Biomedical engineering student Kevin McCoy is well on his way to his dream of a career in biomedical research. As he prepares for graduation in May, McCoy already has co-authored five journal articles related to his work in Assistant Professor Cassie Mitchell’s lab, with more in the pipeline.
Now, Georgia Tech’s research honor society has recognized McCoy as one of the Institute’s top student researchers with the 2022 Sigma Xi Undergraduate Researcher Award. It’s a highly competitive honor, given the volume and quality of research on campus, and it goes to just two students.
“Over my four years at Tech, I have met many amazing student researchers both inside and outside of Dr. Mitchell’s lab, so I am very humbled,” McCoy said. “Working in the lab has been an amazing experience — Dr. Mitchell puts so much trust in her undergraduate students and is a very supportive and knowledgeable mentor.”
McCoy’s work has focused on using statistics and computer science principles to uncover hidden linkages in published biomedical studies — like significant relationships, possible treatments, and underlying mechanisms of disease that can offer researchers and clinicians new ideas to pursue. His projects have focused on Covid-19 and, more recently, cardiovascular disease (including its relationship to Covid).
Last year, McCoy was co-first author on a paper in Pharmaceutics that used a machine learning technique called link prediction to mine biomedical literature for useful insights into Covid-19. The paper described how McCoy and Mitchell’s team created a knowledge graph, or network, linking symptoms, drugs, antecedent diseases, genes, proteins, and much more to Covid-19 or similar coronaviruses. The team ranked relationships with the coronavirus to find the most promising research paths, with the intent of expediting translational research. They highlighted thousands of potential repurposed drugs for further research.
“While working on these projects and writing these papers can sometimes be difficult, it has very much been a worthwhile experience,” McCoy said. “Being able to spearhead multiple projects under Dr. Mitchell’s guidance has prepared me for a lifetime of research that I don’t think would be otherwise possible.”
McCoy isn’t kidding about the lifetime of research part: He has decided to pursue his Ph.D. and a career as a researcher, perhaps in academia or in a hospital or industry lab. He recently accepted admission to Rice University’s statistics doctoral program.
For her part, Mitchell called McCoy a “generational talent” and said she could not be prouder of his accomplishments.
“The Undergraduate Research Award is incredibly difficult to get and very prestigious,” Mitchell said. “I was truly honored when I received the Sigma Xi Young Faculty Award last year, but seeing Kevin get his is somehow even more exciting.”