Assistant professor wins award from National Institute of Health


Stephanie Kim/Observer

Rong Xu, assistant professor at the CWRU School of Medicine, recently received an award for her research on the beneficial side effects of drugs.

Adithi Iyengar, Staff Reporter

After the National Institute of Health review panel voted unanimously on her research proposal, Rong Xu, assistant professor of medical informatics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, received one of the Director’s New Innovator Awards.

Xu is studying the side effects of approximately 6,000 drugs currently on the market. In her analysis, Xu will figure out which drugs had unknown, surprise benefits to users, outside of just their planned usages.

Examples of drugs with these additional benefits include Viagra and aspirin. Viagra was initially created to handle male erectile dysfunction, but recent findings have shown that it can be used to reduce hypertension and high blood pressure. Aspirin, which is used to handle headaches and other types of pain, can also be used to prevent heart disease and colon cancer.

Xu will amass the 22 million articles that have been published about the drugs, finding their expected outcomes, surprise benefits and adverse side effects. She will then use complex computing and artificial intelligence to match the drugs to the over 10,000 diseases that they have the potential to provide relief for.

“I propose to develop innovative computational algorithms to find surprising and unexpected links between diseases and drugs on market,” Xu said. “In other words, how to reuse or repurpose existing drugs to treat different diseases.”

“In general, biomedical questions are difficult because we still don’t know much about disease biology and drug actions yet,” she added.

Xu is the fourth person from CWRU to win the award. She will receive $2.38 million for five years to begin her study.

“It’s comforting to know that my ideas aren’t totally crazy,” Xu said. “This grant helps me to test many innovative algorithms for different diseases and drugs.”