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Virginia Bioinformatics Institute awards Transdisciplinary Team Science

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 24, 2009 – The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, in collaboration with Virginia Tech's Ph.D. program in genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology, has awarded three fellowships in support of graduate work in transdisciplinary team science.

Tian Hong, Iman Tavassoly, and Charles Weeks are the first recipients of the two-year fellowships. Hong, from Chengdu, China, completed undergraduate work at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Tavassoly is from Shiraz, Iran, and received a doctor of medicine degree from Mazandaran University of Medical Sciences in Iran, where he also completed a two-year clinical internship. Weeks, from Roanoke, Va., received a bachelor of science in biological sciences from Virginia Tech.

The Transdisciplinary Team Science Fellowship Program for the Life Sciences was developed for students interested in joining the Virginia Tech genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology Ph.D. program.

The fellowships, which are intended to connect students with accomplished researchers working in a team science environment, cover the costs of the students’ first two years in the program plus tuition and fees. Each student will complete a laboratory rotation period, which will provide an opportunity to learn more about different research areas and identify an area of interest. After completion of the first two years of study, students will be supported by a research grant from their selected mentor professor.

Transdisciplinary team science integrates discipline-specific theories, concepts, and methods into a research environment that transcends the boundaries of academic disciplines. The foundation of this approach involves collaborative teams composed of individuals from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds working together on a particular project.

Recipients of the Transdisciplinary Team Science Fellowship will be required to pursue projects at the interface of life and computational sciences as part of a transdisciplinary team. Genetics, bioinformatics, and computational biology students at Virginia Tech work closely with researchers on cutting-edge transdisciplinary science projects, helping to make transformative discoveries and find real solutions to important problems in the life sciences.

For example, students in the program have the opportunity to work with researchers to design, develop, and implement computer simulation tools to understand problems within very large complex systems, such as how pandemic influenza spreads through large populations.

Even just entering the program, the newest students in the program are beginning to develop their research areas of interest. Weeks is interested in human and statistical genetics, while Hong would like to focus on the construction of accurate models of biological cells. Tavassoly’s research interests involve the modeling dynamics of complex biological networks.

“I strongly believe that systems biology, as a transdisciplinary team science, will play an important role in the practice of medicine in very near future,” Tavassoly explained. “One of my main research interests is the study of regulatory networks related to complex diseases such as cancer and autoimmune diseases. A systems approach to these problems requires, in addition to a deep understanding of biology and medicine, the ability to use engineering and computational methods to develop new measurements and models. I think that systems biology will change the course of medicine in the near future by providing an integrative and systems level understanding of complex mechanisms leading to diseases.”

“By awarding these fellowships, Virginia Tech is clearly demonstrating its commitment to transdisciplinary research and education,” said Virginia Bioinformatics Institute Professor and Deputy Director of Education and Outreach Reinhard Laubenbacher. "Our research programs at [the institute], as well as others on the university’s campus, give students the opportunity to work with talented researchers on projects that will make a difference in the world. Allocations such as the Transdisciplinary Team Science Fellowships help make this work possible and allow us to prepare the next generation of transdisciplinary researchers."