Message from the Dean

Jiajie Zhang, PhD

The School of Biomedical Informatics at Houston (SBMI), an academic component of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is the only academic program of biomedical informatics in the State of Texas, the only free-standing school of biomedical informatics in the nation, and one of the largest programs of this kind in the nation. SBMI has undergone rapid growth over the past few years (2013-2018) as it tripled both student enrollment and faculty size. As of 2018, we have 50 regular faculty, 58 adjunct faculty, and about 300 graduate students.

Transforming Data to Power Human Health™ is our vision - an inspiration for all of us to lead the future of health and healthcare.

The mission of SBMI is to collect, process, and convert data - ranging from molecules to populations - into actionable information, knowledge, and intelligence; educate current and future leaders, innovators, and problem solvers across Texas, the nation, and the world; disrupt, transform, and innovate to elicit biomedical discoveries, improve healthcare delivery, and aid in disease prevention by conducting outstanding basic and applied research and developing impactful information technology products and solutions.

Biomedical informatics is a highly interdisciplinary field with contributions from clinical science and practice (medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, population health, etc.), public and community health, computer science and engineering (including artificial intelligence and machine learning), mathematics and biostatistics, cognitive science, social and behavioral sciences, healthcare management, and health IT policy and law. Biomedical informatics studies the acquisition, storage, communication, processing, integration, analysis, mining, retrieval, interpretation, and presentation of data and how to transform data (meaningless symbols) to information (interpreted data), to knowledge (validated information), to intelligence (actionable knowledge) to solve problems in biomedical discovery, healthcare delivery, and disease prevention.

Data science is a new term that emerged in other fields and industries with the recent surge of big data. In essence, data science is informatics and data science in biomedicine and healthcare is biomedical informatics, which has been around for a much longer time.

The biomedical informatics field has many job openings and continues to expand. Careers in the field include electronic health record implementation and management, information governance, data analytics (both descriptive and predictive), artificial intelligence and machine learning, telemedicine, genomic testing and diagnosis, precision and personalized medicine, mobile and connected health, healthcare quality analysis and reporting, health insurance data analysis, and more.

Master’s and doctoral degrees (both the research-focused Doctor of Philosophy or PhD and the practice-focused Doctor in Health Informatics or DHI), along with certificate programs are offered in the unique environment of the Texas Medical Center, the most concentrated area of biomedical and healthcare expertise, knowledge and skills in the world. There are outstanding opportunities for students to be involved in informatics as it is applied to health care and biomedical research in the many UTHealth clinical and research components and the more than fifty other healthcare related entities in the surrounding Texas Medical Center. Students interact with highly qualified and experienced faculty active in research as they develop solutions for a wide array of biomedical informatics problems. Through research consortia and centers, such as the National Center for Cognitive Informatics and Decision-Making in Healthcare, Gulf Coast Regional Extension Center for Health IT, Gulf Coast Consortia for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences, Center for Computational Biomedicine, Center for Precision Health, Center for Computational Systems Medicine, Center for Health Data Privacy and Phenotyping, Cancer Genomics Core, Data Science and Informatics Core for Cancer Research, Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences and the Institute for Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, students will interact with the best and brightest on the frontiers of human experience.

Our certificate and master’s students will learn to apply the most advanced understanding of biomedical informatics and health information technology to improve biomedical discovery and the delivery of healthcare. Students in the PhD program will work with leading researchers in a broad array of biomedical informatics subjects to create new knowledge, advance the discipline, and open up new areas such as translational bioinformatics, precision medicine, and big health data analytics for future generations. SBMI’s newest degree, the DHI, offers students the opportunity to work on a real-world problem at the executive-level and deliver informatics solutions to a healthcare organization.

Students and faculty in our programs come from numerous health professions (medicine, nursing, pharmacy, public health, etc.), basic sciences, biomedical sciences, computer science, computer engineering, biomedical engineering, mathematics and statistics, healthcare management, cognitive science, and social sciences. The “transdisciplinary” nature of the school's educational and research programs makes them unique and rewarding and results in breakthrough discoveries. School faculty and students are involved in making groundbreaking contributions to healthcare delivery and biomedical discovery. This includes inventing and evaluating new ways to capture, store, integrate, access, display, utilize, and evaluate healthcare and biomedical data, information, knowledge, and intelligence. SBMI is exploring the relationships between genomics and clinical care, developing big data analytics for healthcare quality and safety and pioneering futuristic functions and modules for electronic health records systems. Our faculty and students are discovering new functions for existing drugs while also monitoring and detecting potentially adverse events of drug interactions through natural language processing and data mining of electronic health records and medical literature with machine learning algorithms. While using health data to improve healthcare management, students and faculty in the SBMI community can develop mobile platforms to deliver health information to remote areas.

The research preformed at our school aids in the discovery of new methods and tools of social interaction to promote health prevention and public health. Artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms are used to map genotypes and phenotypes and to detect computational biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease, psychiatric disorders, and imaging diagnosis. Deep learning, using recurrent neural network models, can aid in solving difficult prediction problems that have puzzled medical professionals for decades. Biostatical methods and statistical learning help to identify the genomic basis of cancer and other medicine conditions. Advanced cryptography algorithms are developed to protect the security and privacy of patient data. SBMI is also innovative in the use of educational research and technology. The school is revolutionizing how to design and implement competency-based online educational and learning environments for both biomedical scientists and healthcare professionals.

If this is the kind of challenge and learning environment you are looking for, then join us and become part of the informatics leaders of tomorrow. Alan Kay said “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Help us invent the future of healthcare delivery, disease prevention, and biomedical discovery.

Remember, at SBMI, we are Transforming Data to Power Human Health™.

Jiajie Zhang, PhD
SBMI Dean