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Lab Work: Research at Texas A&M

Lab Work: Research at Texas A&M

How gifts during the Lead by Example campaign benefited faculty.

Lab Work: Research at Texas A&M

How gifts during the Lead by Example campaign benefited faculty.

Donations to the Lead by Example campaign have driven a flurry of ingenuity and invention across all disciplines, a testament to the university’s status as a Tier 1 research institution. Gifts to the campaign created 127 new endowed chairs, professorships and fellowships that support faculty like these, whose boundless creativity and curiosity are changing the world. 

Dr. Bani Mallick, Susan M. Arseven '75 Chair in Data Science and Computational Statistics. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)

Fighting Cancer with Data

Imagine the volumes of data collected on a cancer patient over time—an accounting of their medical history, lifestyle, symptoms, diagnosis, blood work, scans and treatment

response.  According to a study by the National Cancer Institute, information gleaned from a patient’s tumor in a clinical trial can digitally equate to one terabyte, the equivalent of 130,000 books.

“If you multiply the voluminous information by the millions of people diagnosed with cancer annually, you begin to see the incredible size of the data,” said Texas A&M University statistician Bani Mallick, who was appointed to the Susan M. Arseven ’75 Chair in Data Science and Computational Statistics in the College of Science during the campaign.

Thanks to a $2.3 million National Institutes of Health grant, Mallick has his sights set on this problem and is developing new statistical models to merge cancer-related data and analysis.

Through the use of Bayesian statistics, he is creating an assortment of novel methods to integrate large cancer data across multiple research platforms for a better understanding of cancer characteristics and behavior. “The worlds of bioinformatics and big data are merging to discover innovative ways to integrate knowledge for cancer treatments,” he explained. “This way, we can improve its prevention, prediction and treatment. With cancer claiming the lives of so many people, it’s imperative to centralize the data we have and learn from it.”

Dr. Rogelio Oliva, Robyn L. '89 and Alan B. Roberts '78 Chair in Business. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)

The Company’s Human Factor

When the assembly line was born during the Industrial Revolution, the focus was on efficiency. A noble goal, except for one thing: People came to be viewed as interchangeable parts, a replaceable cog in the wheel.

That business model no longer works in today’s climate where the human component is essential to a company’s longevity and success, said Rogelio Oliva, who was awarded the Bob ’85 and Kelly Jordan ’86 Professorship in Business in Mays Business School’s Department of Information and Operations Management in 2017 and who now holds the Robyn L. ’89 and Alan B. Roberts ’78 Chair in Business. Oliva’s research focuses on behavioral operations management in service and retail operations and the human interactions that add value to companies.

Such research includes a look at how retailers tend to cut employees to improve the bottom line when, in fact, it negatively affects profits. “The value of the economy today is mostly created by services, not by making products, and people are the integral component,” Oliva said. “They are humans with emotions, mental energy and empathy. We can’t treat them as machines.”

Oliva’s studies have found that in service industries, especially retail, understaffing and failing to train and develop employees hurts the bottom line by eroding service to the customer and sacrificing sales. “Knowledgeable employees bring value to an organization,” he stressed. Proper employee training, incentives and a supportive business climate lead to productive employees who not only add value but who are also happy to come to work.

Dr. Michael Deveau, Katherine and Rebecca Rochelle Chair in Oncology. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)

3D Printing for Pooch

Man’s best friend comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Think dachshund versus Great Dane. So, when it comes to stabilizing canines for radiation therapy, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. There’s a need for a patient-specific product that conforms to a canine’s individual body so that treatments can be applied with precision, explained Dr. Michael Deveau, holder of the Katherine and Rebecca Rochelle Chair in Oncology in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences since 2016. His research team found a solution via 3D printing.

“In veterinary medicine, one of the challenges we have is that there are no veterinary-specific products for immobilization. We had to use human products that are designed around human weight limits and human silhouettes,” Deveau said. “But through the use of rapid fabricating and prototyping technologies like 3D printing, laser simulation and gel silicone molding, we can create products that conform to our patients.”

The plight of a small dog with a skin lymphoma brought the issue to light a few years ago. The advanced condition left her body riddled in lesions. “Radiation therapy is used to achieve remission in that type of skin cancer,” Deveau explained. A 3D shell that fit around the dog’s body was constructed to stabilize the canine for radiation treatment. “By addressing patient-specific needs, we corrected a clinical deficiency. Much of my research centers on developing ways to circumvent or minimize the deficiencies veterinarians face.”

Dr. Emily Brady, Susanne M. and Melbern G. Glasscock Diretor's Chair. (Photo by Leighton Jack '14)

Widening Our World

At Texas A&M, the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research is a hub for critical thinking that serves as a cross-disciplinary platform for examining global issues. “The humanities go hand-in-hand with the sciences and other academic fields in understanding the world around us,” said Dr. Emily Brady, who received the Susanne M. and Melbern G. Glasscock Director’s Chair in the College of Liberal Arts in 2018.

As director of the Glasscock Center, she oversees its daily operations and fosters its role in global conversations. For example, the center incubates cutting-edge research through a robust program of grant-funded, cross-disciplinary “research working groups” comprised of faculty and students, such as the Community Food Security and Food Justice working group that focuses on a variety of political and cultural issues regarding food production, distribution and consumption.

Funds from Brady’s chair support her efforts on the center’s new initiatives: Humanities: Land Sea Space, which through symposiums and lectures, addresses urgent environmental concerns; and Global Health and the Humanities, which explores topics such as health inequities, access to care, gender health disparities, and immigration and health.

“These are timely topics, especially as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “I’m excited to continue nurturing world-leading research at Texas A&M and to increase collaboration across disciplines. The Glasscock Center is the humanities champion on campus, and I’m proud to be part of that.”


Dunae Reader '15

Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor