Propelled by expanding use of next generation sequencing technologies, a data avalanche is sweeping over public health. Terabytes of data, that could reveal life-saving insights, await interpretation at state and federal health agencies. The reason? The agencies lack staff with the specialized skills to make sense of the data. And with the expanding scope of CDC's Advanced Molecular Detection initiative, this is only the beginning of a massive data flow. How can public health agencies respond to this unprecedented challenge?
For APHL and CDC, the answer is to bring specialists in bioinformatics into the field of public health. The Bioinformatics in Public Health Fellowship, developed by APHL and CDC, takes recent graduates with expertise in bioinformatics and trains them to deploy their skills in public health.
The successful fellowship program, now in its third year, has brought new bioinformatics talent to CDC and bioinformatics solutions to public health laboratories. APHL manages recruitment, placement and administration of the program, and organizes an orientation on the CDC campus to introduce fellows to public health bioinformatics, past fellows working at CDC and the respective roles of APHL and CDC within the broader field of public health informatics.
In 2016, six fellows were accepted from a field of almost 30 applicants, the largest and most competitive field to date. An unprecedented 20 laboratories submitted applications to host a fellow.
For the first time, a Bioinformatics in Public Health Fellow, Xiong Wang (pictured at right), is working at a state public health laboratory (in Minnesota). The other five fellows are assigned to various CDC divisions. Below are descriptions of their assignments:
Dane Kania is working under Dr. Margaret Williams in the Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory of the Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch. He will focus on modernizing Bordetella pertussis molecular epidemiology with next-generation sequencing.
Julie Shay is serving under the mentorship of Dr. Andrew Huang and Dr. Heather Carleton at the Enteric Diseases Laboratory Branch. She will work with foodborne pathogens, including Listeria and Escherichia coli.
Mahder Teka is working under the mentorship of Dr. James Lara in the Molecular Epidemiology and Bioinformatics Laboratory of the Division of Viral Hepatitis. She will model and predict drug resistance in the Hepatitis C virus.
Brian Mann is working with Dr. John Barnes in the laboratory of the Virology Surveillance and Diagnosis Branch Influenza Genomics Team. He is concentrating on the integration and optimization of current sequence and antigenic databases of the influenza virus to create a bioinformatics workflow.
Arunachalam Ramaia is contributing to the Biotechnology Applications Laboratory, Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases under Dr. Gregory Dasch. He is analyzing the genomes and transcriptomes of two types of ticks that are known carriers of disease.
Xiong Wang, the first fellow to be placed at a state public health laboratory, is serving under David Boxrud at the Minnesota Department of Health. He is developing analysis pipelines forCryptosporidium, the leading cause of waterborne diseases.
APHL has begun recruiting for the 2017-2018 class of bioinformatics fellows. The deadline for applications is February 28, 2017. See APHL's Bioinformatics in Public Health Fellowship page for a full description of the program and application.