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Balla Wins SRK Fellowship

Sudha Balla, a doctoral candidate in the Computer Science & Engineering department, has won a prestigious Sallie Rosen Kaplan (SRK) Fellowship for Women Scientists in Cancer Research, awarded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Ms. Balla is one of only seven researchers nationwide to receive the 2007 award, which is open to female researchers nationwide who earned a doctoral degree within the past five years.

The SRK Fellowship is competitive, and recipients are selected by a committee. The award enables Fellows to train in any of the National Cancer Institute’s research facilities in Maryland to examine basic, clinical, epidemiological or prevention science. Each SRK Fellow is supported by an intramural Cancer Research Training Award. The duration of SRK Fellowships is typically two to five years.

Ms. Balla is advised by Dr. Sanguthevar Rajasekaran, the UTC Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and director of the Booth Engineering Center for Advanced Technology (BECAT). Ms. Balla, who will graduate with her Ph.D. in May following her late-April thesis defense, will begin her SRK Fellowship during the summer. Ms. Balla said “I hope to work on a project that requires new computational approaches to address very important challenges that exist today in the domain of cancer research.”

After earning her M.S. at the University of Bridgeport in 2002, she began her doctoral studies at UConn in the area of algorithmic applications to bioinformatics. Her doctoral work has centered on development of novel computational techniques for problems in molecular biology that involve identification of complex signals called motifs appearing in large datasets. These motifs, she explained, “have applications in the discovery of biologically significant regions in our DNA, understanding gene function and efficiently designing drugs for disease.” Ms. Balla collaborated on an inter-disciplinary team involving faculty and students from the department of Computer Science & Engineering in Storrs and the departments of Neuroscience and Molecular, Microbial & Structural Biology at the UConn Health Center that culminated in an online application, “Minimotif Miner” used by members of the biological research community to investigate protein function and derive novel hypotheses for the causes of human diseases.