Biomedical informatics, or bioinformatics, is an umbrella term for all the biological studies that utilize computer programming as part of their methodology. It combines computer science, statistics, mathematics, and engineering to interpret biological data. Typically, bioinformatics is seen in the fields of genetics and genomics, where it aids in sequencing genomes and observing mutations. It is a rapidly growing field, due to advances in technology and computing. Bioinformatics has contributed largely to knowledge gains in personalized medicine. However, there is still much to learn about what bioinformatics can provide to clinical questions, which Mayo Clinic and UI interns are working to answer.
Over the past few summers, Illinois graduate students in statistics, computer science, and computer engineering have been expressly recruited to work with Mayo Clinic researchers and IT specialists as IT and Biomedical Informatics interns. The program, headed by Mathieu Wiepert of Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine and Illinois’ Saurabh Sinha, gives these students the chance to be part of hands-on, cutting-edge, real-time research.
Rochester, Minnesota may not be Silicon Valley, but it doesn’t seem to faze Illinois graduate students—some of whom have spent repeat summers at the top-tier clinical research campus.
One of these students, Zach Stephens, spent three summers as an IT and biomedical informatics intern, to make more connections between his education in bioinformatics and the real world data sets presented at Mayo Clinic. His main project in during the summer of 2015 was developing a tool that detects and validates complex structural variation by scoring combinations of breakpoints and untangling the genome areas by making rearrangements.
“One thing that made the project exciting was that it became an ongoing collaboration with my Mayo Clinic mentors when I returned back to UI,” said Stephens.
Likewise, Arjun Athreya will be spending an additional summer in 2016 at Mayo Clinic to continue his work in biomedical informatics to support pharmacogenomics research.
Illinois engineering professor Dr. Ravishankar Iyer is faculty advisor to both Stephens and Athreya. Iyer has worked hard to make sure the connection between his students and their mentors at Mayo Clinic continues when the summer ends. Iyer attributes his grad students’ interdisciplinary knowledge of both computing and biology to their exposure at Mayo. He says the opportunity his students are given is transformational.
“Mayo has the patient, clinical, and biological insight. We bring our strengths in engineering and computing. Combining the two, the results are remarkable,” explains Iyer