Jeffrey Chang, PhD

  • Recruited to: The University of Texas Health Science Center Houston
  • Recruited from: Duke University
  • Award: First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member

Dr. Jeffrey Chang inherited his passion for science from his father, a chemist, and his love of numbers from his mother, an accountant. While growing up in Houston, Dr. Chang alternated between two disciplines. In high school, he devoted one summer at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston to a computationally focused biomedical engineering study (with Dr. Rita Patterson), and the next one performing experiments in genetics (with Dr. Rolf Konig). At the time, it was difficult to combine both. But science was moving quickly. In the 90's, automation and computation transformed biology into an information science. To capitalize on this evolution, Dr. Chang left for Stanford University where joined the lab of Dr. Russ Altman, a pioneer in Bioinformatics. There, Dr. Chang developed statistical approaches to predict three-dimensional protein structures, culminating in a senior thesis in the Biological Sciences program. Stanford turned out to be the right place at the right time for Dr. Chang to get a head start on a developing field.

Then, after a brief stint in a startup company developing Bioinformatics software, Dr. Chang returned to Stanford to pursue a doctorate in Biomedical Informatics, again working with Dr. Altman. There, he refined his computational skills and developed machine learning methods to mine text for genes that affect clinical responses to drugs. Although this information was available as free text, it was scattered across millions of free text articles and difficult to aggregate. To address this, Dr. Chang developed novel computational approaches to curate them into computerized databases that could be interrogated and analyzed for novel genetic associations.

At this point, Dr. Chang expanded his interests. Having developed a strong computational background, he wanted a new challenge that would have a more direct impact on human health. Dr. Chang therefore sought out Dr. Joseph Nevins at Duke University who was initiating a genomics-based investigation of cancer. In collaboration with Dr. Mike West, Dr. Nevins had invented a novel approach to predict the activation of the pathways that lead to cancer using microarray data. During his time in the Nevins lab Dr. Chang took the critical next step forward by developing a strategy to further dissect those pathways into individual units of activity. Thee studies revealed for the first time the full extent of the complexity of Ras signaling, which is a key player in driving cell growth in cancer. Duke provided a rare environment that made the most of Dr. Chang’s experience in computation, while also solidifying his experimental background. Thus, for the second time, Dr. Chang landed in the right place at the right time.

Now, Dr. Chang will join the faculty of the Integrative Biology and Pharmacology (IBP) Department in The University of Texas Medical School where he will launch his independent research program. This program will use genomics to investigate how the activities of defined signaling pathways both lead to cancer and confound currently available treatments. With the strengths of IBP in cell signaling, as well as the rich environment for genomics and translational medicine that now flourishes in the Texas Medical Center, Dr. Chang is confident that, for the third time, he has found the right place. Dr. Chang is delighted and excited to bring his science full circle back home to Texas.