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FAQ: What is dental bioinformatics?
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  1. What is bioinformatics?
  2. What is dental bioinformatics?
  3. What background is required to learn dental bioinformatics?
  4. Where can I learn more about dental bioinformatics?
  5. What kind of issues/problems an individual trained in dental bioinformatics address?
  6. If I am interested in pursuing a career in dental bioinformatics are there certain programming languages/programs I should learn?
  7. What would be a sample of courses needed to get a grasp of dental bioinformatics?
  8. How can dental bioinformatics improve patient care?
  9. I am a dentist and I would like to enroll into a dental bioinformatics program, where should I apply?
  10. Is there a need for Dental Bioinformaticians?

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  1. What is bioinformatics?

  2. The sequencing of the human genome has fostered the development of technologies able to scan the entire genome of a single individual. Today, for few hundreds dollars, we can identify most of the variants in the DNA of an individual, measure the RNA expression of all the human genes in a tissue or test the presence of thousands of proteins in a biological specimen. The management and analysis of this tremendous amount of data requires the massive use of computers and the development of specialized methods. Bioinformatics is the discipline that, using artificial intelligence, statistics, and engineering, develops and applies these computational methods to the analysis of genomic information. The computational analysis of genomic information has dramatically changed the face of many biomedical areas, such as, oncology, immunology, and pharmacology.

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  3. What is dental bioinformatics?

  4. Like every biomedical area, dentistry has seen the introduction of genomic and bioinformatics methods for the analysis and understanding of biological processes relevant to oral health. Dental bioinformatics describes use of computers and statistics/machine learning approaches to make sense of dental-related biological information. There are large quantities of data sets that are accumulating from high-throughput biological and chemical experiments, such as sequencing of whole genomes, DNA microarray chips, two-hybrid experiments, proteomic chips and tandem mass spectrometry that require computational approaches to parse and analyze these data.

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  5. What background is required to learn dental bioinformatics?

  6. Training in dental informatics is recommended, though not necessarily required, to learn dental bioinformatics. The need for additional training also depends on the individual, whether you have a biological or computational/quantitative background. In the case of a biological background, a general understanding of a structured programming language (see FAQ 6) is important, and even more important is the understanding of statistical and computational methods. For a person with a computational/quantitative background, a general understanding of biological systems, both molecular and proteomics related to dental biomedical issues (i.e., oral pathogens, oral cancer and head and neck soft tissue/bone related diseases) is necessary. The latter can also work closely with a dental basic/clinical researcher to understand the biological problem in question.

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  7. Where can I learn more about dental bioinformatics?

  8. The Dental Informatics Online Community (DIOC) is a great place to start. The DIOC is a resource with information and links on dental bioinformatics. One can start by searching Bioinformatics programs. Dental Informatics and Medical Informatics training programs also offer Bioinformatics courses.

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  9. What kind of issues/problems an individual trained in dental bioinformatics address?

  10. The applications of bioinformatics to dentistry are increasing by the day. Genomic and bioinformatics methods are used in a variety of fields ranging from the genetic bases of craniofacial anomalies, to the biological processes underpinning periodontal disease to the diagnosis and prognosis of oral cancer to studying the progression of oral cancer using patient samples.

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  11. If I am interested in pursuing a career in dental bioinformatics are there certain programming languages/programs I should learn?

  12. Yes there are. First, I would recommend learning R, a language and environment for statistical computing and graphics and related Bioconductor packages (bioconductor.org) Bioconductor packages are open source and open development software projects that are focused on the analysis and comprehension of genomic data. A second language I recommend for biological data analysis is Perl. Perl can be learned with little or no programming experience. Perl can be used for tasks as parsing data to more advanced bioinformatics programming. Other programming languages that are useful to know include MatLab, MySQL, SAS and SPSS.

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  13. What would be a sample of courses needed to get a grasp of dental bioinformatics?

  14. An introductory course in bioinformatics would be a great start. Examples of relevant topics includes, computational/machine learning, genomic and proteomic sequence analysis, data mining, computational functional genomics, comparative genomics, protein structure and function and biomolecular engineering. The computational tools learned in the introductory course can be applied to almost any area in dental research. For general bioinformatics, MIT OpenCorseWare offers several free couses on the web. In particular:

    6.092 Bioinformatics and Proteomics [Lectures]

    6.872J (HST.950J) Engineering Biomedical Information [Lectures]

    HST.508 Genomics and Computational Biology [Lectures]

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  15. How can dental bioinformatics improve patient care?
  16. Dental bioinformatics has the potential to improve the quality of care provided to dental patients via personalized dentistry (how inherited variations in an individual's genes affect how his or her body processes and responds to dental diagnostics and treatments). These biomarkers are able to profile clinical processes ranging from oral cancer progression to periodontal disease progression. Several ongoing research projects that are focused on healing and integration of bone to dental implants and new bio-materials are being evaluated on the molecular basis. These results will potentially improve the long-term survival of dental implants in our patients. Although most of this research is based on technology too expensive to be readily deployed in the clinic, a major goal of biomarker identification is to enable the development of ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbent Assay) kits that can be used in the dental offices.

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  17. I am a dentist and I would like to enroll into a dental bioinformatics program, where should I apply?

  18. Currently, there are a few options. If you are looking for dental schools that have a Dental Informatics program there are a few that offer a degree in Dental Informatics.

    • Columbia University School of Dental Medicine [Site]
    • Harvard School of Dental Medicine [Site]
    • University of Pittsburg School of Dental Medicine [Site]

    Within each Dental Informatics program, you can focus your coursework on Bioinformatics. Two other options would be exploring Medical Informatics programs or enrolling into a Bioinformatics program. The Bioinformatics program may have computational pre-requisites.

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  19. Is there a need for Dental Bioinformaticians?

  20. Indeed there is. As dental bio-molecular research projects become more and more complex the need for Dental Bioinformaticians becomes greater. Examples of Dental Bioinformatician tasks include, developing a relational database to integrate clinical dental information to genomic information and analyzing large data sets generated from genomic and proteomic technologies. Not only is there a need for Dental Bioinformaticians in the clinical research settings, but also in the dental basic sciences.

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Last update: Feb. 5, 2015
Authored by: Winston Patrick Kuo and Marco Ramoni

 

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