delighted to report that the Herbert and Florence Irving Institute for Cancer Dynamics will celebrate its fifth anniversary this year with several accomplishments. Over the last four and half years, the Institute continued to grow and now includes five core faculty, eleven associate faculty members, five affiliate faculty members, three research scientists, six postdoctoral research scientists, fourteen graduate students, nine interns and four staff members.
   We were thrilled to welcome two new core faculty this year. Dr. Sanja Vickovic joined in July 2022: she has pioneered novel spatially resolved transcriptomics and genomics methods that enable massive parallel in situ profiling of intact tissue samples. She is a member of the Biomedical Engineering department and also the Director of Technology Innovation and a Core Faculty at the New York Genome Center (NYGC). Dr. Bianca Dumitrascu is joining this January. She brings her expertise in statistical optimization, statistical physics, and domain adaptation to understand how local molecular rules give rise to emergent spatial patterns in the context of biological dynamical systems. The Institute invited Dr. David Tourigny to become an affiliate member. He was previously an associate research scientist at the IICD and recently became a Birmingham Fellow in the School of Mathematics at the University of Birmingham, UK.

   IICD faculty members and researchers received many accolades and grants throughout the year. Dr. Elham Azizi has received the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Science Diversity Leadership award, recognizing her work in diversity, equity, and inclusion in her scientific field. Dr. Andrew Blumberg was awarded a grant from the Office of Naval Research for the optimization in geometric data analysis. He gave a plenary talk at the 2022 Algebraic Topology: Methods, Computation and Science conference in Oxford and gave the AMS lecture at the 2022 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics-American Mathematical Society annual meeting. Dr. Ivan Corwin was selected as a 2022 Simons Investigator in Mathematics.

  Drs Elham Azizi and José McFaline-Figueroa both received Junior Faculty Grants (Azizi/McFaline-Figueroa) through the Office of the Provost Grants Program for junior faculty who contribute to the university’s diversity goals and NSF Career Awards. Dr. Jellert Gaublomme was recently awarded an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award (D2P) for his project titled “Spatially Mapping of Pooled in vivo CRISPR Screens in the Tumor Microenvironment.” Dr. Chin Hur was named a 2022 Velocity Fellow to study the integration of liquid biopsy cancer tests into gastrointestinal cancer early detection. Dr. Karol Nowicki-Osuch and collaborators at the Irving Medical School and the NYGC have received a multi-PI R01 grant to combine novel single-cell sequencing and spatial transcriptomics approaches with innovative model organisms to study the early stages of gastric cancer development.

    Dr. Itsik Pe’er was awarded an Inter/Intra Programmatic Pilot Program grant from the HICCC to support a translational research project. Dr. Brent Stockwell received the Dean Peter Awn Commitment to the LGBTQ Community Faculty Award. Additionally, he was awarded a Roy and Diana Vagelos Precision Medicine Pilot Grant, a 2022 Provost’s Science of Learning Research Initiative Seed Grant for his work on bringing augmented reality to the classroom, and a seed grant from the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in collaboration with Dr. Elham Azizi.

   The IICD and the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute recently set up a new serial two-photon tomography (STPT) system. The project, spearheaded by IICD Associate Member Darcy Peterka, will allow the development of new approaches to image and interrogate the tumor microenvironment with single-cell resolution. The Institute continues to establish extensive collaborations with various departments and research centers. In particular, the IICD strengthened its partnership with the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center through research collaborations with Dr. Peter D. Canoll (with Darcy Peterka for the STPT system) and Dr. Aaron D. Viny (with Russell Kunes) and supporting joint members.

   Over the last year, we have continued implementing and strengthening our education and outreach programming. In the summer of 2022, the Institute held its first Summer Research Program for Undergraduates. IICD welcomed five non-Columbia undergraduate interns who carried out research projects for ten weeks under the mentorship of IICD scientists and engaged in weekly seminars and professional development events. Two of the interns continued their project during the Fall semester, and one of the interns placed first for best poster presentation at the 2022 MIT IEEE Undergraduate Research Technology Conference. The students also had an opportunity to meet other summer interns through the Columbia University Pathways Program. Furthermore, the Institute partnered with the 2022 Columbia Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences in Mathematical Modeling program through financial support and the organization of joint events for our summer students.

    The IICD hosted an intern from the École Polytechnique (France) through a new collaboration with the Alliance Program. Elisa Bergomi, a third-year engineering student, joined Dr. Simon Tavaré's lab for four months to work on clonal evolution in tumors, applying statistical inference techniques to the modeling of cancer evolution. She is now an MS student in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University.

  The Institute is continuing its seminar series on the topic of mathematical sciences underpinning cancer research during the 2022-2023 academic year, with most seminars taking place in a hybrid format. We regularly host several special seminars during the year as well. A line-up of our upcoming events can be found here. Moreover, registration is currently open for our first in-person symposium since March 2020. The Mathematical and Computational Methods in Cancer and Biology Symposium (March 16th-18th, 2023) will highlight the importance of the mathematical and computational sciences and technological developments in driving fundamental discoveries in cancer biology and many other biological fields. The event will also be an occasion to celebrate two milestones: Simon Tavaré’s 70th birthday and the 5th anniversary of the Institute.

   To conclude, I would like to offer my thanks to our faculty, researchers, students, and staff for their continued contributions to our work and outreach initiatives. I also want to thank our collaborators and partners at Columbia University and beyond for their support in our cancer research efforts. And finally, thank all of you for your continued support through participation in our events, engagement via our newsletter, research collaborations, and more. We hope to provide many more opportunities to connect and collaborate.

With best wishes from the IICD,

Simon Tavaré 
Director, Irving Institute for Cancer Dynamics
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