The Rice University NLM Training Program (NLMTP) in Biomedical Informatics and Data Science has been awarded a $4.16 million grant by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The grant represents a seventh renewal of support for a program that began more than 30 years ago to promote multidisciplinary training between researchers in computational and biological sciences.
The multidisciplinary and multi-institutional grant, awarded after a competitive review process, will support eight Ph.D. students and five postdoctoral fellows each year for five years. This unique program is one of only 18 nationwide. Other programs include those based at Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Columbia universities.
Melissa Glueck of the Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC) manages the training program, which includes faculty from Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). The NLMTP is the largest of eight competitively funded training programs overseen by the GCC.
“We aspire to train a generation of scientists who are comfortable crossing traditional boundaries and who can find bold solutions to biomedical problems,” said Lydia Kavraki, principal investigator and program director of the NLMTP since 2015. She is the Noah Harding Professor of Computer Science and a professor of bioengineering, mechanical engineering and electrical and computer engineering and the director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice.
Program trainees are selected through a competitive application process and are co-mentored by two faculty members with complementary expertise. Ph.D. students may compete for up to three years of support, and postdoctoral fellows up to two years. Approximately 240 trainees have been supported to date. Trainees and their dual mentors are drawn from across the six NLMTP institutions.
“This novel mentoring arrangement, in which a computational faculty member and a biomedical sciences faculty member or a clinical investigator jointly mentor a trainee, has been instrumental in the success of the NLMTP since its inception,” Kavraki said.
For the latest renewal through 2027, 46 core faculty with strong research and federal funding have been assembled. They collectively mentor more than 200 Ph.D. students and 130 postdoctoral fellows.
“Our greatest strengths are our mentoring structure as well as our flexibility and willingness to help each trainee on an individual basis,” Kavraki said. “These combined with our strong academic programs, our extensive research activities, our well-equipped laboratories and our incredible faculty and students provide an unparalleled training environment.”
The NLMTP has strategically evolved over time. The program was conceived as training in computational biology and was led by the late Tony Gorry, who was Rice’s Friedkin Chair in Management and a professor of computer science. The program came to encompass computation, data science, applied mathematics, statistics, biomedicine, modeling, data-driven inference and decision-making, and advances in cognitive informatics to bear on biomedical problems.
The new grant is focused on biomedical informatics and data science and their dynamic interactions with artificial intelligence, including machine learning, and their applications in biomedicine and human health and disease.
“Biomedical informatics broadly encompasses the design and implementation of novel methodologies and technologies to solve challenging problems across the entire spectrum of biology and medicine,” Kavraki said. “Our training program puts emphasis on quantitative methods and data science. I cannot imagine dealing with biomedical problems in the future without strong foundations in computer science, statistics and data science.”
The program will support research in health care/clinical informatics, translational bioinformatics and clinical research informatics. Collectively, these areas advance personalized medicine and connect data and knowledge to health and disease, she said.
The program has many successful Rice Ph.D. student and postdoctoral fellow alumni. Among recent trainees, Christine Peterson is an assistant professor of biostatistics at MD Anderson; Kevin Liu is an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at Michigan State University; Sharon Chiang is a resident physician and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco; Risa Myers is an assistant teaching professor in computer science at Rice; Athanasios (Nasos) Dousis is the director of protein and RNA engineering at Tessera Therapeutics; and Raphael Rosengarten is CEO of Genialis Inc., a computational precision medicine company.
“I am most proud of our trainees,” Kavraki said. “They have assimilated and combined elements from our rich environment and their individual training and have produced truly exceptional work.”
“The NLMTP meets a critical, ever-growing need for investigators trained at the intersection of the quantitative sciences and biomedicine, who can attack problems in biomedical informatics and human health and disease that are currently beyond our reach,” said Ramamoorthy Ramesh, Rice’s vice president for research. “This program provides rigorous training for Ph.D. students and postdocs at Rice and five other institutions. Our NLMTP is proof of the strength of our combined community.”
Kavraki said NLMTP would not be possible without the combined efforts of Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, MD Anderson and UTMB, all part of the GCC.