SCHEV approves VCU Bioinformatics programs

VCU to offer state's first undergraduate major in new biological discipline

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia Commonwealth University has received approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to offer undergraduate and graduate programs in bioinformatics - a new integrative discipline that applies state-of-the-art advances in information technology to advanced biological and biomedical research. Bioinformatics provides the means to analyze, interpret and model data sets generated in contemporary systems-wide investigations spawned by the ongoing genomic revolution in biological research.

The programs, offered by the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity (CSBC) at VCU, include Virginia's first undergraduate major in bioinformatics and two master's options. The Bachelor of Science degree - one of only a few such majors in the United States - offers three bioinformatics tracks focusing on Biology and Genomics, the Computational Sciences, or the Quantitative Sciences and Statistics.

The master's programs offer students a choice of the same three bioinformatics tracks in each of two alternative options  - a traditional 'thesis'-based Master of Science in Bioinformatics and a professional Master of Bioinformatics. The Master of Science in Bioinformatics provides in-depth advanced academic research preparation for leadership positions in biological and biomedical research in academia or industry, or leading to a Ph.D. program. The Master of Bioinformatics provides MBA-like training in bioinformatics and includes semester-long industrial externships and associated training that will prepare students for research positions in the pharmaceutical, biotechnical or medical industries. Development of the Master of Bioinformatics option was supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Professional Science Master's Degrees program.

A unique, accelerated, combined B.S.-M.S. degree program provides select students an opportunity to complete both degrees in a five-year time frame. This program is available for both the thesis and professional master's programs, and provides an attractive alternative for very talented, highly-motivated students to move through their undergraduate and graduate training at an accelerated pace.

"Bioinformatics is the application of contemporary information technology to solve new and very complex biological problems," said Gregory A. Buck, Ph.D., director of the CSBC. "Genomic, global systems-wide research strategies have revolutionized biological research and future biological scientists need new, non-traditional tools to compete in this arena. Mathematics and computer science, and other tools of information technology will be indispensable to future investigators. Our interdisciplinary programs in bioinformatics were developed to prepare our students for this challenge.

While we anticipate considerable student interest in earning a bioinformatics bachelor's or master's and moving directly into entry-level research positions, our Master of Science in Bioinformatics will provide training and motivation for top students to pursue interdisciplinary Ph.D. training in programs like VCU's new and innovative Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences," said Buck.

Complementing these new bioinformatics programs, the CSBC recently was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to create the VCU Bioinformatics and Bioengineering Summer Institute, one of only nine such programs in the nation. This two-year summer program exposes upper level undergraduates from across the U.S. to the principles and practices of bioinformatics and bioengineering. VCU's program began in summer 2003 and runs for 10 weeks each year. "Students in the summer institute are well prepared to enter VCU's master's programs in bioinformatics," said Buck.

VCU's bioinformatics programs were developed by the Center for the Study of Biological Complexity in VCU Life Sciences and will start in the fall 2004 semester. More information is available at

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see