MS BIOI Student Angela Andaleon's Lab Research and Conference Experience
MS Bioinformatics student Angela Andaleon’s platform presentation at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) Conference in San Diego in October 2018 was well-received, even prompting encouraging invitations from top PhD programs’ professors in attendance. Despite the ASHG conference being the world’s largest genetics conference and the record-breaking 9,000 conference attendees present, she wasn’t nervous. “I’m short, so I can’t see past my laptop and can’t see the audience” Angela said, which may have helped. Angela had submitted to ASHG her abstract “Transcriptome-based association study in Hispanic cohorts implicates novel genes in lipid traits” for a poster presentation. She was notified that her abstract scored among the top abstracts at the ASHG 2018 meeting and was asked to present a platform talk, which 10% of abstracts receive; she gladly accepted. The conference experience energized Angela’s career choice: “Genetics will be a huge part of medicine soon. It’s encouraging to be surrounded by 9,000 scientists who are also like yes, this will be the future.” Angela also presented at the International Genetic Epidemiology Society Conference earlier that week, which strengthened her presentation experience. Both conferences’ costs were supported by one of Loyola’s interdisciplinary research scholarships, the Carbon Fellowship.
Angela entered Loyola originally as a pre-med student and met Bioinformatics’ Dr. Heather Wheeler in her freshman year when Dr. Wheeler presented in her First Year Research Experience class. Angela was intrigued by Dr. Wheeler’s discussion on the necessity of diverse human genetic studies and met with Dr. Wheeler at the beginning of her sophomore year and joined her lab. Dr. Wheeler’s research focuses on the expansion of diversity in human genetic data, which is currently 79% European ancestry. Results in European populations can’t be accurately extrapolated to other populations for precision medicine, so data for other populations needs to be studied - which is what Dr. Wheeler’s lab intends to do: “We’re trying to help a little bit, at least in the long run of expanding the diversity of genetic studies so that precision medicine can be expanded to all people and not just those of European descent,” Angela noted.
Angela said working in the lab shaped her academic and career path as a sophomore, and she felt at first unnerved by the new material: “I had absolutely no experience with coding, barely any experience in statistics, and I hadn’t even taken genetics at that point, so there was a lot of self-motivated learning and throwing you into the deep end of the pool.” After three years in the lab, she is now quite comfortable and is completing her thesis-based BS/MS degree in Bioinformatics: “Right now I’m working on a Hispanic population from 4 regions in the United States, about 12,000 people… I’m working to predict gene expressions of those populations and see how the gene expressions traits are different in the Hispanic population versus mostly studied European population and I found 21 significant genes that were novel for any lipid association in the Genome-wide Association Study catalog, which is the current database.” These results have since been published and are now awaiting peer review.
Angela would like to work in industry in computational human genomics in the Chicago area, a field expanding in prominent hospitals and research universities. What would she say to students interested in bioinformatics? “Know that it’s not scary, the programming is a lot of trial and error… but this will be the future of biology, and we can’t do biology without bioinformatics. It’s the future so embrace it!”