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Statistics and Bioinformatics for Cancer Data Analysis

Translational Health

Teaching and Lifelong Learning

In the fight against cancer, early and accurate detection is critical to success.

Illustration of cancer cells and DNA strand.

The ability to identify potential biomarkers related to the development of specific cancers allows patients to be apprised of their risk. Then they can make informed choices about medical treatment or lifestyle changes to combat that risk.

Dr. Shuying Sun
Dr. Shuying Sun

Associate professor of statistics Dr. Shuying Sun and her students conduct advanced statistical and bioinformatic work to identify and catalogue a broad assortment of cancer-linked biomarkers. Sun performs complex interdisciplinary research requiring expertise in mathematics, statistics, genetics, bioinformatics and computer science. She has published more than 20 peer-reviewed research articles in the fields of statistical genetics and bioinformatics.

Bioinformatics is the science of collecting and analyzing complex biological data such as DNA sequencing data; statistical genetics is the use of statistical tools to identify genetic and epigenetic factors related to the development of disease. Sun uses these methods to integrate different types of health data and accurately describe networks of interaction between different genes.

For example, much of Sun’s research focuses on DNA methylation, an epigenetic event that can affect the functions of genes. In recent papers, Sun has used statistical methods to identify and analyze the effects of methylation on gene expression as potential biomarkers for breast cancer and other disorders. Her research findings can aid in cancer screening, early detection, possible treatments and the development of even more effective methods of cancer study.

Epigenetics: “Epi-” meaning “on top of or in addition to,” epigenetics is the study of changes to gene expression resulting from environmental factors. 

Additionally, each summer Sun works with undergraduates and high school students in the Texas State Mathworks Honors Summer Math Camp (HSMC) to train young researchers in the field of statistics and bioinformatics. Students in the HSMC work in three-person teams, with a faculty member acting as a mentor, to conduct original math research projects that may be submitted to various contests and journals.

Sun’s mentees have been published in highly respected academic journals and have gone on to study and conduct research for elite schools including Harvard, MIT and Stanford. Sun says that while it can be challenging to mentor students who come into the program with no research experience, the opportunity to see them grow and succeed is extremely rewarding as a teacher and mentor.

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