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August, 2010

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

August, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Researchers Present New Statistical Method for Genetic Analysis

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    A deeper understanding of a disease's genetic underpinnings can lead to better biological insight into the disease and, thus, to improvements in screening, treatment, and drug development. This week, Jennifer Listgarten, David Heckerman, and Carl Kadie of Microsoft Research and Eric E. Schadt of Pacific Biosciences made a significant contribution to researchers' insight into the role genetics plays in human disease. Their article, Correction for Hidden Confounders in the Genetic Analysis of Gene Expression, was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the world's most-cited multidisciplinary scientific serials.

    Their research offers a possible solution to challenges presented by the variety of confounders hidden in genetic data that lead, when improperly addressed, to both spurious and missed associations. The article presents a new statistical method that better captures the true biological signal of interest by removing interfering signals from the data. Applying the method to real and synthetic data, the paper demonstrates the need for a joint correction of two types of confounders and shows the disadvantages of other possible approaches found in the current literature. In particular, the paper demonstrates that a new class of methods has maximum detection power on synthetic data and the best performance when applied to real data, as judged by a commonly accepted bronze standard.  The software used will be available for free download.

    While the article recommends future avenues in which the method could be used, the framework can be applied today on existing data sets with SNP and gene-expression data, two of the most common types of biological data sets. In the future, I believe this new method will become even more relevant in the search for new and improved ways to manage disease. The central problem addressed by this work, of identifying which genetic markers affect the expression of specific genes, leads directly into improving analyses that aim to identify the biological processes that lead to disease. And those future discoveries of biological processes could have a direct impact on identifying the causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and many other complex diseases that affect many of us.

    -Tony Hey, corporate vice president, External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Internships: Opening the Door to the Future

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    Yusuke Sugano's enthusiasm for technology inspired him to earn a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Tokyo earlier this year, but his internships with Microsoft Research Asia were what fostered his passion for the value of collaborative relationships. 

    In March 2008, Sugano successfully completed an internship in Beijing. He then was accepted into the Microsoft Research Worldwide Internship Program, and in April 2010, he arrived at Microsoft's corporate headquarters in Redmond to work on a computer-vision project. While Sugano confirms that his technical knowledge benefited from both experiences, he says the more important lessons he has learned came from the collegial relationships he enjoyed at Microsoft Research.

    From the beginning of the internship-application process, it became apparent that relationships would play an important role in Sugano's Microsoft Research experience.

    "My focus has been on computer interaction and computer vision, both disciplines in which Microsoft Research is famous because the research is very good," he says. "But what really got me interested in the internship was meeting Yasuyuki Matsushita, lead researcher with Microsoft Research Asia, who encouraged me to apply."

    For his internship in the United States, Sugano was mentored by Zhengyou Zhang, principal researcher at Microsoft Research Redmond. Zhang, among many other peers, has shown genuine interest in Sugano that he believes has enhanced his technical development and been of great benefit to his career path.

    "I interact with professional researchers on a daily basis, and the interactions are very frank, honest, and productive," Sugano says. "The people I've met during both internships have set very high goals for their careers. As a result of meeting, working with, and learning from so many highly motivated people, I have become more motivated."

    Since beginning his U.S. internship in early April, Sugano has worked with the Communication and Collaboration Systems group on a project focused on facial images.

    "This would be very useful for a human interface that could be used in scenarios such as gaming and video conferencing," he says.

    The prospect of correctly aligning faces in videos or photographs is engaging, Sugano says, but also challenging.

    There are differences, of course, between Sugano's experiences in Asia and the United States, the most striking of which is the formality of communication in Japan compared with the more casual style employed in America. But the differences are far outweighed by the similarities.

    "Microsoft Research is global, so there's a consistency between the U.S. and Asia in terms of the work environment," he says. "Even though they're in different countries on different continents, the work experience is quite similar."

    Sugano plans to implement the knowledge he has acquired during his internships when he returns to Japan. There, he will embark on as many as four years of postdoctoral research that he hopes will provide contributions to the evolution of computer-vision technology. He says he is well-prepared for a research career as a result of his Microsoft Research internships.

    "Before I went to Microsoft Research Asia," Sugano says, "I didn't think about going abroad, but as a result of my experience in China and the U.S., I have a very positive outlook on working overseas."

    Microsoft Research offers many internship opportunities at research facilities around the world. While the majority of those interns are Ph.D. students in computer science, in related technical majors, or in social sciences with a technical focus, Microsoft Research accepts a small group of outstanding students with a proven research focus who are master's or bachelor's candidates. To learn more, please read the Microsoft Research Internship FAQ.

    - Steve Yamashiro, University Relations, Microsoft Research Asia

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