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Tackling the skills gap in bioinformatics

Category: Degree apprenticeships

4 May 2018

Anton Enright

The science sector is a major growth industry in the UK, with genomics in particular growing by 20% this year*, and Prime Minister Theresa May has said that she wants Britain to be 'a leader in science and innovation'. Our Degrees at Work programme is helping to train bioinformaticians for the sector.

What is bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics specialists are computer and data professionals who work within biotechnology and other biological research areas. They collect store, analyse and present complex biological data, including DNA, RNA, proteins and small molecules.

These different data types are combined to understand genes, the genome, its organisation and how these molecules work together in important biological processes and pathways relevant for disease.

Bioinformaticians today lie at an exciting intersection between, biology, statistics and computer science, putting them in high demand in big pharma and biotech industries.

The study of the human genome helped the democratisation of data in the early 2000s. The data generated already underpins most large-scale biological research and is helping scientists to better understand more diseases. The advent of personalised genomics may even result in drugs which are ‘made to measure’ for specific people based on their genetic background.

Few industries can be said to be unlocking the mysteries of the human body, but the handling and analysis of data relating to DNA and genomics is doing exactly that.

The rapid growth of new technologies to sequence and characterise biological molecules has created exponential growth in biological data, all of which needs appropriate storage and analysis by bioinformaticians to answer these vital biological questions.

The field, which develops methods, software and tools to understand biological data more thoroughly, stands at the vanguard of scientific possibility.

In a sector growing by around 56,000 jobs a year, the UK requires a revitalised workforce to cater for this evident skills gap.

The big data skills gap

Our Degrees at Work team has teamed up with the Sanger Institute, a world leading centre for bioinformatics and genome research, to develop the Data Scientist Degree Apprenticeship course.

This course is designed to plug the gap in bioinformatics training — after winning the grant for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund.

There’s a well-defined shortage of trained bioinformaticians in the pharmaceutical, clinical and academic sectors, and few direct training routes for this discipline.

Currently, most bioinformaticians have a primary qualification in biology, maths, physics or computer science and have then pursued further interdisciplinary training to become bioinformaticians.

Allowing students to continue to work while they study, the Degree Apprenticeship means that employees directly develop these essential analytical skills, bringing data science together with the profession to provide the foundation for career development.

Bioinformatics is a constantly evolving discipline as data types change and data size and complexity increases. Our degree apprenticeship programme means that the skills learned during the apprenticeship will be both up-to-date and directly relevant to the organisation’s needs.

Our partnership with the Sanger Institute, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the study of genomics and genetic research in Britain, allows us to provide a learning opportunity on a global scale — complementing the work of major companies, including:

  • Global Gene Corp
  • Specific Technologies
  • SciBite
  • Eagle Genomics
  • Congenica
  • Genomics England.

This article has been co-written by Anton Enright (pictured), Research Group Leader and University Lecturer at the Pathology Department, University of Cambridge, and Suparna Ghose, Principal Consultant of Strategy and Partnerships of the Degrees at Work programme, Anglia Ruskin University.

*Source: Deloitte


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