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Whitehead launches computational biology fellowships program

The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research has announced a new program for computational biology, a scientific discipline regarded by researchers as critical to advancing gene research.

The Computational Biology Fellows Program at Whitehead, with funding and scientific support from Pfizer Central Research, will begin with two Fellows who will conduct independent research at the interface of biology, computer science and mathematics.

"The recent explosion of vast stores of biological information -- from genome sequences of organisms to gene expression data -- has revealed the critical need for highly trained computational biologists in both academia and industry," said Professor of Biology Gerald R. Fink, director of Whitehead. "We are very pleased that Pfizer has joined with us to create a program to identify and train the best young researchers in this emerging field."

Like the highly regarded Whitehead Fellows Program, the Pfizer Computational Biology Fellows Program will offer recent graduates from MD and PhD programs the opportunity to develop and pursue an independent research agenda for three years, with the possibility of extending the position for an additional two years. General topics of interest to the Fellows might include the correlation of gene sequence variation with human diseases, the dissection of complex protein structures relevant to drug discovery, or the assembly of regulatory circuits from gene sequence and expression information.

"The Whitehead Institute has a unique set of resources to nurture these Fellows, including first-rate molecular biologists; leaders in genomics and informatics; and ongoing collaborations with exceptional mathematicians and computer scientists at MIT," said Dr. Alan R. Proctor, vice president and head of the Pfizer Discovery Technology Center in Cambridge.

In addition to their work at Whitehead, the Pfizer Fellows will have an opportunity to explore computational biology in a corporate setting. "We are looking forward to regular interactions between the Fellows and Pfizer scientists," Dr. Proctor said. "The synergy of ideas from basic and applied science will benefit both sides." The Pfizer Discovery Technology Center serves as a focal point for networking with the local academic community in areas such as informatics, genomics, robotics and chemistry.

Each Pfizer Fellow in Computational Biology will have two Whitehead mentors, one in biology and the other in computational science. Among these mentors will be Professor Eric S. Lander, director of the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research (CGR); Dr. Jill Mesirov, CGR's associate director for informatics; Professor Peter S. Kim, a structural biologist who has made major contributions to both protein-folding research and the study of HIV entry into cells; and Professor Richard Young, who has used new microchip technologies to dissect the genetic circuitry of eukaryotic cells.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 9, 2000.

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