Indiana State University Newsroom

$1.2M NIH grant to serve underrepresented students in biomedical science fields

October 23, 2017

The National Institutes of Health has awarded Indiana State University a $1.2 million, four-year grant to prepare a pipeline of students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of bioinformatics and biomedical sciences.

After joining Indiana State, Yongsheng Bai, assistant professor of bioinformatics, began looking for funding opportunities to support student research in the lab when he discovered an opportunity through the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH was seeking to fund a program to support research education activities with the primary goal to give students research experience and how to maximize and accelerate their knowledge of big data in medical research.

"I found this NIH grant for Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) just 60 days before the deadline," said Bai, the grant's principal investigator. "This is perfectly aligned with our undergraduate research initiatives, and it will give students research experience in the big biomedical data field. We believe this award will provide underrepresented students with academic support as well as research intensive experiences to set them on a career path in the field of biomedical data science and to accomplish the goal of NIH BD2K Enhancing Diversity in Biomedical Science Program."

The first cohort of five students will be selected this academic year with their first research experience to begin in summer 2018. The grant will be used to pay students to conduct research and attend training during the summer and academic year.

The grant includes a partnership with The Ohio State University, which will conduct research training and provide feedback for the program's participants.

The program will offer a stipend and the opportunity for students to attend summer workshops. Participants must maintain a B-average in their courses and complete the curriculum. The curriculum, which will also be open to students who are not in the program, will include new courses currently being developed.

The program will give Indiana State an ability to offer hands-on experience in big data and bioinformatics, areas where career opportunities abound.

"The ability for students to learn a new skill set in a career field that is growing is a big deal. Coming out of a bachelor's degree with four years of experience in bioinformatics and biomedical research is pretty impressive," said Donna Selman, chair of the biology department. "There will be a team effort at ISU to bring through the training, not only the students participating in the grant, but also the faculty and administrators and graduate students. From there, we'll create the big data and data science courses. Long-term, we hope to build this program beyond the grant. Maybe a new major, new courses in big data science and extensive training in the responsible conduct in research."

During the first summer of the program, students will work at Indiana State and have opportunities to do presentations and participate in Indiana State's Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). Participants will also spend a summer at Ohio State for a workshop and internship program in their second year and will attend meetings and conferences to present research. Indiana State faculty and staff connected with the program will get trained and a graduate student will be hired to assist in running the grant and mentoring students.

"We are talking to the Office of Admissions about recruiting students for the program next fall, and we're speaking to introductory math and science classes to pitch the program to current students," said Jeff Kinne, associate professor of computer science at Indiana State, who is helping create the curriculum along with Rusty Gonser, professor of biology and director of The Center for Genomic Advocacy.

Gonser said the grant will allow Indiana State to establish a program that will open up an array of careers in the medical field to minority students."This grant captures the cultural transformation that we have undergone as an institution under President Bradley. Whether its experiential learning, community engagement or career readiness, this grant hits all of the initiatives we do as an institution to prepare students for their future careers," Gonser said.


Photos: - Yongsheng Bai, assistant professor of bioinformatics, department of biology, Indiana State University, and Kevin Coombes, professor of bioinformatics and computational biology at The Ohio State University, serve as co-principal investigators for a $1.2 million, four-year National Institutes of Health grant awarded Indiana State to prepare a pipeline of students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of bioinformatics and biomedical sciences.

Contact: Yongsheng Bai, assistant professor of bioinformatics, department of biology, Indiana State University,

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or