OWU in the News

OWU Alumnus Co-Author of New ‘Nature Genetics’ Article

August 29, 2016 – by Ohio Wesleyan University

Evan Bai '11 is the co-author of a new article in Nature Genetics on brain tumors. Bai, Ph.D., is working as a research scientist in Boston. (Photo courtesy of Evan Bai)

Ohio Wesleyan University graduate, Evan Bai, Ph.D., is the co-author of a new article in Nature Genetics that examines a common type brain tumor and its causes.

Bai, OWU Class of 2011, earned his doctorate in genetics from Yale University in May. He now serves as a research scientist for Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., where his work supports the discovery of new treatments for cancer, cystic fibrosis, and other diseases.

The Nature Genetics article, published Aug. 22, examines brain meningeal tumors, or meningiomas, which are the most common intracranial tumors.

“Using a variety of genomics techniques,” Bai said, “my colleagues and I discovered mutations that define a distinct subset of the meningiomas.

“Surprisingly, these tumor-causing mutations occurred in RNA polymerase II, a gene that is essential to all life,” Bai continued. “Specifically, RNA polymerase is crucial for making RNA molecules from DNA, a process that decodes all genetic information in order to make proteins. Given its essential function, no mutations in RNA polymerase II have ever been previously reported in human disease. The findings in meningioma, where such fundamental biological process is high jacked to drive the formation of brain tumors, are, therefore, extremely surprising and fascinating.

“In addition to challenging our understand of a basic biological process,” Bai concluded, “this research also lays the foundation for personalized, precision medicine approach of treating meningiomas that are resistant to conventional therapies.”

Read more about the research in a Nature Genetics preview of the article, “Recurrent somatic mutations in POLR2A define a distinct subset of meningiomas.”

At Yale, Bai earned the Carolyn Slayman Prize in Genetics in recognition of his dissertation, which focused on understanding how relatively benign brain tumors progress to malignancy.

In awarding the prize to Bai, Yale officials said: “This work helps elucidate the mechanisms of brain tumor recurrence and provides an important basis to understand and cure in the future this devastating disease.”  He was the first author on an article published about this research in Nature Genetics in November 2015. (Read more below.)

Originally published on December 9, 2015

OWU Graduate Publishes Cancer Research in ‘Nature Genetics’

Evan Bai ’11 Identifies How Benign Brain Tumors Become Malignant

Ohio Wesleyan University alumnus Evan Bai, Class of 2011, now pursuing his doctorate at Yale University, has published his first authored article in Nature Genetics, widely considered the most prestigious research journal in genetics.

Bai’s research answers the question: “How do benign brain tumors become malignant?” Specifically, Bai says, he studied gliomas, the most common cancerous brain tumors.

“Using a comprehensive genomics approach,” he says, “I discovered the genetic mechanisms underlying the benign-to-malignant tumor transformation. In addition, in collaboration with Gilead Sciences, I also identified a potential therapeutic approach.”

Bai, a biochemistry and genetics double major at OWU, says his Ohio Wesleyan experience prepared him well for his current work.

“Without the hands-on research experience and rigorous coursework I had at OWU,” he says, “I could not have accomplished any of this. For that, I am grateful to (the botany-microbiology, zoology, and chemistry) departments; my mentor Dr. Chris Wolverton; and the Summer Student Research Program.”

While at Ohio Wesleyan, Bai collaborated with Wolverton and other students to co-author research published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Botany. Bai also was selected as an OWU student to give an oral and poster presentation at the international meeting of American Society of Plant Biologists in 2009. Of the nearly 1,000 abstracts submitted, only 120 were selected for oral presentations.

Bai’s new Nature Genetics article has received media attention both nationally and internationally, including Germany and, especially, Turkey, where Bai’s research advisor, Murat Gunel, M.D., a neurovascular surgeon, has been interviewed by multiple news outlets.