Aidong Zhang was one of the first computer scientists to apply the tools of her trade to analyzing biomedical data — an achievement that has brought the world closer to understanding and preventing disease. Today, she adds another accolade to her long list of accomplishments, this one at the University of Virginia, where she has spent the past two years continuing her important work.
Zhang, who joined the faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2019, has been appointed the interim chair of the Department of Computer Science in the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science.
It is a fitting accolade for a pioneer who was applying computer science tools to biomedical data well before computational biology became the bleeding edge of medicine.
Zhang, who earned a doctorate in computer science from Purdue University in 1994, embarked on her career a decade before the human genome was fully sequenced. The 2003 breakthrough — scientists discovered the complete genetic blueprint of the human species — meant biological pathways between human DNA and cells could be harnessed for targeted therapeutics.
But an understanding of how DNA works in relation to every gene in the human genome and genetic disease would have to be discovered first. The key to such a massive undertaking? Making sense out of the data that holds genetic information.
Luckily, Zhang had spent the prior decade creating tools to untangle such data.