Dr Dennis Wang

Associate Professor in Genomic Medicine and Machine Learning at the University of Sheffield

Connection to the Academy: Academy Springboard grant awardee (2018), Presenter at Academy events (2019), part of the Academy mentoring programme (2020)

Talk us through how you've navigated between academia and industry

I started out in computer science, then did a PhD in biostatistics and worked at medical research agencies and hospital genomics labs. Then I moved into industry, joining AstraZeneca’s drug development team and collaborating with Microsoft Research. Now I’m back fully embedded in academia as an Associate Professor at the University of Sheffield.

I have done blue sky research in industry and commercial work in academia. Focus not on the setting, but instead on the type of work you will be doing and who you are working with.

I helped coordinate the largest data release of how drugs work in combinations from a pharmaceutical company.

How did the Academy support your research?

My team uses machine learning algorithms and statistical models to integrate data across genomics and patient records. This machine learning can connect patients based on commonalities, link different diseases together and ultimately predict disease outcomes.

The Academy’s Springboard award gave me freedom to develop my research. It allowed me to hire a postdoc to focus on the bigger and more general questions surrounding personalised medicine, instead of hiring someone who must produce specific deliverables for a clinical project.

On top of that, the Academy’s vast and interdisciplinary network is exactly what I need for my computational work to have an impact on the medical sciences.

Watch this powerful short talk, ‘Saving lives with Super Mario Bros’, to learn how Dr Wang is using technology from social networks and dating apps to connect patients together across diseases.  


“My grandma, who raised me, passed away from a heart attack after battling late-stage colorectal cancer. One in ten cancer patients die because of problems with their cardiovascular system, and 90% of dementia patients have another condition. My work aims to avoid treating diseases individually and instead treat the patient as a whole.

“Some of our work so far has identified predictors of survival and treatment response for people with non-small cell lung cancer, discovered immune system changes that connect heart disease, lung cancer and dementia, and developed computer models of kinase signalling pathways that researchers can run to test how drugs work and so potentially save many animals and patients from being tested with ineffective drugs.”

I believe the intersection of personalised medicine and artificial intelligence is where we can use machines to learn from one disease and make intelligent predictions of another disease. I am currently training algorithms across cancers, neurodegenerative disease and respiratory diseases to find common predictors in individuals so that a drug can possibly treat several ailments at once.

The Academy is an independent charity with no major endowments or legacy funding. Help us support more people like Dennis: visit our dedicated support us webpage .

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