Given his education and work experience, Peleg Winer, a former medic who worked in a research lab at Keck Medicine of USC after obtaining his undergraduate degree in neuroscience, thought that the natural next step for him would be to attend medical school.

But, when he learned that the Department of Translational Genomics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC was about to launch a new Master of Science program in translational biomedical informatics, Winer became one of the first students to apply and be accepted to the program.

After doing some research on translational genomics, Winer decided that, while medical school isn’t off the table, pursuing this degree will position him to work in a burgeoning field, whether it is as a doctor or a researcher in a lab, in biotechnology, or at a hospital.

“I am interested in working in a medical field that is innovative and this one of those fields that is going to lead to a lot of innovation,” he said.

Innovation is driving a revolution in our understanding disease at the molecular, cellular, and systems levels scale and are at the heart of translational genomics, explained David Wesley Craig, MD, professor of translational genomics at the Keck School. Although the field already has led to important revelations about several diseases, scientists have only scratched the surface of its utility for diagnosing and treating disease.

One of the problems holding the field back is that there are not enough scientists with the appropriate skills to mine and analyze huge sets of data associated with next-generation sequencing data.

The two-year Master of Science program was created, Craig noted, to address this gap in training and help fill the field with skilled scientists who can combine their knowledge of biology with analysis of large biomedical data sets.

A few other top universities have developed programs in bioinformatics in recent years, Craig said, but the Keck School program’s focus on addressing the human health and disease is what sets it apart. Research in this field is critical to the future of medicine because translational genomics is what is making the promise of precision medicine into a reality, he said.

“We are really excited about the prospect to enhance the culture and intellectual community of the medical school by populating it with bioinformatics expertise and training,” said John Carpten, PhD, professor and chair of translational genomics. “Upon completion of their degree, they will be highly qualified and viable candidates for competitive jobs in this critical and growing sector of biomedical research. This type of training is part of the core mission of our department at USC.”

— Hope Hamashige