CINCINNATI—The University of Cincinnati (UC) has introduced a visionary PhD program that will train tomorrow’s scientists to analyze and apply the burgeoning amounts of biological data now being provided by genetic research.
The first in the Midwest, the new doctorate in systems biology and physiology will take science education into “the post-genomic era,” says program director Nelson Horseman, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology.
“Genetic scientists are delivering more and more information,” says Horseman. “Our job is to understand how it works in the context of complex biological systems, and ultimately the human body.
“Knowing the human genome is like knowing the thousands of components of an automobile,” he explains. “You have to understand how they’re connected, and how they affect each other. It’s not enough just to know you have a gas pedal—you have to know its effect on the engine.
“In science we might know the genetics, but if that’s all we know, we’ll miss something surprising about how systems function—until we analyze them.”
The goal of the systems biology and physiology PhD program, Horseman says, is to combine the latest research tools, “all essentially driven by a vast amount of computer power,” and bring them to bear on the questions scientists are asking.
The tools—which include DNA sequencing, data base research, gene expression profiling, high-throughput biological assay and multiphoton microscopy—are available in a number of different UC labs.
The physical sciences have always been more quantitative, formal and theoretical in their approach to knowledge, Horseman says. The biological sciences, on the other hand, have been more descriptive.
“With this new PhD program we’re moving the biological sciences to the same level the physical sciences have been on for 100 years,” he says.
“Our vision of the future of biology and technology is that it will be like the current relationship between physics and engineering, but we want to achieve that in less than 100 years!”
UC’s systems biology and physiology doctoral program, which has just begun accepting students, is believed to be one of only half a dozen in the country. Similar programs have been established at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, the University California at San Francisco, Cornell, Drexel and the University of Maryland.
Based in the molecular and cell physiology department at the Academic Health Center, the program will also expose doctoral candidates to techniques and research in UC’s colleges of medicine, pharmacy and engineering. Over 50 faculty members in these departments will participate in training.
For more information on the program, log on to www.med.uc.edu/sbp, call coordinator Bette Young at (513) 558-2536 or e-mail email@example.com.