(March 28, 2017) -- Meet Rehan Akbani ’02, ’05, ’09. He’s using his UTSA computer science education to fight cancer and save lives.
Born in Pakistan, Akbani enrolled at UTSA straight out of high school. He received his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in 2002 then went on to complete his master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science in 2005 and 2009, respectively.
This three-time Roadrunner enjoyed being part of the UT System so much that he joined the faculty at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after earning his doctoral degree. Today, he’s an associate professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, where he has published more than 70 peer-reviewed papers that have been cited over 26,600 times.
Akbani’s field of interest is bioinformatics. He’s currently the principal investigator on four active grants with applications in cancer research. Overall, his work spans the biology of 33 types of cancer.
“I was always interested in basic sciences, especially computer science, electronics and biology,” Akbani recalled. “I used to read biology books on my own for the love of the subject. Bioinformatics seemed like the perfect juxtaposition of the two subjects and it was an emerging field of research at the time I graduated.”
“When I entered the field, there was a natural demand for bioinformaticians that spoke both languages – computer science and biology – and the research field was wide open at the time.”
Notably, the UTSA alumnus is a major contributor to The Cancer Genome Atlas, the largest cancer research project ever funded by the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute. Through the project, researchers around the nation are studying cancers at a molecular level to learn more about the biology of those cancers and to identify new molecular targets for therapy to explore in future research.
In one of Akbani’s current projects, Pan-Gynecologic and Breast Cancers, he’s studying molecular similarities and differences among breast and gynecologic cancers such as ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers.
Through his research, he expects to apply therapies that are successful in one gynecologic tumor type to other gynecologic tumor types with the same vulnerabilities. He also expects the findings to potentially help in locating the source of a patient’s tumor (e.g. cervix vs. lower uterus) so clinicians can tailor therapies to their patients.
It’s a line of work that Akbani is thrilled to pursue.
“I wanted to do research that would have a real impact, and cancer research felt like it was worth spending a lifetime on.”
Do you know a Roadrunner who is achieving great things? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may consider your suggestion for our next installment of Meet a Roadrunner.
All UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to attend open forums featuring finalist candidates for the dean of the UTSA College of Sciences.Various Locations, Main Campus
Co-sponsored by UTSA, the regional conference provides a venue to bring together scholars in the fields of archaeology, ethnography, art history and the general public to share information on research focused on the cultures of the Mesoamerican region. The conference is free and open to the public.San Antonio Museum of Art, 200 W. Jones Ave., San Antonio
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will welcome historian Gregory Peek of Penn State University and a panel of music scene personalities to recount the Alamo City’s place in the heavy metal landscape.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
UTSA is an early voting site for the statewide General Election.H-E-B Student Union Bexar Room (HSU 1.102), Main Campus
The UTSA Office of the President and the UTSA College of Public Policy present a discussion on San Antonio’s charter amendments. Event will be livestreamed to UTSA Main Campus, Travis Room – HSU 2.202Buena Vista Street Building Aula Canaria (BVB 1.328), Downtown Campus
More than 75 local, state and national graduate and professional schools will showcase their programs at the Main Campus. It's free and open to the public. Interested attendees are encouraged to register for the event in advance.Sombrilla Plaza, Main Campus
Hosted by the UTSA Office of Information Technology Student Innovation Coalition, Tech Talk is a forum for students to share thoughts about technology on campus with IT professionals and learn about products and services available to help them succeed.Student Union Denman Room (SU 2.01.28), Main Campus
UTSA Libraries will host Claudia García-Louis, assistant professor, at the Downtown Library for her presentation AfroLatinxs: Navigating Blackness and Latinidad in the Age of Trump, as part of the popular Pizza and Research series.Buena Vista Street Building Downtown Library (BVB 2.314), Downtown Campus