PRIMES: Dash Elhauge's Story
Computational Biology is the sort of thing one only gets to experience through a program like PRIMES. It's an elegant marriage between the rigorous abstraction of mathematics and the intricate dynamics of biological systems. It takes the increasing flurry of scientific findings and publications, steps back, and asks the question we often lose sight of in biology: what are the implications of all these findings?
My project studied the role of cell fusion in cancer evolution. Cancer is quite complicated, and even when it's thought about abstractly it can be hard to generate any scientific results; that's where computers come in. For programmers (like me), computational biology research is inherently satisfying because it lets us flex our programming skills to bridge that gap between abstraction and real world dynamics that only we can. Not only that, but it allows you to think about biology not as a memorized mass of terms and processes, but rather as a sophisticated system predicated on subtle balance. It's the sort of style of thinking you simply can't find anywhere else.
The way PRIMES is set up, your mentor guides you, but doesn't lead you. You are the one doing the research, and you are the one making the exciting discoveries, so unlike so many research programs, you get a complete feeling of independence and satisfaction. Your mentor simply cultivates the scientific inquiry that brews in PRIMES students' minds by carefully asking questions, challenging you when appropriate, teaching you bits of high level math or programming, presenting you with modern scientific discoveries, and seeing where that takes you. And where that takes you, I must say, is simply extraordinary.
I generated several models for understanding the evolution of cancer, and found that cell fusion serves a powerful role in increasing the rate of cancer evolution. Perhaps slowing cell fusion will aid in the fight against cancer someday.
Dash Elhauge worked on the project Modeling the role of cell fusion in cancer development under the mentorship of Christopher McFarland.