College of Science

Clemson to offer post-grad degrees in growing medical biophysics field

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Clemson University will offer both master’s and doctoral degrees in medical biophysics to enable current students and those already working in health care to prepare for entry or advancement in a growing number of health care-related fields, including pharmaceuticals, biotech and academic research.

The program, which begins in the Fall 2022 semester, is now accepting applications. 

The graduate-level degrees in medical biophysics focus on understanding the interconnection between fundamental physics principles and complex biological and medical phenomena. They also focus on how scientists can apply those principles to help solve biomedical challenges and provide better health outcomes for everyone, according to Clemson University College of Science’s Emil Alexov, a professor of physics specializing in biophysics and bioinformatics.

Physics and Astronomy professor Emil Alexov is CUSHR's 2019 Faculty Fellow.
Emil Alexov

Alexov said medical biophysics has a wide range of applications across the spectrum of health care-related industries. He said current focuses of medical biophysics include the linkage between genetics and predisposition for specific diseases, and how genetic differences manifest at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels.

A master’s or Ph.D. in medical biophysics will prepare graduates “to provide medical approaches to treat genetically determined diseases and even prevent them from happening,” Alexov said. “This includes providing guidance for lifestyle changes to prevent diseases, as well as developing small-molecule drugs that specifically target disease-causing sources. This is personalized medicine and personalized diagnostics, two health care fields that are quickly developing. Many companies are providing medical treatments now that fold into this — that use the genetic backgrounds of the patients to prescribe proper medication and to administer proper treatments.”

Medical biophysics is the application of biophysical approaches to address medical questions, and especially to help physicians identify diseases and treat diseases using biophysical methods.”

Emil alexov, professor

Faculty across nine departments at Clemson will teach courses for the two-year master’s degree. The degree is online to give those already employed in health care the ability to increase their knowledge and value in the workforce without interrupting their current careers. The Ph.D. program adds three additional years of research and elective courses tailored to each student’s studies and needs.

Wide appeal

The medical biophysics programs appeal to a wide range of students interested in seeking novel answers to some of humankind’s most daunting medical questions.

“The primary motivation to establish this program is so we don’t miss students who don’t fit into one particular curriculum in one department,” Alexov said. “An individual who likes to work in medical biophysics won’t be happy with the curriculum of the physics department, chemistry department or biology department, or any other department. This program is very much about interdisciplinary studies, which requires students to have a broad background in fundamental disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology.”

“There will also be research training in the laboratories of participating faculty members,” he added. “We believe that the successful students will have a broad knowledge of basic science and will be highly trained in the labs in their particular fields of interest.”

Collaboration

To accomplish these goals, the College of Science is collaborating with several strategic partners inside and outside of the University, including the health-science center at Prisma HealthClemson’s Center for Biomedical Research Excellence, the Clemson Center for Human Genetics, the Eukaryotic Pathogen Innovations Center and the Center of South Carolina Translational Research Improving Musculoskeletal Health.

Sean Brittain
Sean Brittain

“The development of these degrees is aligned with the University’s strategic initiatives in health innovation.  These initiatives will advance scholarship and research for future impact on the health of South Carolina residents and across the world. These efforts are already bearing fruit through closer connections between clinicians at Prisma Health and Clemson scholars,” said Sean Brittain, a professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

In addition to the new degree programs, the Department of Physics and Astronomy is searching for the founding Dr. Waenard L. Miller, Jr. ’69 and Sheila M. Miller Endowed Chair in Medical Physics.  Thanks to the generosity of the Millers, Clemson will attract a world-renowned scholar to advance research on the frontiers of medicine and physics.  Alexov is leading a search committee of faculty from physics and astronomy, bioengineering, genetics and biochemistry, and material science and engineering to identify and recruit that person.

Good fit for South Carolina

Joshua Alper, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, said the medical biophysics program is a good fit for South Carolina. The Palmetto State continues to attract advanced health care industries looking to locate in the Southeast.

“In South Carolina, there’s a really developing biomedical industry and a growing clinical environment with area hospitals,” Alper said. “There are a number of start-ups in the biomedical space both in the Upstate and in the rest of South Carolina, and I think this program will provide the highly skilled people to fill those jobs and perhaps even develop new companies to work with them.”

Alper also noted the program’s benefits to the University.

“I think this is a great way for Clemson to expand its impact in the health sciences and health research and also in biophysics,” he said. “I think there are many opportunities to get more exposure nationally and internationally through the development of this program.”

A committee comprising members from all participating University departments will review applications for the graduate programs. Alexov said the admission requirements are flexible to allow students from diverse backgrounds while meeting all University requirements.

Interested students can contact Alexov via email.

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