Meet the Researcher - Rebecca Shyu

Breakout Room: 19

RebeccaShyu_HeadshotResearcher Name: Rebecca Shyu
Title of Research: Determinants of Inequity and Liver Cancer
Division Representing: Mathematics and Computer Sciences
Institution: University of Missouri-Columbia
Institution Location: Missouri
Home State: Missouri
District Number: 4
Advisor/Mentor: Iris Zachary
Funding Source: N/A

Research Experience:  
Rebecca is a junior studying Computer Science at the University of Missouri (MU). There, she is involved in three research projects in the School of Medicine and College of Engineering. One project is collaborating with the Missouri Cancer Registry, incorporating geospatial and computational methods with health data. Another project is with the Missouri Telehealth Network's Show-Me ECHO program where she analyzes access to health care within the state of Missouri. The third project, with the Computer Science department, is her honors thesis concerning improving security and privacy-preserving techniques when using and exchanging genomics data. Rebecca has also been interning with Harvard Medical School's Department of Health Care Policy, using her computer science background to better understand telemedicine efforts nationwide in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health, and opioid-use disorder. At MU, Rebecca is a Writing Center tutor, where she assists 4-6 students a week on academic pieces, personal statements, and cover letters. She also works as an Engineering Ambassador, giving speeches and guiding prospective students through the College of Engineering. Rebecca serves her community in multiple avenues. She led nationwide service and morale events as a Homecoming Director for the Alumni Association. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Central and Northern Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross. She was also appointed philanthropy chair of the board and spearheads fundraising efforts for drives and disaster relief. 

Presentation Experience: 
Rebecca has presented her research in many contexts. To academic audiences, she has presented in four professional conferences. Her first presentation took place as a poster paper submission for the IEEE BIBM International Conference in 2017, while she was in high school. She continued to advance her research, resulting in two poster presentations for her project with the Missouri Cancer Registry. One was a joint international conference by the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries and the International Association of Cancer Registries (NAACCR/IACR) in June 2019 and the other was a poster presentation at the American Public Health Association (APHA) conference in November 2019. Most recently, Rebecca presented virtually at the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) conference in November of 2020 for her work with the Missouri Telehealth Network and the Show-Me ECHO program. Alongside her professional experiences, Rebecca has presented her research to non-academic audiences as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador at the University of Missouri. She gives speeches and presents to incoming and current students, administrators, and parents about the opportunities and careers in research. She has also explained her research and its importance to Missouri legislators at fundraisers and banquets. In addition, Rebecca has spoken to various student organizations about her projects, such as the Society of Women Engineers, to promote and encourage diversity in research. 

Significance of Research:       
In the United States, liver cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), is the fastest rising cause of cancer-related death. A variety of known risk factors such as obesity, tobacco, and alcohol use contribute to this trend. Adopting the Cells-to-Society model, this study demonstrates various related common risk factors and liver cancer through contrast mining algorithms and geospatial visualization. County-level cancer data were obtained from the National Program of Cancer Registries and the National Cancer Institute and factors from the Census, CDC, and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System were classified under categories, ranging from social conditions and policies to biological responses. We assigned quartiles for both cancer and factor variables, (Q1-Q4) for each county. We used an exploratory contrast mining method to identify patterns of factors that have imbalanced prevalence between different races. The results generated showed patterns that highlighted potential determinants of inequity. Of the 440 counties with high liver cancer prevalence, over 40% were in the Q4 (largest quartile) representing non-English speakers, Social Vulnerability, and Severe Housing Problems. We further partitioned additional groups discovering patterns within subsets of counties with high cancer and large racial population percentages (both Q4). The study found that different variables appeared with certain populations, giving potential insight to determinants of inequity by an approach that looks at the problem holistically. Systemic causes are key to identifying and improving health outcomes.

Uniqueness of Research: 
Our interdisciplinary research approaches a public health question, such as cancer, through a lens that geospatially incorporates biological, behavioral, and institutional data. Our use of novel computational methods is key for understanding underlying patterns and factors to improve health outcomes for all populations and regions in the United States.