Visitor of the Week: Brunilda Balliu


Meet Brunilda “Bruna” Balliu of the Stanford University School of Medicine. The Albanian-Greek national is a postdoctoral fellow in Stephen Montgomery’s lab in the Department of Pathology. Bruna returned to campus for The Biology of Genomes meeting where she presented a poster entitled “Longitudinal study of gene expression and regulation during a critical period of the aging process”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am a biostatistician by training and my research interests focus on the development of novel statistical methods for high-dimensional genomic data. Scientifically, I am interested
in aging and am currently profiling changes in transcription regulation that occur during advanced aging in humans.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
After finishing my PhD, I wanted to extend my statistical background into translational genomics research that more directly impact human health. I am fortunate that my postdoctoral advisor, Stephen Montgomery is involved in numerous collaborations because there were plenty of potential projects to select from when I joined his lab. The project on aging jumped out at me for several reasons. First, aging in an undeniably interesting subject. Second, we had access to a first-of-its-kind data set of functional genomics from individuals in their seventies, eighties, and eventually from those in their nineties. Finally, I have a standing interest in statistical methods for longitudinal data. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I did my undergraduate studies in Statistics in Athens, Greece, when the country’s financial crisis began. As I approached graduation, I started looking for a Masters in Finance program but, thankfully, my professors encouraged me to also look for PhD positions in biostatistics. I took the PhD route and the rest is history! 

Was there something specific about The Biology of Genomes meeting that drew you to attend?
This meeting is world-renowned for excellent talks presented by leaders in the field and on their latest work. Since this is a new area for me, I was very excited to attend and gain a broader view of what my colleagues are working on. 

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
In the past few years, there has been huge progress in both sequencing technology and computational capacities that has allowed researchers to move from observational to large-scale interventional studies. I was impressed by the number of talks presented here based on experiments across multiple species, cell types, environmental conditions etc.     

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
It’s a great place to network since the structure of the meeting encourages people to interact. I’m going back home full of ideas. After seeing Julien Ayroles and Amanda Lea's work on the impact of genetic and environmental perturbations on molecular co-regulation, and talking to Julien, I’m excited about extending my work to understand the impact of aging on gene-gene interactions in humans. 

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This is one of the busiest meetings you will ever attend so get some sleep the week before and leave some room to recover afterwards.

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is my second meeting here. I attended the Probabilistic Modeling in Genomics in 2015 and will be attending that same meeting this November.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
It's definitely the conversations. This meeting gives you a lot of time for discussions, and that is a key component of a successful meeting for me. 

Thank you to Bruna for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Photograph provided by Bruna Baillau