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April 5, 2017

Graduate student Joshua Welch received a 2017 Horizon Award from the Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Welch was one of seven recipients for 2017.

Since 2003, the Graduate Education Advancement Board (GEAB) has provided Impact Awards annually to recognize graduate students and recent graduate alumni whose discoveries directly impact the state of North Carolina in the present time.  Recipients receive a one-time monetary award, which varies in value from year to year. Recipients earned $500 in 2016.

The Horizon Award, created this year, recognizes those whose research “holds extremely high potential for making a significant contribution to the educational, economic, physical, social or cultural well-being of North Carolina citizens and beyond at some future time.” The award focuses on research of a more theoretical or basic nature that is likely to one day solve major problems in the state and beyond.

Welch’s award-winning research analyzes ‘snapshots’ of cells to improve heart disease treatment. The laboratory of assistant professor Li Qian in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine has managed to convert heart scar tissue cells back into heart muscle cells. Unfortunately, researchers need more information about the circumstances that lead to successful reprogramming of heart cells in order to improve the effectiveness of the treatment.

To support this effort, Welch developed SLICER, a computational approach that analyzes momentary data collected from cells throughout processes like cardiac reprogramming. SLICER orders genetic changes to allow the process to be viewed by researchers in the correct sequence. Paired with experimental data from Qian’s research group, SLICER identified thousands of genes that turn on and off during cardiac reprogramming, including genes that may hinder cells from responding to the treatment.

Welch is advised by professor Jan Prins of the Department of Computer Science.