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Lowell--So much information. So much potential for medical breakthroughs. And so few people to do anything about it.
Bioinformatics-the application of computer science to the life sciences-is a new discipline. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies need many more bioinformaticians-scientists with the skill sets needed to interpret the mind-boggling reams of data from the human genome and other huge datasets.
UMass Lowell has stepped into this hybrid area with a robust and exciting academic concentration in bioinformatics and cheminformatics. The program, which opened officially in fall of 2002, already has 65 student majors, from bachelor's to doctoral candidates. UMass Lowell's is the only bioinformatics program at a public university or college in Massachusetts.
The program engages four departments and a multi-disciplinary group of 20 full time faculty in Computer Science, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology.
"Our approach is uniquely strong in computer science," explains Computer Science Prof. Georges Grinstein. "Our graduates have done more than learn to use the tools-they can design the next-generation software that's going to be needed for data mining and visualization."
Grinstein will make a presentation at the BioIT World Conference and Expo in Boston, March 25-27, and UMass Lowell will have a booth at the conference.
The UMass Lowell program is also unique in offering a bachelor's level program, along with the master's and doctorate, so that undergraduate computer science students can "speak the language" of genome biology and cheminformatics, while biology or chemistry majors can develop computer applications.
The program has a strong research component. UMass Lowell has established a corporate collaborative research program for key companies in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and healthcare industries to capitalize on the expertise and experience of both faculty and students. Already, intellectual property developed by faculty led to the formation of AnVil Informatics, located in Burlington. AnVil provides in silico drug discovery and drug development solutions to life sciences companies.
Job opportunities are continuing to grow and Grinstein is infectious in his enthusiasm: "We are so ahead-our students could have a real impact in pharmaceutical companies, an immense impact on the region and ultimately on health in the world."