Faculty Profile: Mahlet Tadesse, ScD, develops tools to analyze genomic data

JUNE 8, 2006

After following a science track both in high school in Ethiopia and her freshman year of college in France, Mahlet chose to major in mathematics when she moved to the US to continue her studies. She learned about the field of biostatistics at the end of her junior year of college, while participating in a summer internship at Harvard University. This academic area seemed to be an ideal way to combine her interests in mathematics and biology. After earning a BS in mathematics from the University of the District of Columbia in 1998, Mahlet went to Harvard University, where she obtained an ScM in biostatistics in 2000, followed by an ScD in 2002. During this period, DNA microarray data and high-throughput technologies that provide simultaneous measurements on thousands of genes were gaining interest in the biomedical community. Mahlet was especially interested in the challenges the analysis of these high-dimensional data presented to standard statistical methods. She focused her doctoral research on developing novel Bayesian statistical models for analyzing DNA microarray data. While at Harvard, Mahlet was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) pre-doctoral fellow. She was also honored to be among the International Biometrics Society Eastern North American Region (ENAR) Distinguished Student Paper Award winners for her dissertation work.

Upon earning her doctorate, Dr. Tadesse spent two years as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics at Texas A&M University, where she completed post-doctoral training in Bioinformatics directed by Dr. Raymond Carroll, formerly at the CCEB. She was attracted by the interdisciplinary nature of the program with strong collaborations between statisticians, biologists and electrical engineers. During her post-doc, Dr. Tadesse continued working on Bayesian statistical methodologies for the analysis of genomic data. In particular, she developed methods to identify biologically relevant genes and to uncover disease subtypes in a unified manner, for which she received the Byar Young Investigator Award from the American Statistical Association.

Dr. Tadesse joined the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology on August 1, 2004 as Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Senior Scholar in the CCEB. She is a member of the Statistical Genetics and Genomics Research Program led by Dr. Hongzhe Lee. She is also a member of the Genomics and Computational Biology (GCB) graduate group, and the Penn Center for Bioinformatics (PCBi). Dr. Tadesse's methodological research continues to focus on the development of statistical and computational tools for the analysis of genomic data. She is currently exploring ways to extend some of the methods she developed in the context of DNA microarray data to the analysis of genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) association studies. She is also interested in developing methods to integrate various genomic data sources. She has proposed a novel application of Bayesian variable selection techniques, integrating gene expression and genome sequence data, to refine the search for DNA regulatory motifs. Currently, she is working on procedures to incorporate pathway information into the evaluation of gene expression data. In addition to conducting her independent research, Dr. Tadesse is eager to interact and collaborate with investigators exploring genomic problems.

Dr. Tadesse's research is supported by several grants. She is a co-investigator on an NIH R01 grant that aims to develop improved Bayesian variable selection methods for the analysis of genomic data. She has also received a Pilot Award from the McCabe Advisory Committee, which supports Penn SOM junior faculty with limited external funding, to develop statistical methods to identify heterogeneities in acute allograft rejection and detect their molecular signatures. In addition, Dr. Tadesse is involved in funded collaborative research on genomic studies of cardiovascular diseases with Dr. Daniel Rader and Dr. Muredach Reilly.

Dr. Tadesse is the primary author of articles that have appeared in Bioinformatics, Biometrics, and the Journal of the American Statistical Association. She is also the first author of a chapter in Applications of Bioinformatics in Cancer Detection as well as a chapter in the forthcoming Bayesian Inference for Gene Expression and Proteomics. Dr. Tadesse is a frequent invited speaker at national meetings. She also serves as appointed member of the National Research Council Committee on Emerging Issues and Data on Environmental Contaminants. Dr. Tadesse is a grant reviewer for the Medical Research Council, UK and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute. She is an editorial board member for Cancer Informatics and a regular reviewer for several bioinformatics, computational biology, and statistics journals.

Dr. Tadesse is looking forward to building collaboration with researchers around Penn who have interest in genomic problems calling for novel statistical methods.

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