News & Announcements

Michelle Wynn
The purpose of the ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Awards is to recognize exceptional and unusually interesting work produced by doctoral students in the last phase of their graduate work. The nominees’ overall academic accomplishments will also be taken into account.

 John A. Williams, M.D., Ph.D.
"This award is the highest honor bestowed by the Medical School upon a faculty member for research in the biomedical sciences. Dr. Williams is recognized for his numerous research accomplishments, a strong focus on teaching and mentoring, and his valuable leadership to science, the Medical School, and the University. His contributions include serving as chair of the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology for 21 years, teaching and mentoring faculty, and as a training grant director for 20 years. Dr. Williams also started the expansion of his department’s scientific focus and status as a leader in research and graduate education."

The Rackham International Student Fellowship assists outstanding international students, particularly those who may be ineligible for other kinds of support because of citizenship.

Dr. H.V. Jagadish
"H.V. Jagadish of the University of Michigan in the U.S. will take disparate datasets on diverse topics, including education, health, and the environment, which are often reported using different geographical units such as Zip Code or County, and realign them to a common unit so they can be better compared and used. Jagadish will develop four general techniques for aligning data partitions and apply them to existing datasets in one state in the U.S. so that they can be viewed according to different geographical units. Jagadish will also produce an interface so that policy analysts and NGOs can easily access and query these data, and collect feedback to improve the approach."

Performances are at the Power Center for the Performing Arts between Fri., Dec. 13 – Sun., Dec. 15. Tickets are available at the Michigan Union Ticket Office or online:

Two U-M medical researchers win top national awards Huda Akil, Ph.D., and Gilbert S. Omenn, M.D., Ph.D., honored by Association of American Medical Colleges at annual meeting A neuroscientist who probes the intersection between brain biology and mental health, and a physician who has led national health care change for decades, today received top national awards for their achievements. Both are leaders at the University of Michigan Health System, and faculty at the U-M Medical School. In fact, U-M is the only institution with two winners among the 10 recipients of this year’s six top awards from the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC. The awards were presented at the AAMC’s meeting in Philadelphia.

David E. Rogers Award:

Gilbert S. Omenn, M.D., Ph.D. Fittingly, Omenn was inspired early in his career by the physician leader for whom the award is named – and went on to make the major contributions to improving the health and health care of the American people that the award recognizes. Omenn is a U-M professor of Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, Internal Medicine, Human Genetics, and Public Health. He directs the university-wide Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics as well as the global Human Proteome Project. From 1997 to 2002, he was CEO of the U-M Health System and U-M executive vice president for medical affairs, during the pivotal years of forming a modern academic medical center. Over five decades, “Gil made fundamental basic scientific contributions, led major public health studies and initiatives, championed the role of academic medical centers, and played a key role in forming health policy for our nation,” says David Ginsburg, M.D., his U-M colleague and past AAMC Distinguished Research Award winner. For more on Omenn’s work, and achievements, see the AAMC award profile.

Award for Distinguished Research in the Biomedical Sciences:

Huda Akil, Ph.D. Akil, the Gardner C. Quarton Professor of Neurosciences in Psychiatry at the U-M Medical School and co-director and senior research professor at U-M’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, received AAMC’s top award for outstanding clinical or laboratory research conducted by a medical school faculty member. A pioneer of what is now called systems neuroscience, she has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the neurobiology of emotions and the interplay between pain, anxiety, depression, stress, and substance abuse. “Huda’s scientific work has transformed our understanding of the molecular, anatomical, and behavioral mechanisms of emotionality,” said James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., dean and Lyle C. Roll Professor of Medicine at the Medical School. For more on Akil’s work, and achievements, see the AAMC award profile.

Cristen Willer
" A global hunt for genes that influence heart disease risk has uncovered 157 changes in human DNA that alter the levels of cholesterol and other blood fats – a discovery that could lead to new medications. The huge scan of genetic variations linked to blood lipid levels used an advanced device called a Metabochip. Each of the changes points to genes that can modify levels of cholesterol and other blood fats and are potential drug targets. Many of the changes point to genes not previously linked to blood fats, also called lipids. A surprising number of the variations were also associated with coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. The research also reveals that triglycerides – another type of blood lipid – play a larger role in heart disease risk than previously thought. The results, published in a paper and a letter appearing simultaneously in the journal Nature Genetics, come from the Global Lipids Genetics Consortium -- a worldwide team of scientists who pooled genetic and clinical information from more than 188,000 people from many countries and heritages. The analysis of the combined data was led by a team from the University of Michigan Medical School and School of Public Health. They used sophisticated computing and statistical techniques to search for genetic variations that modify blood lipid levels. The results increase by more than a third the total number of genetic variants linked to blood lipids. All but one of the variants associated with blood lipids are near stretches of DNA that encode proteins. “These results give us 62 new clues about lipid biology, and more places to look than we had before,” says Cristen Willer, Ph.D., the lead author of one paper and an assistant professor of Internal Medicine, Human Genetics and Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics at the U-M Medical School. “Once we take the time to truly understand these clues, we’ll have a better understanding of lipid biology and cardiovascular disease -- and potentially new targets for treatment.” But, cautions senior author and U-M School of Public Health Professor Gonçalo Abecasis, Ph.D., it will take much further work to study the implicated genes and to find and test potential drugs that could target them. The consortium’s “open science” approach will include publishing further detail online for other researchers to use freely toward this goal. A further analysis of the dataset, published as a letter with lead author Ron Do, Ph.D. and senior author Sekar Kathiresan, M.D. from the Broad Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, suggests triglyceride levels have more impact on coronary artery disease risk than previously thought."

tranSMART 1.1 Screen Shot
The tranSMART Foundation Announces New Version of the tranSMART Open Source Data Sharing Platform for the Life Sciences Community Open Platform Enables Scientists Around the Globe to More Quickly Advance their Research Wakefield, Massachusetts – September 16, 2013 – The tranSMART Foundation, a non-profit organization providing a global, open-source knowledge management platform for scientists to share their pre-competitive data, today announced the release of tranSMART version 1.1.  Originally developed as an internal project by Johnson & Johnson, this new version of the cloud-based data sharing solution eliminates the need for user organizations to purchase commercial software and integrates significant new contributions by the developer community over the past year into one new release.  “Scientists at universities, non-profit research organizations, and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are struggling to effectively leverage the massive amounts of high-quality research data available to advance their studies,” said tranSMART Foundation co-CEO Brian Athey, Ph.D., also with the University of Michigan. “To date, we have more than 25 life science organizations utilizing the tranSMART platform to link research data with clinical data in a central repository.  We envision that through this platform scientists will have the ability to effectively collaborate using pre-competitive data – facilitating quicker and more cost-effective translational medicine research.”  The Foundation’s co-CEO, Michael Braxenthaler, Ph.D., who also holds positions with Roche and the Pistoia Alliance, added, “Our goal is to create a collaborative translational research community.  Our development community is focused on the Foundation’s three C’s: code, community and content.  With the open tranSMART platform, we are limiting dependency on commercial software products and leveraging the expertise of the entire user community.  We have an aggressive product roadmap to develop the next generation of the platform to include new interfaces and analytical functionality as well as a more modern information architecture.”    The tranSMART Foundation is a partnership between the Pistoia Alliance, the University of Michigan and the Imperial College London with the mission to enable effective sharing, integration, standardization, and analysis of heterogeneous data from collaborative translational research by mobilizing the tranSMART open-source and open-data community.  As an open source solution, several leading U.S. and European-based academic, pharmaceutical and service provider organizations have contributed to this release through code development, quality assurance, testing, scientific data contribution, and hosting services for “demo” instances. Please visit: for access to release notes, documentation, source code, and other resources.  Training and support for the user community is provided by the tranSMART Foundation, as well its network of service providers.   

DCM&B faculty member Yang Zhang awarded 2013 Dean’s Award for Basic Science Research. This award recognizes a scientist or group of scientists identified as having made outstanding contributions to the Medical School in basic biomedical science research.

Kraig Stevenson
Gene expression is a critical step in translating information from DNA sequences into living cells. The first step of this process involves the transcription of DNA into RNA. Quantifying the abundance of RNA within an an organism thus provides important readout of cellular function. In recent years, advances in high-throughput sequencing have provided new ways to make these measurements. Importantly, they allow not only the total abundance of RNA within a sample to be determined, but also the relative proportion of RNA molecules from a particular gene that come from the maternal and paternal alleles. Unfortunately, with the most common computational methods used to analyze these data, measurements of allele-specific expression often show a systematic bias favoring detection of one allele over the other. In a new paper published by Bioinformatics graduate student Kraig Stevenson, postdoc Joseph Coolon, and CCMB faculty member Patricia Wittkopp, the sources of this systematic bias (as well as sources of other erroneous measures of allele-specific expression) are identified. By identifying the causes of these problems, this work paves the way for improving computational methods used to study allele-specific gene expression.