Opportunities in the Life Sciences
By Mathukumalli Vidyasagar
NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the Third Quarter 2012 issue of the IEEE Circuits and Systems Magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.
The last half of the 20th Century has seen an explosion of capability in the areas of computing and communications. Members of IEEE have made core contributions to these technologies. Now, the first half of the 21st Century is being heralded as the age of biology, and much excitement surrounds the life sciences.
In this article, Dr. Vidyasagar points to the important role that persons with engineering training can make in the life sciences field. He begins with an account of the sequencing of the human genome, starting in 2001. The number of genomes sequenced has skyrocketed and the price of sequencing has plummeted (while not yet reaching the predicted US$1,000 mark). The cost of interpreting the genome remains high, though, and some of the anticipated benefits remain elusive.
One promising area of application appears to be in personalized medicine where it may be possible to associate optimal medical and/or surgical treatments with particular groups of patients (who are classified by their common genomic markers).
Personalized medicine is just one area of life sciences where persons with engineering training can make fundamental contributions. Another area mentioned in the article is systems biology, where engineers' mathematical training can be of great value.
In response to the increasing role and applicability of egineering in life sciences, in 2010, IEEE launched its Life Sciences Initiative, with Dr. Vidyasagar as the founding Chair. 29 IEEE Societies, Councils, and Committees are represented in this initiative, which has given rise to the Life Sciences Portal and Newsletter, and the upcoming Life Sciences Grand Challenges Conference.
Dr. Vidyasagar notes that it is relatively easy for engineers to pick up a sufficient amount of biology to interact effectively with the life sciences community. He encourages the EE community to continue to establish links with their life sciences counterparts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mathukumalli Vidyasagar was born in Guntur, India on September 29, 1947. He received the B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in 1965, 1967 and 1969, respectively. For the next twenty years, he taught at Marquette University (1989-70), Concordia University (1970-80) and the University of Waterloo (1980-89). In 1989 he returned to India as the Director of the newly created Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR) in Bangalore, under the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. In 2000 he moved to the Indian private sector as an Executive Vice President of India's largest software company, Tata Consultancy Services, where he created the Advanced Technology Center, an industrial R&D laboratory of around 80 engineers. In 2009 he retired from TCS and joined the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering & Computer Science at the University of Texas at Dallas, as a Cecil & Ida Green Chair in Systems Biology Science. In March 2010 he was named as the Founding Head of the newly created Bioengineering Department. His current research interests are in the application of stochastic processes and stochastic modeling to problems in computational biology, control systems and quantitative finance. He has received a number of awards in recognition of his research, including the IEEE Control Systems ("Field") Award in 2008 and Fellowship of the Royal Society, UK, in 2012.