Technology Meets Mother Nature

Student at microscope

Studies such as the Human Genome Project have increased worldwide interest in new interdisciplinary fields, such as bioinformatics and computational biology. This interest acted as a catalyst for the creation of TU’s Institute of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (IBCB) under the guidance of Computer Science Professor John Hale. Contributing programs include faculty and students from the Departments of Mathematics, Computer Science, Biological Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Electrical Engineering.

“The Institute will focus on strategic research areas – neuroinformatics, computational biology and immunology, phylogenetics – to maximize its impact in the field,” says Hale. “In addition, the group will foster partnerships with industry, medical and academic centers to synergize complementary competencies.”

The Warren Foundation has pledged funds to TU’s Bioinformatics Institute for the creation of an endowed chair in Bioinformatics at TU and $135,000 per year for five years to support faculty and students on research projects addressing topics related to neuroinformatics. This project will be conducted in collaboration with scientists and clinicians from Laureate Psychiatric Hospital and the OU Health Sciences Center.

While IBCB remains an active participant in bioinformatics research, it also serves as a vital educational resource for students. IBCB faculty members actively recruit students to assist with ongoing research projects and curriculum opportunities, currently supporting six graduate student researchers in the Institute laboratory.

Each IBCB student is given a solid foundation in the statistical and scientific techniques relevant to bioinformatics research, with the ability to develop and apply these techniques during active research. Attention is also paid to the commercial implications for this new technology in biotechnology and healthcare industries, as well as the ethical issues students may encounter during the course of their professional careers in the field.

Embracing TU’s emphasis on community involvement and service, IBCB seeks to integrate a service component into its educational and research goals. The Institute is currently looking into developing a partnership for the purposes of integrating information technology with regional emergency medical treatment services. IBCB students are also working with the Tulsa Fire Department to help provide quality assurance reporting for first response events. Partnerships such as this help enhance local healthcare services while simultaneously offering students an opportunity to apply bioinformatics technology to real-world situations.