This article is published in the March 2022 issue.

Mona Singh: Cracking the Code for Cancer

Mona Singh

Mona Singh, CCC Council Member and Professor of Computer Science and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University was featured on the Princeton University website for her work in combining biology and computer science to combat cancer.

In high school, Singh had been interested in matters of biology and medicine but her passions belonged to math and computer science. Eventually, she joined a biophysics lab, where she applied the computer science skills she’d learned to automate data collection for the lab. 

“I think that experience planted the seeds for using computer science in molecular biology,” she said. “I really loved the methods of computer science and thinking about things analytically, so it was really exciting to be able to bring what I’m good at to a topic that I thought was really fascinating.”

That experience sparked her multidisciplinary career in computational biology. She went on to earn degrees from Harvard and then her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During her time at MIT, the Human Genome Project was ramping up which furthered her interest in the field.  

She joined Princeton University in 1999,  and started working in cancer genomics when she realized her work in protein interactions could greatly impact the study of cancer. She analyzed cancer genomes using computational tactics in an attempt to uncover cancer-driver genes (genes with specific mutations that are related to cancer initiation or progression). 

“Someone with lung cancer may have hundreds or even thousands of mutations within their protein sequences, but only a handful are really relevant for disease,” Singh said. “There’s a whole area in cancer genomics and computational biology that is trying to pinpoint what those important mutations are. We know that the cancer that every person has is like their own individual version of cancer, and the idea is that if there’s a drug that treats the specific mutation that they have, then they can avoid chemotherapy and get a tailored treatment that targets those potential disease-driving genes instead.”

A new video “Dare to Venture” shows how Singh combines computer science and biology in her studies.