Newswise — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital officials have named Jinghui Zhang, Ph.D., as the first chair of the Department of Computational Biology. She will hold the St. Jude Endowed Chair in Bioinformatics.

Computational biology applies mathematics and computer science to the study of genomics, systems biology, biological image analysis and structural and chemical biology. The department will occupy an entire floor in the Kay Research and Care Center, the newest building on the St. Jude campus. The 28,700-square-foot space will be named Brooks Brothers Computational Biology Center and hold both laboratories and offices, allowing seamless integration of computational scientists with experimentalists. It will also be home to a state-of-the-art genome sequencing laboratory. Under Zhang, the department will grow to include nine faculty members during the next several years.

“Dr. Zhang has created new computational methods for analyzing genomic data, leading to new directions in research involving high-risk leukemia, brain and solid tumors,” said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and chief executive officer. “Her appointment as chair will help us further the vision and direction of computational biology into a range of projects that will play key roles in research at St. Jude.”

Computational biology efforts at St. Jude took shape five years ago with the creation of the St. Jude–Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP), an unprecedented effort to map the genomes of some of the deadliest childhood cancers. Data generated from the project—100 trillion-plus pieces—encompass the complete normal and cancer genomes of 700 children and adolescents with 23 different childhood cancers.

Zhang joined St. Jude in 2010, leading the effort to analyze PCGP data and the creation of several new computational tools that have been adopted by biologists worldwide. Her work has helped define the landscape of mutations that underlie pediatric cancers, resulting in the identification of new pediatric cancer genetic subtypes, insights into cancer-drug resistance and metastatic behavior, and new therapeutic targets against which drugs can be developed.

Prior to St. Jude, Zhang led genetic variation analysis of the first assembled human genome. She also contributed to key discoveries in the pilot phases of the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Genome Atlas Project and the Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatment (TARGET) initiative.

Zhang received her undergraduate degree from Fu Dan University in Shanghai and her doctorate from the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn.