Antony Pearson is an IQ Biology graduate student in the Applied Mathematics Department working with Associate Professor Manuel Lladser. He studies probabilistic mixture models where one or more components cannot be observed directly through data. A primary application of his work is using patterns of DNA methylation—heritable modifications to a cell's DNA that do not change the DNA sequence itself but may still affect gene expression—to estimate the fraction of cancerous cells in a tumor. This fraction is difficult to estimate accurately by microscopic examination of a biopsy, but is critical in assessing the risk of cancer metastasis and drug resistance. Antony aims to develop principled and robust statistical methodology to “deconvolve” mixtures with unknown components generally enough to be useful in a range of disciplines, and to apply it to real patient DNA methylation data to extract insights about human cancer.
The National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. This prestigious and highly competitive fellowship provides $34,000/yr for three years. Antony’s proposal titled "Deciphering Partially Unknown Mixture Models" has been awarded to begin in the 2016-2017 academic year.