Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh Offer Joint Doctorate in Computational Biology-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh Offer Joint Doctorate in Computational Biology

PITTSBURGH - To meet the growing need for computational biologists, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University are launching a joint doctoral program in this emerging field.

The availability of genome databases and the development of new biological data collection approaches have created the need for a new generation of researchers. These scientists will develop and use advanced computational and theoretical approaches to analyze and integrate a rapidly increasing amount of biological data.

"The program will be a truly joint effort of the two universities, with roughly equal numbers of faculty and students participating from both campuses," said Mark Kamlet, provost and senior vice president, Carnegie Mellon. "We are especially pleased to have Ivet Bahar and Robert Murphy as codirectors of this program since both have played major leadership roles in building computational biology at the two universities."

"The opportunities now afforded to computational biology graduate students in Pittsburgh will be virtually unmatched, given the very substantial and complementary strengths of the two universities as well as the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center. Drs. Murphy and Bahar are to be congratulated for having conceived of this cutting-edge program and enlisted diverse communities in this cross-institutional effort - an effort of particular value given the rapid emergence of computational biology as critical to modern drug discovery, vaccine development, and to our general knowledge of the mechanisms underlying virtually all diseases and disorders of man," said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, Health Sciences, and dean, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh.

Increased funding by government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and expanded employment opportunities in the biopharmaceutical and computer industries are compelling reasons to establish the program, according to the co-directors.

"There is an important unmet demand for Ph.D.-level computational biologists, and we are in a position to train the next generation of leaders in this field," said Murphy, professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon. "Future leaders in computational biology need a strong foundation in both biomedical and computational sciences that they can draw on, both to recognize important new computational problems in biology and to apply state-of-the-art computational methods to solve them."

"By training this new generation of scientists, we can be assured of making significant contributions to ongoing and future efforts in molecular and cell biology research. Not only will our doctoral students have the opportunity to take advanced courses at both universities, but they also will work side by side with leading computational biologists and their clinical collaborators on solving current complex problems in biological sciences or identifying more rational approaches to the development of new drug targets and vaccines," said Ivet Bahar, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the department of computational biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Students at Carnegie Mellon will be supported in part by a $470,000 gift from the DSF Charitable Foundation, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has made a financial commitment to support students.

The new program leverages the recognized leadership in biomedical research and computer science at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, and it's expected to reach a steady enrollment of 50 students working in research groups that cross disciplines, departments and schools at both universities. The program has accepted a small number of students to begin in fall 2005 and spring 2006 and will accept its first full class in fall 2006.

Computational biology encompasses a broad set of activities, including molecular modeling, image interpretation, studies of protein interactions and large-scale analysis of genome/proteome data. The field has evolved to analyze and relate the ever-increasing amount of biomedical data generated by high-throughput methods.

"Computational biology research has already significantly improved our understanding of the machinery of biomolecules," Bahar noted. "Computational biology has also provided insights of the molecular basis of cellular events."

"Biomedical researchers are learning that protein networks are so large and complex that only computational analysis can reveal the often subtle changes that cause or contribute to disease," said Murphy, who also is director of the Center for Bioimage Informatics and a member of the Center for Automated Learning and Discovery at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science.

Students may choose among five tracks within the new program: Computational Genomics, Computational Structural Biology, Cellular and Systems Modeling, Bioimage Informatics and Computational Neuroscience.

The program co-directors expect it to be among the elite programs in the field, given the number of prominent faculty at both institutions and the breadth and depth of their research activities. Since 1987, Carnegie Mellon has offered a formal undergraduate degree program in computational biology. In 1999, it began offering a master's degree in the field. Until now, doctoral students with a focus in computational biology have entered Biological Sciences, Computer Science or a related department. Last year, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine established the Department of Computational Biology, making it one of the first U.S. schools of medicine to assign the discipline the same status as more traditional clinical and basic science departments. The department evolved from the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, which was founded in 2000.

By: Lauren Ward