For BME departments, it's a call to action

A fundamental breakthrough behind tech giants like Google, Amazon and Facebook is straightforward: Their founders realized they could power business using data science. The ability to aggregate and analyze data from billions of users has set the stage for a host of disruptive products and services.

This realization, of course, has reverberated through every sector of the economy, including medicine and healthcare. Whether they discover new drugs, improve medical imaging, produce medical devices, or deliver care for patients, organizations are making enormous investments in data science as a way to deliver better care to more people with unprecedented speed, precision and efficiency. For at least the next generation, data science will define the field.

For biomedical engineering departments, this development is a call to action. No other academic discipline is as well positioned to integrate biomedical data science into its research programs or provide the integrated training in biology, engineering, and data science needed for productive careers during the next 30 years.

Responding to this change, however, will require biomedical engineering departments to adjust emphasis. In some cases, this will mean that departments make it a priority to recruit faculty with in expertise data science and computation among their other accomplishments or seek collaborations with colleagues in such areas as computer science and bioinformatics. In addition to energizing research, these initiatives have the added benefit of ensuring that graduate students incorporate these methods in their dissertation research.

Departments can achieve similar ends for undergraduates by establishing a biomedical data science concentration that would include such subjects as machine learning and systems modeling.

By assuming leadership in biomedical data science, biomedical engineering departments have an opportunity to increase the impact of their research and education programs. It is an opportunity they should seize.