Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh receive educational grant from HHMI

11/22/05

PITTSBURGH--Carnegie Mellon University, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, has received a prestigious grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to support the development of an interdisciplinary joint doctoral program in computational biology.

The $1 million grant, one of only 10 awarded from a competition of 132 applicants nationwide, will support the new Ph.D. program in Computational Biology that was established jointly by the two universities last year (see www.cmu.edu/PR/releases05/050902_doctorate.html). The primary focus will be on curriculum development, emphasizing the development of a new laboratory course for computational biologists and the creation of expanded course offerings in bioimage informatics and computational structural biology.

"HHMI is partnering with the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) to ensure sustaining support as well as start-up funds for the new programs," according to an HHMI press release issued on November 22. "Following a second competition to ensure that the HHMI-funded recipients achieved their original goals, the NIBIB--committed to integrating the physical and life sciences--will support the second phase of this program, which is aimed at sustaining interdisciplinary graduate education."

"The HHMI-NIBIB partnership capitalizes on the special strengths of each organization," said HHMI President Thomas R. Cech. "HHMI can provide flexible support to catalyze development of new interdisciplinary programs, and the NIBIB will sustain these and related programs once they are developed, as NIH does so well with traditional training grants."

During the first three years, Carnegie Mellon will be the lead institution under the HHMI grant, and then Pitt will be the lead institution during the latter five years under NIBIB funding.

"The HHMI award will make a critical contribution to the development of our joint program," said Mark Kamlet, provost and senior vice president, Carnegie Mellon. "Our partnership brings together the universities' world-class strengths in computer science and biomedical research to create a truly interdisciplinary program in computational biology, a field central to the future of biomedical research."

"This comprehensive, inter-university doctoral program represents an exciting opportunity to enhance the collaborative activities and research between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon and to offer talented students a unique educational experience," said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "I am very happy that HHMI has chosen our program as one of only 10 in the nation that meets its exceptionally high standards."

In May 2005, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, led by professors Ivet Bahar, Ph.D., chair of the department of computational biology at the University of Pittsburgh, and Robert Murphy, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon and program director for the HHMI grant, created a joint doctoral program in computational biology to meet the growing need for graduate-level training in this field. The program enrolled a small number of students in fall 2005 and will accept its first full class in fall 2006. A set of core courses will provide students with a common background in fundamental concepts and methods of computational biology. Advanced courses will allow them to obtain intensive training in computational genomics, computational structural biology, systems modeling, bioimage informatics and computational neuroscience.

"There is an important unmet demand for Ph.D.-level computational biologists, and our extensive experience in computational biology education and research at both universities puts us in a position to train the next generation of leaders in this field," said Murphy.

"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 and basic research collaborators on solving current complex problems in biological sciences or identifying more rational approaches to the development of new drug targets and vaccines," said Bahar, who is co-program director.

The new program leverages the recognized leadership in biomedical research and computer science at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. 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.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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