Dissertation Defense - Alexander Tong

Event time: 
Wednesday, August 25, 2021 - 3:00pm
Zoom Presentation See map
Event description: 

Dissertation Defense
Alexander Tong

Title: Geometric Priors for Data Driven Discovery in Biomedical Domains

Advisor: Smita Krishnaswamy

Other committee members:
James Aspnes
Ronald Coifman
Guy Wolf (U Montreal / MILA)


Recent advances in biomedical data collection allows the collection of massive datasets measuring thousands of features in thousands to millions of individual cells. This data has the potential to advance our understanding of biological mechanisms at a previously impossible resolution. However, there are few methods to understand data of this scale and type. While neural networks have made tremendous progress on supervised learning problems, there is still much work to be done in making them useful for discovery in data with more difficult to represent supervision. The flexibility and expressiveness of neural networks is sometimes a hindrance in these less supervised domains, as is the case when extracting knowledge from biomedical data. One type of prior knowledge that is more common in biological data comes in the form of geometric constraints.
In this thesis, we aim to leverage this geometric knowledge to create scalable and interpretable models to understand this data. Encoding geometric priors into neural network and graph models allows us to characterize the models’ solutions as they relate to the fields of graph signal processing and optimal transport. These links allow us to understand and interpret this datatype. We divide this work into three sections. The first borrows concepts from graph signal processing to construct more interpretable and performant neural networks by constraining and structuring the architecture. The second borrows from the theory of optimal transport to perform anomaly detection and trajectory inference efficiently and with theoretical guarantees. The third examines how to compare distributions over an underlying manifold, which can be used to understand how different perturbations or conditions relate. For this we design an efficient approximation of optimal transport based on diffusion over a joint cell graph. Together, these works utilize our prior understanding of the data geometry to create more useful models of the data. We apply these methods to molecular graphs, images, single-cell sequencing, and health record data.