May 3, 2019

Systems Biology: Will You Choose Future Speciality?

From September 2018 Vilnius University (VU) has offered a unique international Systems Biology Master’s program in English. It is a joint programme of three VU faculties – the Life Science Center, the Faculty of Mathematics and Informatics and the Faculty of Medicine. The coordinator of the Programme, a professor of the Faculty of Medicine, dr. Audronė Jakaitienė says that “this study program is so unique, that it is not offered in any other higher education institution in Lithuania or other Baltic states”.

The goal of the Systems Biology Master’s program is to prepare highly qualified systems biology analysts, laboratory specialists and specialists capable of solving real problems in fast developing areas, including but not limited to biological systems modeling, bioengineering, synthetic biology, bioinformatics, neurobiology, and data analysis. There is also an inevitable shift in health care towards a personalized medical model, which will lead to the analysis of genome, epigenome, metabolome, drug interactions and other “omic” data becoming a routine part of clinical decision making. Systems Biology provides a broad understanding of these complex data sets, ranging from laboratory skills and the way this data is derived to modern bioinformatics analysis tools that help detect patterns and provide information that can help you make a clinical decision.

Professor A. Jakaitienė is convinced that the rapid development of molecular research technologies is creating new requirements for specialists working in the fields of biotechnology, pharmacy, environmental protection, health care and other areas: “A modern specialist often needs not only a good knowledge of the field of his or her interest (medicine, biology, etc.), but also knowledge of mathematical modeling and data analysis. Conversely, computer scientists and mathematicians could solve big bio data tasks quicker by having knowledge in the fields of genomics, proteomics or neurobiology, which is indispensable for understanding the task and takes a long time to acquire. It could be argued that systems biology prepares new generation professionals who have a good background in statistics, information technology, and computer science along with good knowledge of life, medicine and biology.

This year the a wide-profile system biologist’s path was chosen by four students who share their experience.
Marius Latinis, a future system biologist, previously studied computer science at Cambridge University, England, having internships every summer at various Lithuanian and foreign software development companies (he worked at Google for three summers). However, computers seemed as a “very technical thing” to him, so the desire to combine information technology with something “live” attracted him to study natural sciences: “Most of all, I like that this programme is a combination of three disciplines – biology, programming and mathematics. Each course consists of two parts: theory lectures and practical classes”. The student is fascinated by competent systems biology tutors and the absence of traditional exam sessions: the course for each subject is credited immediately upon completion. The Master’s student admits that these studies are captivating, but the science of biology, which he never studied before, is a real challenge for him. However, he has no intention of giving up and bravely stands up to all the difficulties: “I have no doubt that studying such interdisciplinary subjects that are popular in the modern world, especially in English language, is indeed promising!”
Dovilė Ežerskytė, who graduated from Žemaitė Gymnasium in Telšiai, and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry at Vilnius University, had never dreamed of applying to Systems biology: “When trying to choose between different VU Master’s studies, I accidentally stumbled upon the description of the Systems Biology programme. At first, I was fascinated by the part of computer science and mathematics – I didn’t have such knowledge at all, or just the basics. Then I realized that some of the courses focused on the practical application of knowledge to the analysis of medical problems. So, what can be more interesting than medicine?” The beginning of studies did not disappoint the future Master, she wholeheartedly recommends these studies to all people who are ambitious and love science. In her opinion, there is no need to be afraid of studying in English – it is easier to learn in English than to try to find translations of learning materials into Lithuanian. Dovilė is convinced that the professors of these studies are “real professionals of their field, recognized in Lithuania and beyond”. The student enjoys that the first semester offered excellent opportunities for Bachelors of Biology to get acquainted with the basics of information technology, at the same time allowing computer scientists to acquire the knowledge of biological disciplines: “Not only does this help us get into the great rhythm of studies, but also strengthens creative cooperation with scientific colleagues from different study programmes”.

France and Great Britain are leaders of systems biology in Europe. According to research conducted in these countries, professionals from the fields of biology, mathematics and computer science are among the most sought after interdisciplinary specialists. Such specialists are especially welcome in biotechnology, pharmaceutical companies, and new integrated science, study and business centers operating in Lithuania. This shows that the already apparent need for systems biology specialists in Lithuania and abroad will only increase in the near future.

According to the professor A. Jakaitienė, the systems biology study program directly contributes to the strategic development of Vilnius University, which is currently celebrating its 440th anniversary. These studies will undoubtedly attract and develop global talents. This programme will increase the internationalization of science and studies, and graduates will soon fill the needs of the national and international job market. Vilnius University kindly invites graduates from all over the world to study biomedical, life, physical or technological sciences. Master of Science (MSc) in Systems Biology will enable you to deepen your knowledge and gain new skills and to become international level leaders in bioengineering.

More information about the Programme you can find here.