- Feature Stories
- News Flash
- Inspire Innovation
Discovering the Molecular Secrets of Disease
By: Lauren Ward
Computer algorithms—including some once used to sort out the stars—are revealing the secrets of the new “universe” unlocked by the Human Genome Project.
Leading this exciting new search are interdisciplinary teams of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.
Because of the Human Genome Project, the computer has joined the laboratory beaker in the hunt for cures to diseases like cancer, stroke and heart disease. That shift is moving Carnegie Mellon, with its unparalleled computer science program, to the forefront of biomedical research.
That’s because researchers now need to make sense of a “universe” of 25,000 separate genes, up to 300,000 different proteins and the countless ways our cells communicate with one other.
So Carnegie Mellon scientists are designing computational programs to decipher our biology. In simplest terms, computational biology is an interdisciplinary field that discovers and uses computer programs, better known as algorithms, to understand biological processes. At Carnegie Mellon, teams of scientists have turned powerful algorithms initially used to probe the cosmos into sophisticated laboratory tools.
They’re also using algorithms developed in linguistics to unravel the mysteries of gene expression. And they’re inventing many other computational methods that should speed biomedical research and drug discovery.
“One of the major challenges and opportunities in the post-genomic era is combining expertise from computer science and biology to answer questions that could not even be envisaged just a few years ago,” said Professor Robert Murphy, Ph.D., director of the Merck Computational Biology and Chemistry Program.
Carnegie Mellon has the assets to answer these questions. A top-ranking institution in computer science, it continues to increase its portfolio of research grants, recruit talented faculty and build on a 15-year experience in educating computational biologists.