Jan 26, 2024

Donnelly Centre welcomes Dr. Shu Wang as new Assistant Professor on the cutting edge of big data research

Computational Biology, Faculty
Headshot of Shu Wang
Professor Shu Wang
By Anika Hazra

The Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research welcomes a new Assistant Professor, Shu Wang, to help expand the Centre’s expertise in big data analysis for computational biology. Wang joined the Donnelly Centre on January 1, 2024.

“We are very excited to have Shu Wang join our ranks,” said Stephane Angers, director of the Donnelly Centre. “We recognize that the development of innovative computational and machine learning methods for processing and analyzing large biological datasets is necessary to uncover all the information they carry and enable discoveries. Shu is a tremendous addition to the Donnelly Centre’s world-renowned computational biology group – highlighting our investment in this important area for the future.”

Originally from Waterloo, Ontario, Wang is happy to return to Toronto after spending the last 13 years in the United States pursuing educational and professional opportunities in quantitative biology. Wang took a multi-faceted approach to studying STEM subjects early on, having earned a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in four majors: biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics.

After earning his BA, Wang pursued a PhD degree in biophysics at Harvard University. He then accepted a postdoctoral researcher position in bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“I started my undergraduate studies in biology, but I felt like the additional majors were necessary for building my quantitative understanding,” said Wang. “Having experience in all four subject areas helps me to address similar research problems that arise across multiple fields, and allows me to explore a wide range of methods that can be applied to the same problem.”

Wang’s interdisciplinary interests are well suited to the Donnelly Centre environment, where cross-disciplinary collaboration among the Centre’s now 32 faculty members is its greatest strength – and a progressive approach to solving issues in health and medicine.

The Wang lab at the Donnelly Centre will also be interdisciplinary in its research, with a focus on biology and quantitative methods. Wang is intent on conducting both basic biology, which is essential for driving progress and innovation in clinical work, and applied medical science.

Wang was drawn to the Donnelly Centre as a prospective home for his lab through its reputation for advancing big data research using high-throughput analysis. Other lab groups at the Donnelly Centre are generating big data, including new types of this data. Wang pursued an assistant professorship at the Donnelly Centre in the hopes of contributing his computational and mathematical expertise to analyzing the unprecedented amounts of data being produced by other faculty members and their trainees.

His strategy is to develop a mechanistic understanding of big data on several scales through which biology is organized: molecular, cellular and tissue. Wang aims to create documentation, much like how-to manuals, for the human body using predictive and mechanistic understanding of big data and mathematical models.

“A lot of health issues, such as cancer and the detrimental effects of aging, can’t currently be treated successfully due to many factors being a play,” said Wang. “My long-term goal is to help build tools to achieve a higher treatment success rate through an improved and more precise understanding of data.”

Determining the direct applications of biomedical research is a priority for Wang. He hopes to eventually be able to guide experiments in combination drug therapy, as well as predict the direction of disease progression, to improve personalized medicine.

Wang emphasizes that his lab will be student-centric – essentially an environment for learning skills that will be useful both inside and outside of the lab. The most desired trait Wang is looking for in future lab members is an interest in learning analytical thinking and complex problem-solving skills.

Now that Wang is settled in at the Donnelly Centre, his next steps are to secure the funding needed to initiate new research projects, obtain the necessary equipment and recruit lab members. He is also in the process of meeting other faculty members at the Donnelly Centre to establish connections with future collaborators. Outside of the Donnelly Centre, Wang expects to collaborate with researchers at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences to find and apply the latest mathematical tools to complex data analysis.

“Society is constrained by what is possible,” said Wang. “I want to bring new options to the table instead of just optimizing existing ones.”

Visit Wang’s faculty profile on the Donnelly Centre website to learn more about him and his research.