UD bioinformatics director is recognized among top researchers in her field

Cathy Wu already had a doctoral degree (in plant pathology) when she decided to return to school for a master’s in computer science in 1987.

Three decades later, she is a leading authority in bioinformatics, the use of computing to make sense of biological data. This year alone, Wu, the Unidel Edward G. Jefferson Chair in Engineering and Computer Science and the director of the Center for Bioinformatics & Computational Biology (CBCB) at the University of Delaware, has been recognized with several honors.

A seat at an influential table

Wu recently began serving on the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council of the National Institutes of Health. This council has 17 appointed members selected from leaders in biological and medical sciences, education, health care and public affairs.

As a member of this council, Wu has an opportunity to help reduce barriers between basic research and clinical research. By identifying emerging areas and technologies, the council can help to push them forward.

“This is an important responsibility,” said Wu. “The council serves as a bridge to communicate the ideas, thoughts, potential concerns from scientists to the funding agencies.”

This council performs a second level of peer review for grant applications to NIH. Members also advise the NIH on policy, programming, and other matters, endorsing promising concepts through a process called “concept clearance.”

As a member of the council, Wu will attend meetings at least three times a year over a four-year appointment.

She brings a unique perspective as the only bioinformatics expert and the only Delawarean on the roster.

This council administers the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which promotes health-related research at institutions in 23 historically underrepresented states and Puerto Rico — and Delaware is one of them.

“Since I’m coming from an IDeA state, I get to voice the importance of this program for those states,” she said.

New society statuses

In November, Wu was named a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery(ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.

No more than 10 percent of ACM members worldwide are Distinguished Members, and Wu is one of just 43 people selected for the honor this year.

Distinguished Members are chosen for outstanding contributions to the field of computing and information technology. This includes at least 15 years of professional experience and significant achievements in computing.

Wu is being recognized for scientific contributions to computing. She is a pioneer in biological text mining, biological ontology, computational systems biology, protein structure-function-network analysis and bioinformatics cyberinfrastructure. She is also the director of the Protein Information Resource (PIR), and a professor of computer and information sciences and also of biological sciences.

“It really is team science,” Wu said. “I am so lucky to work with best team and collaborators at all different levels, including students.”

She joins UD faculty members Lori Pollock, Alumni Distinguished Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, and Michela Taufer, a professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, who were named Distinguished Members of ACM in 2010 and 2015, respectively.

In September, Wu was named Senior Member of IEEE, a status conferred upon fewer than 9 percent of the organization’s members. (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers uses IEEE only in its charter and in legal documents.) To be considered, professionals must have at least 10 years of experience and must have shown significant performance over the last five years.

Another spot on a coveted list

Wu has been recognized in part because her research is so influential. She has published some 250 peer-reviewed papers, with over 26,000 citations. Her work has an h-index of 53, and an i10-index of 147 based on Google Scholar.

She was recently named to the Clarivate Analytics 2017 Highly Cited Researchers List, which recognizes the most impactful researchers whose research rank among the top 1% most cited works as determined by citations on Web of Science. This is the fourth time in a row that she has earned this honor.

About Cathy Wu

Cathy Wu has led or co-led several large multi-institutional consortium grant projects funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

In 2002, she co-founded the international UniProt Consortium project, which has become a central hub for protein sequence and function. She has given over 160 invited presentations to universities, companies and conferences.

Wu joined the UD faculty in 2009. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in plant pathology at Purdue University and later completed a master’s in computer science at the University of Texas–Tyler.