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November 24, 2004

Computational Biology Dept. set Up

Pitt’s School of Medicine has established a Department of Computational Biology, making it one of the first U.S. medical schools to assign this newer discipline the same status as more traditional clinical and basic science departments.

The department’s primary mission is the creation of efficient computational models that aim to identify more rational approaches to the understanding of human biology and disease processes, and to the development of new therapies, including drugs and vaccines.

Computational biology brings together computer science and biological science, as well as physical and mathematical sciences, by developing physically inspired computational models and methods to address key biological questions and to assist in gaining better understanding of the molecular basis of complex cellular events.

Such insight can help pinpoint the specific flaws in biomolecular structure and dynamics that are associated with genetic disorders and disease so that more effective therapies can be designed.

The department will focus on three areas of research that will become increasingly important and promising with advances in molecular biology and computational technology. These are computational structural biology, computational genomics and systems biology with applications to cell signaling and regulation.

Ivet Bahar, founding director of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (CCBB), has been named the chairperson of the new department as well as professor of computational biology. Bahar has been a professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry.

“Our goal is to focus on the structure and interactions of proteins and their complexes in cellular environments, and to build multi-scale models and theories that will permit us to simulate, understand and control biological mechanisms of action,” said Bahar. “Close coordination between experiments and computations emerges as a key requirement for accelerated progress in biomedical sciences, as the complexity of biological events becomes clear with the rapid accumulation of biological data.”

The computational biology department has seven core faculty and more than 30 associate and affiliate faculty members who collaborate on research and educational projects.

Working with other Pitt departments, as well as Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science and Mellon College of Science, Pitt is planning to establish a doctoral program in computational biology.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 37 Issue 7

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