M.S. in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics Creates New Opportunities

Amogh Ananda Rao wanted to make a lasting difference through research, but as a physician, he didn’t feel he had the skills he needed to properly conduct the research that he felt would help him potentially change the field of medicine. To develop those skills, he registered for the first cohort in Carnegie Mellon University’sá M.S. in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics (MS-QBB) program.

"I realized CMU is where I need to be because I had a biology background, but I needed to learn programming and machine learning," said Ananda Rao , who graduated from the MS-QBB in December 2023. "CMU is No. 1 in computer science and artificial intelligence, so that is how I ended up here."

The program offers students with biology backgrounds opportunities to learn computational skills applicable to future careers in bioinformatics and quantitative biological sciences. The program, run through the Mellon College of Science’sá Department of Biological Sciences , allows students to choose a 2-or 3-semester option.

D.J. Braiser , associate teaching professor and assistant department head for graduate affairs of biological sciences, advises MS-QBB students. He said so far, all the students have chosen the 3-semester schedule.

"In that time, we provide students with extra in-depth training in some of the skills that they’re developing as well as giving them more flexibility in terms of elective options," Brasier said. "It also provides students with the opportunity to do an internship or research over the summer."

Ananda Rao conducted summer research that tied his medical school training with his newly acquired skills in quantitative biology and bioinformatics. He worked with Rema Padman , the Trustees Professor of Management Science and Healthcare Informatics in CMU’s Heinz College of Information and Public Policy, to create a program that can suggest medications to a physician based on what other medications a patient is currently taking. This program allows physicians to double-check their prescriptions to ensure that they are not missing any medications that might benefit a patient.

"The most common prescribing error that physicians make in the U.S. is missing a medication, so it’s a very important problem to address," Ananda Rao said. "I built a recommendation system as to which ones are the most probable missing medications from a patient’s prescription similar to how YouTube learns our tastes and videos and music and Netflix generally recommends these movies that you’re likely to be interested in."

Ananda Rao has continued his work with Padman since graduation. He plans to pursue a Ph.D. in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania so he can further develop tools that will improve diagnosis and prescription.

Tina Ryu, a current MS-QBB student, also has taken advantage of the research opportunities the program provides. She works withá Zheng Kuang , assistant professor of biological sciences, investigating how the circadian rhythm is affected by gut microbiota, the ecosystem of beneficial bacteria that lives in the intestines. She focuses on three gene regulators in the intestine.

"The circadian rhythm is really important for immune function and metabolism," Ryu said. "Understanding the mechanisms behind the microbiota and the circadian rhythm can help us understand how we can treat diseases that are related to immunity and metabolism."

Before starting the MS-QBB, Ryu completed a postbaccalaureate fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, investigating compounds to support drug discovery research for medicines. She said she believes that the MS-QBB will allow her to pursue a career in computational research.

"I saw that the QBB program was specifically made for people who didn’t have a strong background in computation but were interested in doing bioinformatics. I thought it would be perfect for me to develop computational skills while also doing biological work and research," Ryu said.

Brasier said that he is happy to see the success of the first two classes of students, and he looks forward to the future of the program.

"What sets this program apart is that it provides students with this collaborative opportunity to ask and answer questions independently or in groups," Brasier said. "Students are given a lot of flexibility and a collaborative group experience that is driven by scientific questions and go beyond the core skills that are in data analysis."

Related programs

The M.S. in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics is one way Carnegie Mellon is training students to use machine learning, big data and imaging techniques to enable scientists to ask questions in new ways.

Students considering the MS-QBB program also may want to explore the following master’s programs at Carnegie Mellon:

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