Inspiring the Next Generation: Bioinformatics Introduction at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School
By Askar Temirbek —
A Glimpse into the Future of Science: Bioinformatics Comes to CRLS
Three weeks ago, on November 21st, students in the biotechnology RSTA program at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS) had an opportunity to learn about the dynamic field of bioinformatics. The event, a presentation led by Andrés Colubri, PI of CoLabo (or Colubri Lab), and his accomplished second-year graduate student, Askar Temirbek, offered a viewpoint connecting academic knowledge with its practical applications.
During his presentation, Askar delved into the basics of bioinformatics, highlighting its pivotal role in unraveling the complexities of various diseases, including cancer, autoimmune disorders, and birth defects. Askar then gave the students an overview of the ongoing research in the Genomics and Computational Biology department at UMass Chan Medical School, particularly Askar’s own project in the Colubri lab, which focuses on the impact of Human Cytomegalovirus (HCMV) on human cells. This project could help in the future reduce the risk posed by HCMV to many vulnerable populations, including immunocompromised individuals. Additionally, the introduction to virology, encompassing its historical, evolutionary, and contemporary significance, provided a summary of the field’s scope.
A Fusion of Disciplines: Bioinformatics in Action
During this visit, students had the chance to see how bioinformatics, blends biology, mathematics, and computer science to address critical challenges in life science and healthcare. The discussion on the application of machine learning in analyzing genomic, transcriptomic, and proteomic data further linked bioinformatics to the rapidly evolving domain of artificial intelligence, particularly deep learning and generative AI. This session also prompted students to contemplate their future academic and career paths, including possibilities in graduate and medical studies.
Askar’s introduction to UMass Chan Medical School provided information about its educational and research offers. The interactive session with Andrés and Askar allowed students to inquiry into the work at the Colubri Lab and explore opportunities to engage in bioinformatics research.
Fostering Future Scientists: A Planned Visit to UMass Chan Medical School
As part of the outreach initiatives at CoLabo and to further encourage the CRLS students, Askar and Andrés started to coordinate an official field trip to UMass Chan Medical School, scheduled for early next February. Outreach activities such as this aim at developing a passion for science among high school students. They will give them have a chance to see first-hand how bioinformatics scientists and graduate students carry out their daily research at the medical school.
Full Circle: A Homecoming for Askar
For Askar, this event was more than just an academic presentation; it was a homecoming. A proud alumnus of CRLS’s Class of 2010, he credits the biotech RSTA program with kickstarting his scientific journey. Reflecting on his path, Askar shared, “My childhood dream was to harness the power of science to create medicines that cure. The RSTA program at CRLS was my gateway into the biotech world, starting with an internship at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. That experience was a turning point, affirming my destiny as a future leader and scientist in medicinal development.”
Askar’s journey from CRLS to becoming a Drug Product Design and Development scientist at Pfizer, and his pivotal role in projects like the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, is a testament to the power of early exposure to science. His accolades, including the Pfizer Biotherapeutics Pharmaceutical Sciences 2020 Impact Award and the Bravo Award for Excellence in 2022, speak volumes about his contributions to the field.
Now, as a Ph.D. student, Askar is committed to giving back to his alma mater by facilitating trips and internship opportunities for CRLS students at the UMass Chan Medical School and the Colubri Lab.
Looking Ahead: CRLS Students Set for a Memorable Visit
The CRLS biotech students eagerly anticipate their upcoming visit to UMass Chan Medical School next February, ready to embark on a journey that could shape their scientific futures. Here at CoLabo we are looking forward to welcoming them to our research home!